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A Championship and a Tipping Point

Anne and I watched the match with friends in a bar in Tucson, AZ. There was no sound. Texas was dominant and we knew that could happen. Louisville needed to play a perfect match that included mishandled serves by Texas that led to significant runs. That didn’t happen.

As the match unfolded one thing occurred to me that I really hadn’t thought about before. Logan Eggleston, who was awarded the Player of the Year award, is more of a finesse attacker than some of the dominant Texas left-side players in the past. The majority of her kills last night came from using the block or cupping the ball to zone 1. She did rip some balls from the back row but I don’t recall any sharp balls taken inside the middle blocker.

The Texas setter, Saige Ka’aha’aina-Torres set the best match I have seen her set this year, and the libero, libero Zoe Fleck, did an exceptional job of bump-setting balls. That led Texas to a .371 attack %, unusually high for a national championship match. Both Ka’aha’aina-Torres and Fleck were more consistent than their Louisville counterparts.

Louisville was a team that I enjoyed watching this season, particularly because of the athleticism and competitiveness of their relatively short left-side players, Anna DeBeer and Claire Chausee. DeBeer had nine kills and hit .316. Chausee had 12 kills and hit .154. But size is also one of the reasons that Louisville didn’t match up with Texas as well as USD.

When the tournament began I thought there were two teams that might be able to match up with Texas. Those two teams were Ohio State and the University of San Diego. Texas beat them both 3-1 in the tournament.

It was an amazing season for college women’s volleyball which appears to have reached a tipping point. There was significantly more television coverage than in the past and it seems as though the national media has come to recognize that women’s collegiate volleyball is a dynamic product whose time has come. There will also be a new professional league for women that will begin to play in 2024.

There are significant challenges on the horizon but they do not have to do with the marketability of the game. The development of two super-conferences is troubling. The amount of money that the Big Ten and the SEC will generate in television revenue can threaten the competitiveness of other conferences and perhaps reduce the number of sports at every NCAA institution.

Texas won the national championship with the best six-rotation player in the country, an All-American middle blocker, a strong right-side attacker, and five players that were recruited through the portal, some of them receiving money that would not be available the majority of teams in the tournament. USD had three players who arrived via the portal that played significant roles in their journey to their first National Semifinals. The Toreros setter, Gabby Blossom, a transfer from Penn State, was the best at her position in the tournament. Is this the future of DI volleyball or an aberration? Will fewer players enter the portal with the end of the Covid extra year in 2024? Texas head coach Jerrit Elliot said that he plans to recruit three players from the portal for every player out of high school. Will other top programs follow?

I don’t know the answer to that question. But consider this. Sport is only interesting if we have a worthy competitor, and the institutions with the most resources tend to lose sight of that.

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