I spent this afternoon writing a blog about the championship match, complete with stats, analysis, and patterns to look for. But I’m not going to post it. Why?
It has been a remarkable year, not just for Texas and Nebraska but for women’s volleyball. Every week attendance records have been broken at venues and in television viewership. It began with a match in a football stadium that no one could have envisioned at any time before this time.
There are at least six other teams that could be playing this match. There are hundreds of other college teams that played their best volleyball in front of the most people this year. The same is true with high school volleyball. The world knows now what we have known. This is a beautiful sport that is unique in ways that are hard to explain until you take the time to watch it. And we have been watching it.
I don’t know whether either coaching staff in the championship match would have bet they would be there before the season. Texas with three returning All-Americans may have had more reason to believe so. Nebraska’s recruiting class was ranked number 1 in the country but no one could have predicted the consistent play from four freshmen or that Merritt Beason, a transfer from Florida, would be comfortable in a leadership role.
We are always happy with the unexpected. Whichever team wins will be euphoric tomorrow afternoon and thru the night. And the other team will be sad and likely in tears. But they will not be the tears of regret or the tears of not having the opportunity to compete.
Let me tell you something that may surprise you. When I visited with former players from Nebraska and other teams that we competed against in Final Fours, the most important thing was not who won. You can’t have a great competition without a worthy opponent. The players understand that the team across the net knows what it takes to get there. They understand that likely have gone through the same travails, injuries, and heartache that come with competing at a high level. And the longer that they live the more they will come to value the opponent as much as their teammates.
Of course, I will be rooting for Nebraska. But I would also be disappointed if Texas didn’t play well. What I want is a match so incredible that it brings even more advocates to the table for women in sport.
A season is fragile. In August I thought Stanford might be the best team in the country. In November I would have bet on Wisconsin. It is hard to maintain the highest level for more than a week or two. It appears that Nebraska and Texas through luck or grace have found a way to make the second week in December their best week of volleyball.
So I’m not going to tell you what rotations either team might be vulnerable in or the most important thing to look for, in part, because these are not professional athletes. I can’t predict whether they will be too amped up or just right. I can only hope that the second referee takes less than a minute with each challenge, and the TV color person only tells us once that the fifth set only goes to fifteen points. I would also hope that each player on both teams walks into the night knowing they have done their best.