SAN ANTONIO — So dominant was Penn State volleyball that Florida State senior Rachael Morgan never even heard of another team in her native New Zealand.
Illinois coach Kevin Hambly said the Nittany Lions, whose four consecutive NCAA titles are unprecedented, deprived a generation of college players outside State College, Pa., the feeling of being champions. UCLA’s Michael Sely described two of Penn State’s champion teams as “ridiculous.”
Each said so Wednesday at the NCAA semifinals – where Penn State was absent for the first time since 2006.
“It’s good for the NCAA that possibly someone else could win,” Hambly said.
Penn State’s rein of invincibility ended in the regional finals, brought down by UCLA for its first postseason loss in a record 26 matches. The Bruins didn’t exactly topple the Nittany Lions in their prime; they rebuilt this season with underclassmen, and even rivals say another Penn State streak might be on the horizon.
In the meantime, Illinois, Florida State, UCLA and Southern California aren’t complaining.
Florida State (28-6) plays UCLA (28-6) today, followed by Southern Cal (29-4) against Illinois (31-4). The championship is Saturday in the Alamodome.
The Seminoles are making their national semifinals debut and are the first ACC school to make it this far. Illinois is another relative newcomer, having not played in the semifinals in 23 years.
“I think a lot of us took a risk in coming to Illinois in that it did not have a great history, but we wanted to make team history,” Illinois senior Michelle Bartsch said. “This was a good starting block for the program.”
The West Coast teams are another story. The Bruins and Trojans are college volleyball royalty, with six national championships between them since 1981. They are the favorites to meet in the finals.
Only 10 schools have won an NCAA volleyball championship since 1981.