Nov. 28, 2004
The University of Notre Dame volleyball team (20-8) will have a chance to avenge one of its regular-season losses, as it will head to Madison, Wis., this weekend to take on Mid-Continent Conference champion Valparaiso (29-4) on Friday at 5 p.m. (CST) in the opening round of the 2004 NCAA Division I Women’s Volleyball Championship. The other first-round match (Friday at 7 p.m.) in the only subregional without a nationally-ranked team pits host and 14th-seeded Wisconsin (19-9) against Horizon League champ Loyola Chicago (21-8). The winners will meet on Saturday at 7 p.m. in the second round. The Irish, who have won 10 of their last 12 matches, lost in five games against the Crusaders on Sept. 7 in the Joyce Center.
Notre Dame, regular-season and tournament champions of the BIG EAST Conference, gained an automatic bid to participate in the NCAA Championship for the 13th consecutive season. Valpo and the Ramblers also gained automatic entrance due to their conference-tournament triumphs, while the Badgers garnered one of the 33 at-large bids.
The winner of Saturday’s second-round match will advance to Green Bay, Wis., for regional play Dec. 10-11. The national semifinals and final will be Dec. 16 and 18 in Long Beach, Calif.
Wisconsin finished fourth in the Big Ten Conference, which is ranked as the top league in the nation this season by the Rich Kern Percentage Index (RKPI) and was rewarded with three of the top five overall seeds, boasting a record of 13-7 in league play. The Badgers are 19-9 overall and are receiving votes in the AVCA national poll (listed 29th). Valparaiso, which was 14-0 in league play and stands 29-4 overall, enters the NCAAs on a nine-match winning streak and having won 23 of its last 24 matches. Loyola, which opened the season with a four-game loss to Notre Dame in the Joyce Center on Sept. 1, saved eight match points in rallying from a 2-0 deficit to beat Cleveland State in the title match of the Horizon League tournament. The Ramblers were 10-4 in conference action and enter the NCAAs with a 22-8 mark.
It will be the second time in four years and the third time since 1997 that the Irish have traveled to Madison for NCAA tournament play. Notre Dame lost in four games to #4 Wisconsin in the round of 16 in 1997 and fell 3-1 to #20 Michigan State in the first round of the 2001 tournament. Notre Dame will be looking for its first-ever win in UW Field House, where it is winless in four previous contests.
Notre Dame had won 18 consecutive matches against Valpo prior to this season, when the Crusaders claimed a 26-30, 30-24, 30-26, 24-30, 15-12 triumph. It was their first win over the Irish since 1980 in a series of two former North Star Conference rivals. The schools have played three previous times in the postseason, with Notre Dame prevailing in the conference tournament in 1986 and ’87, but Valpo registering a win in the 1980 Indiana Division II Championship.
The Irish and Loyola, who were in both the North Star and Midwestern Collegiate Conferences together, have met 16 times, with Notre Dame winning 13, including each of the last nine matches. The Irish prevailed 30-24, 30-19, 17-30, 30-28 in the season opener.
Notre Dame and Wisconsin have played five times previously, but not since 1998. The Badgers have won four of those contests, with Notre Dame’s victory coming in four games in the Joyce Center in 1987.
Nine of Notre Dame’s 2004 opponents earned invitations to the tournament: Nebraska (No. 1 overall seed), UC Irvine, Pittsburgh, Valparaiso, Loyola Chicago, Michigan, Sacramento State, Utah, and Long Beach State. The Irish posted an impressive 7-4 mark against those squads.
The 13 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances is the second-longest current streak of any Notre Dame sport, behind fencing. Overall, the Irish have earned 14 berths, reaching the quarterfinals in 1993 and the round of 16 in `94, `95, and `97. Notre Dame is 11-14 all-time in the NCAAs.
The top 16 teams were seeded nationally and placed within four regions. The teams tabbed as the top four seeds were Nebraska, Penn State, Hawaii, and Minnesota. Team pairings were determined by geographical proximity, with the exception that teams from the same conference were not paired during the first and second rounds.
The Big Ten and Big 12 led all conferences with seven teams selected, while the Big West and Pacific-10 landed six teams each. Four teams – Pacific, Penn State, Stanford, and UC Santa Barbara – have earned bids to all 24 championships. Eight teams are making their initial appearances in the tournament: Albany, Iona, Jacksonville, Long Island, Rice, Towson, Wichita State, and Yale.
In the 24-year history of the championship, nine schools have been crowned champion, all of which are in this year’s bracket, including two-time defending champion Southern California (also the 1981 victor). Additional past winners making the field are Stanford (1992, 94, 96, 97, 2001), Hawaii (1982, 83, 87), Long Beach State (1989, 93, 98), UCLA (1984, 90, 91), Pacific (1985, 86), Nebraska (1995 and 2000), and Penn State (1999).
This will be the eighth time – and fourth since 2000 – that the Irish will travel to a Big Ten Conference court for NCAA play.
For ticket information, please see the official website of Wisconsin athletics, www.uwbadgers.com.