The Match: Penn State (31-5) vs. California (30-3)
When & Where: December 18, 2010, 8:30 p.m. ET.; Kansas City Sprint Center
Media Coverage: TV: ESPN2 HD (live); Streaming Video: ESPN3.com ; GameTracker
We both have earned the right to be here. You can’t really compare them like that, but I think that [Penn State's loss to Minnesota in five sets in its regular-season finale, compared to Cal's sweep of the Golden Gophers in the Seattle Regional semifinal] helps us with some of our confidence. We know that that team is not unbeatable. (California’s Head Coach Rich Feller, on tonight’s NCAA Final match with Penn State)
I think most matches come down to how the team is playing. So if you’re playing well, you have a chance to win, if you don’t, you don’t. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing. We have to play well. The statistics from the beginning of this season for both teams are not as relevant as the post-season statistics, and even those sometimes are misleading. We’ve had matches where we’ve lost the stats and won the match, and vice versa. (Penn State’s Head Coach Russ Rose, on the statistical similarities between California and Penn State).
We’ve posted a Match Preview at http://www.dignittanyvolleyball.com/?p=9906 (it’s a free, no advertising, site). Here are some excerpts:
If you go by statistics, Penn State probably shouldn’t even show up for tonight’s Final match against California. Well, admittedly that is a bit of an exaggeration, but, as Rich Feller pointed out, Cal swept Minnesota in the Regional Semi-Final, while Penn State lost to the Golden Gophers in the last match of the regular season. OK, Penn State’s match was at Minnesota, and Cal’s win was on a neutral court, but a loss is a loss is a loss.
More to the point, Cal hasn’t lost a set in the NCAA Tournament. Penn State has only lost one, but it was at home. Cal is 30-3, led by 5-11 Sr. S Carli Lloyd, who is only the National Player of the Year and a 1st Team AVCA All-American, and 1st-Team AVCA All-American 6-3 Jr. OH Tarah Murrey, who Penn State Head Coach Russ Rose says could have stolen some votes from Lloyd for the National Player of the Year award. Sure, Penn State has 6-5 Sr. Opposite Blair Brown (the Big Ten Player of the Year) and 6-3 Sr. MH Arielle Wilson (both AVCA 1st Team All-Americans), and 6-1 Fr. OH Deja McClendon (National Freshman of the Year), but heck, Cal was ranked #4 in the November 29th AVCA poll, and Penn State wasonly ranked #8.
So, plenty of observers have mailed this in as a victory for Cal. They don’t think Penn State freshmen 6-1 OH Deja McClendon, 6-5 OH Ariel Scott, and 6-6 MH Katie Slay, who against Texas combined for 24 of Penn State?s 45 kills and 12 of 19 blocks (led by amazing Deja, who had 11 kills on 15 swings, no errors, and hit .733 for her season’s best attack %), are likely to repeat that performance. And they don’t believe the Penn State seniors – Brown, Wilson, 5-9 Sr. L Alyssa D’Errico, 6-3 MH Fatima Balza, and 5-1 Sr. DS Cathy Quilico, will be able to make up the difference.
The “Penn State is done” narrative has one more theme: the comparison between the setters for the two teams: Cal’s Carli Lloyd and Penn State’s Kristin Carpenter. During the pre-season, Carpenter wasn’t expected to be Penn State’s setter — she was slotted for duty as a defensive specialist/libero, but she stepped in when other options weren’t working out, and has kept on improving as the season progressed. One observor put it this way: he doesn’t look at her as a setter as much as a great player and competitor who is setting. Listening to the announcers during the Texas match, she clearly has earned the respect of many people in the volleyball world.
But, having said that, Cal’s Carli Lloyd clearly is the better setter, so Cal has the advantage there. As another observer put it, if this comes down to which team has the best setter, Penn State is in trouble. But Kristin Carpenter doesn’t have to be the best setter for Penn State to win — she just has to be good enough.
We think it’s almost a toss-up, with the gravitational pull of the court probably leaning slightly in Cal’s direction. So if we were following our head, we’d say Cal wins in 4 or 5. But we’re fans, and we also know its not just about the players, it’s also about how well those players are prepared, and which team is better able to adjust to what happens during the match.
When adding Coach Russ Rose (who we think is the best coach in Division 1 Women’s Volleyball) and his staff into the calculation, we think the balance tips ever so slightly in Penn State’s direction. So we”re going to go with Penn State, in an Instant Classic, 5-set victory. We’ll be the ones in the intensive care recovery room, with oxygen tubes and all sorts of wires going everywhere, but a happy look on our face