Runza/AVCA Showcase Features Four of the Nation's Top Teams
courtesy Jeremy Foote, Nebraska athletics
For the fourth straight year and the fifth time in the last six seasons, the Runza/AVCA Showcase will be hosted at the Qwest Center in Omaha, Neb.
2010 will mark the third year of the conference challenge format, as the showcase will feature Big 12 squads Nebraska and Iowa State, while the Southeastern Conference will be represented by Florida and Kentucky.
Each team enters the 2010 season ranked in the top 15 of the AVCA Coaches poll. The Huskers are the top-rated team at No. 2 in the country, while Iowa State sits ninth, Florida 13th and Kentucky 14th.
All four programs in Omaha this weekend are coming off solid 2009 seasons, as each advanced to a NCAA Regional. Each team finished in the top 15 of last season's final AVCA Poll, with both Iowa State and Nebraska finishing in the top 10.
Both matches on Saturday and Sunday will be televised nationally by CBS College Sports and shown across the state of Nebraska in high-definition on Nebraska Educational Television (NET), giving the sport a national spotlight during the opening weekend of the 2010 season.
The inaugural conference challenge format in 2008 was a great success, as the event featured four of the top seven teams at the time, with three of the squads (Nebraska, Stanford and Texas) eventually returning to Omaha that December for the NCAA Semifinals.
The 2009 Runza/AVCA Showcase brought together two teams each from the Big 12 and Big Ten Conferences, including Nebraska, Kansas State, Michigan and Minnesota. Minnesota made the longest run of the four teams in last year's NCAA Tournament, as the Golden Gophers lost in the NCAA Semifinals to eventual national runner-up Texas. Both Nebraska and Michigan also put together strong tournament showings, as the Huskers and Wolverines each reached the quarterfinal round, with Nebraska losing to Texas and Michigan falling to Hawaii.
Minnesota's trip to the Final Four continued the success of teams in the Runza/AVCA Showcase. In all, 22 former Runza/AVCA Showcase participants have played in that season's national semifinals since the event began in 1995.
The field will also showcase some of the nation's top players, as the four teams consist of six players that have earned AVCA All-America honors during their careers, including three two-time All-Americans. Nebraska returns three All-Americans in Sydney Anderson, Tara Mueller and Brooke Delano, while Iowa State will bring Ashley Mass and Victoria Henson to Omaha and Florida returns All-America setter Kelly Murphy.
One of the most consistent teams in the country over the last 20 years, the Florida Gators extended their nation-leading streak of 25-win seasons to 19 last year with a record of 25-6. Under Head Coach Mary Wise the Gators have won 90 percent of their matches, amassing a record of 603-67 during her 19 years at the helm.
The Gators will be making their fifth appearance at the AVCA Showcase and their first since 2003. Florida previously appeared in the showcase in 1996, 1999, 2000 and 2003.
With five returning starters and nine returning letterwinners, the Gators bring back a strong nucleus from last year's squad that made a run to the NCAA Regional round, before they fell in three sets to eventual national champion Penn State.
The 2010 Gators will rely upon two-time AVCA All-American Murphy. Murphy ranked third in the SEC in hitting percentage last season at .351 to help the Gators post the top percentage as a team in the SEC and rank fifth nationally (.291).
One of the top up-and-coming programs in the country is the Iowa State Cyclones, led by reigning Big 12 Coach of the Year, Christy Johnson-Lynch. In her first five seasons with the Cyclones, Johnson-Lynch has posted a 105-58 record, including four trips to the NCAA Tournament.
Led on the court by returning AVCA All-Americans Mass and Victoria Henson, the Cyclones were picked third in the 2010 Big 12 preseason coaches' poll.
Mass is a two-time Big 12 Libero of the Year award winner and became Iowa State's first-ever first-team AVCA All-America selection last season. In 2009 Mass ranked 10th nationally with 5.49 digs per set to lead the Cyclones to a 27-5 record and a second-place finish in the Big 12.
Kentucky will be making its first appearance at the AVCA Showcase in 2010 after sporting a 29-5 record a year ago. Head Coach Craig Skinner returns four starters and nine letterwinners from last year's squad that ranked in the top 10 nationally in both hitting percentage (10th - 2.79) and kills per match (6th - 14.74).
Skinner has taken the Wildcats to the NCAA Tournament in each of his first five seasons with the program, as he has compiled a 113-45 record.
The Wildcats finished 2009 with the top record in the SEC Eastern division and the second-best record overall in the conference at 17-3, while leading the conference in both assists per set (13.62) and kills per match.
Senior Lauren Rapp will be a focus of the Wildcats' attack in 2010. Rapp carried a .328 hitting percentage last season and totaled 304 kills.
One of the nation's most dominant programs in women's volleyball, the Nebraska Cornhuskers have won two national titles over the past 10 seasons and have advanced to the regional final in each of the past six seasons.
The Huskers will begin 2010 as the second-winngest program in Division I history. Nebraska's 1,086 wins trail only UCLA's 1,106 wins on the all-time chart.
Head Coach John Cook returns a loaded team in 2010 that lost only one starter from 2009 and he returns 12 letterwinners. His team finished 26-7 last season, while Cook has won over 92 percent (307-26) of his matches in 10 seasons as the Huskers' leader.
Picked No. 1 in the Big 12 preseason coaches' poll, the Huskers will be led by three returning AVCA All-Americans, including Anderson (2008-09), senior Tara Mueller (2008) and Delano (2009). As a team the Huskers ranked in the top 10 nationally in both kills (9th - 14.65) and assists (10th - 13.63) per set last season.
The Huskers also had a conference-high four players picked to the preseason All-Big list. Along with Anderson and Delano, senior Kayla Banwarth and sophomore Hannah Werth earned preseason honors for the first time in their careers.
Werth is coming off a freshman season that saw her earn Big 12 Freshman of the Year, honorable-mention All-America and honorable-mention All-Big 12 honors. Werth became the first freshman since 2004 to lead the Huskers in kills at 3.18 per set.