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updated: 12/14/2012 8:31 PM

Big Ten reaps volleyball riches

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  • Katie Slay, right, and her Penn State teammates are no strangers to NCAA Tournament success in women's volleyball, having won four straight national titles beginning in 2007 and reaching the Final Four this season.

    Katie Slay, right, and her Penn State teammates are no strangers to NCAA Tournament success in women's volleyball, having won four straight national titles beginning in 2007 and reaching the Final Four this season.
    Associated Press


A Big Ten team won't win the national volleyball championship tonight in Louisville, but hats off to the conference nonetheless.

What a run overall for the Big Ten, clearly in a league of its own this season.

Two Big Ten teams made the Final Four, although both Penn State and Michigan lost Thursday in the national semifinals, to Oregon and Texas respectively. Those two teams will face off tonight at 6 p.m. (ESPN2) for all the marbles.

Oregon has never won a national title and Texas has won one (1988).

Like Oregon, Michigan was a Final Four newbie. On the other side of the spectrum, Penn State had won four of the last five national titles.

The dominance of the Lady Lions is a big reason the Big Ten has been flexing some big-time muscle lately. Penn State forced other Big Ten teams to keep pace, and that has turned the Big Ten into arguably the best conference in the country over the last six years.

Just last year, Illinois was the national runner-up to UCLA, which broke Penn State's record-setting streak of four straight national titles.

A couple of weeks ago when the NCAA tournament began, seven Big Ten teams earned spots in the 64-team field. That tied the Big Ten with the volleyball rich Pac-12 for most tournament teams from a single conference.

As the tournament continued, the Big Ten got tougher than any other league. Six Big Ten teams made the Sweet 16 and four -- including Penn State, Michigan, Minnesota and Nebraska -- reached the Elite 8.

With Penn State and Michigan in opposite brackets, the Big Ten was oh-so close to getting what it deserved in the national championship match. Had they won their semifinal matches, Penn State and Michigan would have faced each other in an all-Big Ten finale. After a dominating season by the Big Ten, that would have been fitting.

The last time two schools from the same conference met in the volleyball championship was 2002, when USC defeated Stanford. The Pac-12 (formerly the Pac-10) is still a dominant force in women's volleyball, but clearly not as much as in the early years.

Over the first 17 years of the NCAA Tournament through 1997, a Pac-10 team either won the title or was the national runner-up 13 times. Over that time, the Big Ten's only blip on the national radar was Illinois, which advanced to the Final Four in 1987 and 1988.

It took yet another decade for that to change.

In 1997, Penn State broke through and was the national runner-up to Stanford. The Lady Lions were also national runners-up in 1998 (to Long Beach State).

Then, in 1999, Penn State won the Big Ten's first national title, opening the floodgates for the conference.

Wisconsin was a Final Four newbie and the national runner-up in 1998, Minnesota was the runner-up in 2004 and Penn State started its string of four straight national titles in 2007. Of course, Illinois got back in on the Final Four action last year.

The addition of Nebraska to the conference has been a cherry on the top for Big Ten volleyball. The Huskers have won three national titles (2006, 2000, 1995) and have been the national runners-up three times.

Now, with Big Ten volleyball seemingly at its hottest, it will be interesting to see if some of the other top programs can join Penn State and Nebraska in the winner's circle.

The funny thing about the Pac-12 is that of its 14 national volleyball championships, 13 are divided among three schools: Stanford, UCLA and Southern California.

The Big Ten has a chance to be dominant in a different way. The conference seems to be attracting enough talent across the board to one day boast the largest variety of national champions in NCAA history.

Your thoughts:

Did you hear about the absurd high school girls basketball game in Indiana this week?

Bloomington South trounced Arlington 107-2 on Tuesday night in Indianapolis, prompting an official with the state high school sports association to say he never wants to see an outcome so one-sided again.

In Indiana, there is no mercy rule, and according to the Bloomington South coach, he used all nine of his players.

"I didn't tell my girls to stop shooting because that would have been more embarrassing (to Arlington)," Bloomington South coach Larry Winters told the Indianapolis Star. "We were not trying to embarrass them or run up the score."

But that is what happened.

Is that just too bad for Arlington? Is Arlington at fault for not being competitive enough? This was a high school varsity game, after all. Would the South girls, contrary to the opinion of their coach, have shown more respect for Arlington if they had stopped shooting altogether? Or should the game have been called by the referees?

I think an easy solution would have been for South to have taken as much time off the clock as possible during each possession. If Arlington fouls and sends you to the free-throw line, there's nothing you can do about that. Beyond that, you just finish the game as humbly and as uneventfully as possible.

What do you think? What's the best thing to teach our kids in a situation like this? Drop me an email.

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