Elite Eight: How they Compare to Past Final Four Teams

Elite Eight
Elite Eight

About two months ago, after Penn State lost a set to Iowa (after having won 141 consecutive regular season sets starting in 2007), I compiled the table below (without the 2009 Elite Eight teams, obviously), to provide some context. How many sets did Final Four teams typically lose? The table answers that question (results include NCAA Tournament results), and not surprisingly, the answer overwhelmingly is “not very many.”

One thing stands out: Perfection is very hard to achieve. Only three NCAA Champions (in this admittedly limited sample) have dropped fewer than 10 sets in their Championship season (Penn State with a 114-2 record in 2008, Long Beach State at 108-8 in 1998, and USC at 105-8 in 2003). The most lost sets by a Final Four team? A tie between Minnesota in 2003 (85-49) and Tennessee in 2005 (70-49).

Which brings us to this season’s Elite Eight. Were Michigan, Minnesota, and California (Penn State’s opponent in this afternoon’s Regional Final) — make it to the Final Four, each of them would rank among the top six teams for most losses in a season (and that’s before taking the results of today’s matches into account). Nebraska would rank 12th and Florida State would be tied for 13th or 14th (depending on whether Nebraska beats Texas). An historical oddity: Oddly, if Minnesota’s team makes it this year, Minnesota will have two other teams in the top ten for most sets lost (this year’s team ranks #5, with 37 sets lost, and the 2004 team ranks 9th, with 34 sets lost).

There are many possible explainations for the potentially higher-than-typical number of sets dropped by this year’s Elite Eight teams compared to previous years — most obviously, this is the Elite Eight, not the Final Four. We lean towards another reason: parity. There’s alot of talk that talent is more widely distributed now among more NCAA Women’s Volleyball programs than ever before, and that these talented athletes now benefit from better coaching. If so, then it makes sense that top teams would drop more sets throughout the season.

Regardless of the reasons, here’s the table. A quick note: it’s a sortable table, meaning you can click on the buttons at the top of each column and resort that column (for example, list wins in descending or ascending order). Finally, we know this table is predictive of nothing, we simply were curious. And though we’ve tried to be careful, there may be errors. If you find any, please let us know.

YearTeamConferenceNCAA FinishWins (Matches)Losses (Matches)Wins (Sets)Losses (Sets)
2009Penn StateBig 10First3801148
2009TexasBig 12Second2929113
2009MinnesotaBig 10Semi-finals2898841
2008Penn StateBig TenFirst3801142
2008Stanford Pac 10Second3149523
1998Penn StateBig TenSecond3411046
1999Penn State Big TenFirst36111015
2007Penn State Big TenFirst34210418
2000USCPac 10Semi-finals2938720
2002USC Pac 10First3119512
2003USC Pac 10First3501058
2004USC Pac 10Semi-finals2367632
2006WashingtonPac 10Semi-finals2959226
2007USC Pac 10Semi-finals2959135
1998Long Beach Big WestFirst3601088
1999Long Beach Big WestSemi-finals3149523
2001Long Beach Big WestSecond331NANA
1998Nebraska Big 12Semi-finals3229916
2000NebraskaBig 12First34010213
2001Nebraska Big 12Semi-finals3129414
2005Nebraska Big 12Second33210115
2006Nebraska Big 12First33110114
2008Nebraska Big 12Semi-finals3139721
1999Stanford Pac 10Second3139518
2001Stanford Pac 10First33210121
2002Stanford Pac 10Second32510227
2004Stanford Pac 10First3069835
2006Stanford Pac 10Second3049219
2007Stanford Pac 10Second32310124
2003MinnesotaBig TenSemi-finals26118549
2004MinnesotaBig TenSecond33510534
2004WashingtonPac 10Semi-finals2838923
2005WashingtonPac 10First3219810
2007CaliforniaPac 10Semi-finals2688736
2006UCLAPac 10Semi-finals33410424
1999PacificBig WestSemi-finals323NANA
2000WisconsinBig TenSecond334NANA
2001ArizonaPac 10Semi-finals2557925
2005Santa ClaraWCCSemi-finals2758830
2008TexasBig 12Semi-finals2949424