It just makes sense for there to be great volleyball played in San Diego, right? Well, this year, the University of San Diego women's volleyball team indeed might be on a path to greatness. If nothing else, the Toreros certainly have had a great start to their 2013 season.
USC is the latest ranked team to fall to San Diego, which upset the then-No. 1-ranked Trojans 3-1 on Friday at home. That was preceded by San Diego victories over Hawaii (in Honolulu), and Iowa State and Illinois (both in Ames, Iowa.) The Rainbow Wahine, Cyclones and Illini were all ranked in the top 20 of the American Volleyball Coaches Association poll when they lost to San Diego.
The only loss for the 7-1 Toreros was to then-No. 1 Texas, the defending NCAA champion, on Aug. 31 in Hawaii. And San Diego took that match to the wire, losing 15-10 in the fifth set.
All of this has resulted in the No. 2 spot for San Diego in this week's AVCA Top 25 poll, released Monday. It's not just the highest ranking ever for the volleyball team, but the best national ranking for any Toreros athletic program in the Division I era.
The timing of this ascension in the poll is sublime, because it's a big week for the Toreros. Tuesday night, they will host crosstown rival San Diego State. Then they travel to Utah to begin West Coast Conference play Friday against the team picked first in the league, BYU.
The Toreros, who earn our No. 2 ranking this week, were 21-7 last season and tied for the league crown with BYU at 13-3. San Diego brought back 11 letter winners from 2012, led by first-team all-conference players Chloe Ferrari and Katie Hoekman, both seniors.
Ferrari's season was cut short last year on Nov. 3 by a knee injury. She didn't get to play in the NCAA tournament, in which the Toreros lost in the first round to Michigan State. So far this year, Ferrari has twice been named WCC player of the week.
The Toreros have made the NCAA tournament field 16 times in the past 20 years. San Diego has advanced as far as the NCAA Sweet 16 twice in program history, in 2004 and '06. And while it's a ways off, the Toreros are showing they may be a fearsome foe come tournament time.
Here are this week's espnW Power Rankings:
1. Penn State (6-1)
The Nittany Lions' only loss was a 3-2 battle at Texas on Sept. 7. They have swept the rest of their opponents, and you can expect the same at the Penn State Classic this weekend, where Albany, Eastern Kentucky and Yale are the designated victims. Compared to those of some other top teams, the Nittany Lions' nonconference schedule is pretty bland. But considering the difficulty of Big Ten play -- which starts Sept. 27 -- Penn State probably didn't feel the need to load up too much on the toughest foes during the opening weeks of the season, other than the meetings with Texas and Florida.
2. San Diego (7-1)
A little more background on the Toreros: Coach Jennifer Petrie is a native of San Diego but actually went all the way across the country for her college volleyball playing career at William & Mary in Virginia. She was Colonial Athletic Association player of the year in 1990 and '91 and is the Tribe's all-time leader in kills (1,572). After being an assistant at Indiana State and North Carolina, she returned to San Diego in that role for the Toreros before taking over the program in 1999.
3. USC (8-1)
The Trojans started the season on the road, playing in events at Purdue, Marquette and San Diego. Their loss to the Toreros was their first in 10 meetings with San Diego. Finally this week, the Trojans will play a home match, as they are host to UC Irvine at 10 p.m. ET Wednesday on ESPNU. The 2012 Pac-12 freshman of the year, Samantha Bricio, is off to a great start as a sophomore with a team-best 95 kills. And this year's USC rookie sensations, Ebony Nwanebu and Elise Ruddins, have combined for 148 kills.
4. Hawaii (8-1)
In his 39th season, Hawaii's Dave Shoji became the all-time leader in Division I women's volleyball coaching victories with 1,107 on Sept. 6. He passed longtime UCLA great Andy Banachoski, who retired after the 2009 season. Now, Shoji has 1,111 wins -- to just 185 losses -- and his Rainbow Wahine leave their home base, the Stan Sheriff Center in Honolulu, for their first road trip of 2013 -- three matches Thursday through Saturday at Wichita State.
5. Washington (6-0)
The Huskies' toughest match so far was at Illinois, where they won 3-1 behind Krista Vansant's 19 kills on Friday. Then Sunday, she was nearly perfect in a sweep of Loyola Chicago, with six aces and no hitting errors. For that, she was named Pac-12 offensive player of the week. After visits from Coppin State and Cal State Northridge this week, Washington will start the Pac-12 schedule next week.
6. Texas (5-2)
Yes, the preseason No. 1 team already has two losses -- at Hawaii and to Arizona State on a neutral court -- but the Longhorns expected to be challenged by their nonconference schedule. That continues this Sunday (2 p.m. ET on the Longhorn Network), as they are host to their former Big 12 rival Nebraska, now in the Big Ten. Jerritt Elliott got his 300th victory as Texas coach with the Longhorns' win at Illinois this past Saturday.
7. Florida (8-1)
The Gators thus far this season have a big victory, against Stanford, and an understandable loss, to Penn State. They face their regional rival, Florida State, on Tuesday night in Gainesville, Fla., and play in the Marquette Invitational this week. Then next week, the SEC-favorite Gators start league play. They were 19-1 in the conference last year.
8. Minnesota (8-1)
The Gophers began this season 8-0, all against unranked foes. Then they fell 3-2 last Saturday at ranked Kentucky. Minnesota is in the race for being the second-best Big Ten squad (behind Penn State), but it's impossible to tell this early just where Minnesota will rank in a logjam of very good league teams.
9. Stanford (5-2)
From a results standpoint, the Cardinal's visit to Austin, Texas, on Sept. 7-8 didn't go well, as they lost to Florida and host Texas. From an experience standpoint, though, those are good matches for Stanford to have under its belt. After visits this week from Cal Poly and St. Mary's, Stanford starts Pac-12 season at Bay Area rival Cal on Sept. 25. The Cardinal were picked to win the league; the Bears were picked to finish seventh.
10. UCLA (8-1)
The Bruins, picked to finish fifth in the Pac-12, had their lone loss thus far at Hawaii on Sept. 7. Next, UCLA on Wednesday faces the team picked second behind Hawaii in the Big West preseason poll: Long Beach State. Then the Bruins have a week to get ready for their biggest rival, USC, in a match to be televised on ESPNU at 10 p.m. ET on Sept 25.
Next in line: Ohio State, Michigan, Nebraska, North Carolina, Arizona State
• The only undefeated teams in this week's AVCA Top 25 are No. 3 Washington, No. 13 Ohio State, No. 15 North Carolina and No. 22 Colorado State.
• Two of the ranked teams already have four losses: No. 16 Illinois and No. 25 Iowa State.
• Arizona State, at No. 18 this week, is ranked for the first time since 2002.