Perfection in sports is rare. The Penn State Women’s Volleyball team came close in 2008, going 38-0 and dropping only two sets all season (those two coming in the classic NCAA Semifinal match against Nebraska in Omaha).
This season, Penn State extended its streak of consecutive sets without a loss to 141, before losing a set to Iowa at Rec Hall on October 2nd, followed by another dropped set on October 7th, (this time to Ohio State), and then two more against Michigan on October 16th, and ended with a total of eight in 2009.
Which has caused many volleyball fans around the country to wonder just how good the 2009 Penn State team really is. It was a fair question. As it turned out, they were good enough to win their third consecutive NCAA Championship, but it certainly wasn’t easy.
To put their season in perspective, we took a look at the records of all the NCAA Women’s Volleyball Final Four teams from 1998 on (admittedly, somewhat arbitrary) — how many sets did those teams drop during the course of their seasons?
Many volleyball fans probably know the answers by heart. We didn’t — we had to look them up, and in a few instances, we couldn’t track them down (is it just us, or is Wisconsin’s site particularly hard to navigate?).
One thing stands out: Perfection is very hard to achieve. Only four 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, Penn State with a 114-8 record in 2009, Long Beach State at 108-8 in 1998, and USC at 105-8 in 2003). The most lost sets by a Final Four team through 2009? A tie between Minnesota in 2003 (85-49) and Tennessee in 2005 (70-49).
Editors Note: We are not statisticians, nor are we perfect. If you identify any errors, please feel free to contact us.
Won Lost Records (Matches and Sets): Final Four Teams from 1998 to 2009
|2008||Penn State||Big Ten||First||38||0||114||2|
|2009||Penn State||Big Ten||First||38||0||114||8|
|1998||Long Beach||Big West||First||36||0||108||8|
|1999||Penn State||Big Ten||First||36||1||110||15|
|2007||Penn State||Big Ten||First||34||2||104||18|
|2001||Long Beach||Big West||Second||33||1||NA||NA|
|1998||Penn State||Big Ten||Second||34||1||104||6|
|1999||Long Beach||Big West||Semi-finals||31||4||95||23|
As an aside, even with those two lost sets, we loved the 2008 Penn State-Nebraska semifinal match. Here’s why: