Time: 5:30 PM PT/8:30 PM ET
Gametracker: Click here
Pre-Championship Press conference: Click here
Viewing Parties: Looney's in Berkeley, McCovey's in Walnut Creek, Gordon Biersch in San Francisco, Sign of The Whale In Washington DC.
Becoming a champion at anything takes years of sacrifice. It takes a little bit of luck and a lot of dedication. It takes practice, practice, practice to have it all pay off in the spotlight. And it takes incredible will to finish it off.
That's how close the California Golden Bears are. That's how well they've played all season. And to think they were predicted to finish fifth in the conference.
And for sure, they aren't the flashiest team. They don't do anything outstanding; they hit well, they dig well, they block well, they pass well, but they don't jump out at you on paper.
The only thing they've done outstanding this year? Win.
They've won pretty (like against the Furd in the Big Spikes and against Washington). They've won ugly (like they did against Minnesota). They dominated in many of their games, but they also scraped past schools that played them tough (like UCLA). They've adjusted and overcame teams that had their number (like against USC in the Final Four).
- Carli Lloyd has led Cal to their first ever Pac-10 title. She won National Player of the Year honors. She and Meagan Schmitt have only one more thing to win as a Golden Bear.
- Rich Feller has won Coach of the Year honors. But he still has to beat Penn State in an NCAA tournament.
- Tarah Murrey set out this season on a mission, and emerged as one of the best hitters in all of college volleyball. She's a game away from culminating the journey.
- The youth of defensive specialists Robin Rostratter and Erin Freeman, outside hitters Correy Johnson and Adrienne Gehan, and middle hitters Kat Brown and Shannon Hawari were supposed to be what kept Cal down this season. These five sophomores (Hawari a redshirt soph) and two freshmen all stepped up big throughout the season and all through the tournament. They need to step up big one more time.
- Cal has played fifteen sets in this tournament. They've won fifteen sets in this tournament. They have three more to go.
Whatever happens tonight, it's been a pleasure to watch them play all season, and they're champions win or lose. GO BEARS!
After the jump, an interview with fugimaster24 of Black Shoe Diaries (the editor for the Penn State SB Nation Site) on Penn State's volleyball team (go to their site to check out our answers to their questions).
1. How does this team compare to the previous Penn State title teams?
Penn State went through most of 2007 and all of 2008 and 2009 without a loss, but lost five matches this season alone. That pretty much tells the tale of how this team stacks up to previous Nittany Lion title squads. Sure, it has some returning star power from the last three title teams including All-Americans Blair Brown at outside hitter and Arielle Wilson at inside hitter, but much of the rest of the team is very young, very raw. Freshman outside hitter Deja McClendon was recently named the AVCA Freshman of the Year and was selected as a second team All-American, so that has been big in replacing 2009 Player of the Year Megan Hodge. Other underclassmen including sophomore setter Kristin Carpenter and freshman middle hitter Katie Slay have stepped up as well. However, as with any young team, no matter how talented, Penn State is susceptible to melt downs, something you rarely saw from other title squads.
2. Who's the player to watch out for?
Keep an eye on Deja McClendon. Though Blair Brown is widely regarded as the Lions' best player, McClendon is the future of Penn State volleyball. She's tall and she's got some hops to go with a monster swing. She might have the best pure volleyball frame that the program has seen yet. Also, libero Alyssa D'Errico's serves can be devastating, so keep tabs on her as well.
3. What's the biggest strength of this team?
Definitely the power game. The Lions pass and set fairly well, but it's the big guns on the outside, Brown and McClendon, that are just snipers and do most of the damage for Penn State. The team also blocks decently, though its presence in that area isn't quite what it was.
4. What's the biggest weakness?
As we talked about before, this team is very young. Very talented, but very young. The pressure didn't look to phase the young players against Texas, but if things start going down hill against Cal, it'll be interesting to see how the Nittany Lions handle it. If there's one thing Cal must do to take down Penn State, it's exploit the Lions' errors early and often. When teams have done that, like Minnesota a couple of weeks ago, they've had success. When they haven't, well, Penn State does what Penn State does: dominate.