Consider it the NCAA halfway championship match.
The top two nationally ranked teams will play a two-match series this weekend in Los Angeles as USC and BYU remained No. 1 and No. 2 in the this week’s AVCA top 15 coaches poll and ASICS/Volleyball Magazine top 10 media poll.
The Trojans (9-1, 9-1 MPSF) have remained the top-ranked team since the preseason and have the fewest losses in the nation. The Cougars (13-4, 9-3 MPSF) have been No. 2 in the coaches poll for four consecutive weeks with their only conference losses coming in the first two weeks of the season against Stanford.
The frequency of the No. 1 and No. 2 teams playing each other in the regular season has significant decreased in recent years.
This weekend series is the 10th time in the last five years that the No. 1 and No. 2 nationally ranked teams will play each other in the regular season. From 2000 to 2005 the top two teams played each other in the regular season occurred almost 20 times.
If recent history tell us anything, though, do not expect both these teams to be playing against each other in the NCAA championship match in May.
Once in the last five years have No. 1 and No. 2 played each other in the regular season and then both teams reached the Final Four. UC Irvine and Pepperdine in 2007 were the only two teams to accomplish that feat, with the Waves being upset in the semifinals by IPFW and the Anteaters winning the NCAA championship.
In addition, the losers in these matches have three times ended the regular season outside of the top five nationally ranked teams.
February 2006: No. 1 Pepperdine vs. No. 2 BYU
Match summary: Pepperdine and BYU split a two-match series in Provo, Utah, with the Cougars winning the opener in four games and the Waves winning the finale in three games. Pepperdine’s loss ended its bid at an undefeated season as BYU outside attacker Ivan Perez had a match-high 21 kills. In the second match, the Waves out-blocked the Cougars 13.5-5.5 to get the series split.
The aftermath: Both teams flipped spots the following week in the poll and BYU went on a six match winning streak to stay No. 1 for four straight weeks. The Waves lost two of its next three matches and fell to No. 6 in early April. Pepperdine finished the regular season in third place in the MPSF and lost on its home court to UCLA in the MPSF Tournament semifinals.
March 2006: No. 1 UC Irvine vs. No. 2 BYU
Match summary: With an 11 match winning streak on the line, the Anteaters won both matches of this home weekend series in five games. BYU won the first and third game in each match but was unable to win the final two games both times in front of a combined 3,000 people in attendance for the two matches.
The aftermath: UC Irvine remained No. 1 and won its remaining eight matches. However, UC Irvine lost to Long Beach State in the MPSF Tournament semifinals and received the at-large bid to the Final Four, where it lost to Penn State in the NCAA semifinals. BYU following the losses to UC Irvine dropped as low as No. 6 in the polls and went 4-4 in its remaining eight regular season matches, including losing its final four matches. The Cougars also lost in the MPSF Tournament quarterfinals to Long Beach State.
February 2007: No. 1 BYU vs. No. 2 UC Irvine
Match summary: BYU and UC Irvine split a two-match series with the Cougars winning the first match in three games and the Anteaters winning the second match in five games. BYU outside attacker Robby Stowell led all players with a combined 31 kills in the two matches.
The aftermath: BYU following the two-match series lost its next three matches, including to an NAIA team Cal Baptist. The Cougars dropped to No. 4 in the coaches poll and finished the season losing in the MPSF Tournament semifinals. UC Irvine one week after the two-match series was upset by Pacific before going on a 10-match winning streak and moving back up to the No. 2 in the polls.
March 2007: No. 1 Pepperdine vs. No. 2 UC Irvine
Match summary: Despite having three players with at least 20 kills, UC Irvine lost a road match to Pepperdine in five games with the fifth game needing overtime before the Waves won 16-14. The Anteaters also committed 30 service errors — 19 more than the Waves — in the loss.
The aftermath: Both teams stayed No. 1 and No. 2 in the rankings the following week and both reached the Final Four. Pepperdine won the MPSF regular season and received the at-large bid the NCAA Tournament, but was upset by IPFW in the semifinals. After winning the MPSF Tournament — which included a victory against Pepperdine in the championship match — UC Irvine defeated Penn State and IPFW to win its first NCAA championship in program history.
March 2009: No. 1 Cal State Northridge vs. No. 2 UC Irvine
Match summary: Middle attacker Kevin Wynne was one of four Anteaters with at least 10 kills and had a match-high nine blocks as UC Irvine defeated Cal State Northridge in five games. Both teams combined for 50 service errors in the match with the Matadors finishing with 30.
The aftermath: UC Irvine moved to No. 1 in the polls and won seven of its final eight matches to remain the top ranked team at the end of the regular season. The Anteaters received the at-large bid to the NCAA Final Four after losing in the conference tournament and defeated USC in the championship match to win its second title in three years. Cal State Northridge lost three of its remaining seven MPSF matches to drop as low as No. 3 in the rankings and ended its season with a loss in the MPSF Tournament semifinals.
February 2010: No. 1 Cal State Northridge vs. No. 2 USC
Match summary: With both its All-American middle attackers Kevin McKniff and Jacek Ratajczak having 11 kills and five blocks, Cal State Northridge defeated USC in five games. USC in the loss held Cal State Northridge to less than a .200 attack percentage and won by 21 points in the third game before losing the fifth game 15-10.
The aftermath: Two days after the match Cal State Northridge lost to Pepperdine to end its three match winning streak. The Matadors dropped as low as No. 5 in the rankings after losing two straight matches in late February but at the end of the season reached the MPSF Tournament championship match and received the at-large bid the Final Four. USC lost three of its next five matches after playing Cal State Northridge and fell to No. 7 in the coaches poll. In addition, the Trojans ended the season sixth place in the MPSF and lost to Cal State Northridge in the opening round of the conference tournament.