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Michella Chester | NCAA.com | December 17, 2022

10 of the greatest national championship matches in college volleyball history

The 10 greatest all-time college volleyball championship matches, so far

College volleyball has a grand history. As volleyball fans, we all know just how incredible it is to watch collegiate players' dreams come true when they reach the pinnacle of a national title. We looked back at every national championship matchup in NCAA DI women's volleyball history, dating back to 1981. Here are 10 of the greatest, most thrilling, title matches. (All 10 chosen are five-set matches)

Listed in chronological order

USC vs. UCLA | 1981

USC wins: 9-15, 15-7, 10-15, 15-13, 15-7

1981 USC volleyball

1981 was the very first NCAA-sponsored volleyball national championship. The final match came down to a huge rivalry between the two LA schools. UCLA hosted the title match on its campus, but the two teams traded sets before USC came out on top of a five-set thriller. Southern California finished the year 28-10.

Hawaii vs. USC | 1982

Hawaii wins: 14-16, 9-15, 15-13, 15-10, 15-12

Next on the list is Hawaii vs. USC the very next year. Hawaii was the No. 1 ranked team in the nation in 1982, but found themselves down 2-0 to USC in the title match. They sparked a huge comeback, led by middle blocker Deitre Collins who posted 25 kills and 7 blocks, and Kori Pulaski who chipped in 23 kills, and the Bows pulled off the reverse sweep of  USC. The win was their first NCAA-title under Dave Shoji. They ended up winning a back-to-back title in 1983, too. 

UCLA vs. Stanford | 1984

UCLA wins: 15-12, 7-15, 15-10, 9-15, 15-13

1984 volleyball title

In 1984, UCLA took down Stanford with a HUGE comeback in the fifth set. Stanford held an 11-2 lead in that final set, so the comeback was absolutely epic. UCLA claimed the program's first NCAA national title after two previous runner-up finishes. Liz Masakayan went off in the final set to score 11 points. Not to mention, Kim Oden, a legendary Stanford player, was on the other side of the net. 

Stanford vs. Penn State | 1997

Stanford wins: 15-10, 15-6, 2-15, 15-17, 15-9

1997 volleyball champ Stanford

My next championship matchup was in 1997 — Stanford vs. Penn State. The Cardinal had lost only two matches that season, both at the hands of the Nittany Lions. Stanford took the first two sets before PSU forced a fifth, but the Cardinal pulled through, winning its third title in four seasons. The year before Kerri Walsh — you might’ve heard of her — led the Cardinal to a sweep over Hawaii. Despite Stanford winning the title, it was Penn State's Terry Zemaitis who took home the Most Outstanding Player honors of the championship match. 

Long Beach State vs. Penn State | 1998

Long Beach State wins: 15-3, 15-10, 13-15, 14-16, 15-12

Misty May Long Beach State

Moving on to 1998 — Long Beach State vs. Penn State. This was the first year the NCAA tournament was expanded to 64 teams. Misty May led Long Beach State to the first undefeated season in NCAA women’s volleyball history with a five-set title win. She shared the most outstanding player honors with Penn State’s Lauren Cacciamani. 

Nebraska vs. Wisconsin | 2000

Nebraska wins: 15-9, 9-15, 7-15, 15-2, 15-9

Nebraska 2000 championship

In 2000, we had another undefeated season, this time for the Nebraska Huskers. The Huskers took down Wisconsin in the national title matchup in a five-set thriller. Grechicaly Cepero won MOP and John Cook won his first championship in his first season as head coach. 

Penn State vs. Stanford | 2007

Penn State wins: 30-25, 30-26, 23-30, 19-30, 15-8

Next, Penn State vs. Stanford again in 2007. This was the first of the Nittany Lions historic run of four straight titles. Megan Hodge posted 26 kills as they stunned top-seeded Stanford. The game was a classic, full of star-studded players. There was Hodge obviously and then Nicole Fawcett, Alisha Glass and Christa Harmotto for Penn State, and Foluke Akinradewo for Stanford. A great title matchup. 

Penn State vs. Texas | 2009

Penn State wins: 22-25, 20-25, 25-23, 25-21, 15-13

Penn State 2009

Another one of the four PSU titles makes the list, with Penn State vs. Texas in 2009. Texas’ Destinee Hooker won MOP after she set an NCAA record of 34 kills in the five set battle. Penn State won the title however, finishing 38-0 on the season. The Lions rallied back from a 2-0 deficit for their third consecutive title. 

Stanford vs. Nebraska | 2018

Stanford wins: 28-26, 22-25, 25-16, 15-25, 15-12

Stanford vs. Nebraska in 2018 makes the list. Now we are talking names like Kathryn Plummer and Morgan Hentz for Stanford and Mikaela Foeke and Lauren Stivrins for Nebraska. This championship matchup saw two storied programs faced off. After alternating wins in each of the five sets, Stanford walked away with its first of two back-to-back titles. Here is a full recap of the national title matchup. 

Wisconsin vs. Nebraska | 2021

Wisconsin wins: 22-25, 31-29, 25-23, 23-25, 15-12

I have the most recent championship between Wisconsin and Nebraska in 2021. Dana Rettke, the AVCA national player of the year finally got her national title, Wisconsin’s first in program history. Though it was Anna Smrek, the freshman, that won MOP with 14 kills at a .429 clip. The Badgers set a record for most blocks in a title match with 24. Here is a full recap of the title matchup

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