NCAA volleyball – the indoor variety – has changed since I first began covering. In those days, Misty May and Long Beach State were the dominant program in volleyball crazed SoCal. Games were called games, sets were only things done by a player to setup a kill, and only the team serving could score. Twenty of the first 24 NCAA women’s champs crowned hailed from California.
But things changed in the last decade. Well, thanks in part to the ascension of the beach game, and perhaps even more significantly because of the availability of matches on the internet and television, women’s indoor volleyball has become a signature sport for many schools. Now, a game is actually called a set, a set is still a set (go figure), you don’t have to serve to score. Only UCLA has represented the “beach” tradition, winning in 2011.
Last year, Penn State, Wisconsin, Texas and Washington played in the Final Four, with the Nittany Lions claiming the title. This season, Florida (10), Kentucky (14) and Texas A&M (22) are all in the NCAA rankings as of this week.
I had the chance to see Florida up close in their SEC opener at Auburn, and the Gators didn’t disappoint, sweeping the Tigers before the War Eagle chant got good and revved up, in straight games, er, sets: 3-0 (14-25, 19-25, 19-25) in front of 1,183 fans at Auburn Arena. The Tigers looked every bit a young contender in the SEC, rallying point after point in the first set, but with little to show for it. That’s what happens when you play a bigger, deeper, more experienced program. The scoring doesn’t always show the effort, but the score did indicate the Tigers, with one of the youngest rosters in the SEC (no seniors, only two juniors), are up for a fight. In the video below, shot as part of a teaching assignment for sports journalism students at Auburn, you will see a long first set point, won by Florida. That’s how well you can play and still get swept while building a program. I look forward to seeing this team play in the future.
It was a fun match to watch, and I believe Auburn is headed in the right direction. With more size up front and experience, they may be able to finish off a team at this level soon, if not this season next. And for now, their players and fans know what they are up against after opening the SEC against the Gator.
The Tigers play at Texas A&M next. You can read the game story and learn more about them via Auburn’s official website. This blog is not affiliated formally with Auburn University.