The University of Northern Colorado volleyball team is in the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three seasons, but this year's appearance will feature much more of an "aloha" flair.
The NCAA Sunday announced the 64-team field for the 2011 NCAA Division I Women's Volleyball Championship, and the Bears (22-8) are set to travel to Honolulu, Hawai'i, to take on No. 10 overall seed Hawai'i (29-1) in the first round at 10 p.m. (MT) on Thursday, Dec. 1.
The Rainbow Wahine are ranked third in the latest AVCA Coaches Top 25 poll and enter this year's tournament with three national championships to their name (1982, 1983, 1987).
The Bears, winners of this year's Big Sky Conference regular-season and postseason championships, have never faced Hawai'i, but they are 1-5 all-time against teams from the Aloha State. Northern Colorado has a win in its history against Hawai'i-Hilo (1-2) but is winless against Hawai'i Pacific (0-1) and BYU-Hawai'i (0-2).
Thursday's match will be Northern Colorado's first in Hawai'i since August 2003.
In an interesting twist, Oregon (21-9) and Colorado State (23-5), the Bears rival from just up I-25, will be the other first-round match in Honolulu. The winners from both matches will play Friday, Dec. 2, at 10 p.m. (MT) for the right to advance to the Honolulu Regional from Friday to Sunday Dec. 9 to 11.
Northern Colorado advanced to the NCAA Tournament in 2009 and got to play just up the road at Moby Arena in Fort Collins. The Bears lost 3-1 to sixth-ranked Washington in their only NCAA Division I Tournament appearance, but this will be their 16th overall appearance in an NCAA Tournament, with 15 NCAA Division II Tournaments on their résumé.
Thirty-one conferences were awarded automatic qualification Sunday, and the remaining 33 slots were filled with at-large selections to complete the bracket.
The top 16 teams were seeded nationally and placed within four regions. The teams tabbed as the top four seeds were No. 1 Texas, No. 2 Nebraska, No. 3 Illinois and No. 4 Iowa State. Per the established bracketing principles, the top 16 seeds were provided the opportunity to host. In addition, first- and second-round conference matchups were avoided, and team pairings were determined by geographical proximity.
The Big Ten Conference led all conferences with eight teams selected. The Big 12 Conference and the Pacific-12 Conference both earned seven tournament teams.
Two teams, Penn State and Stanford, have earned bids to all 31 championships, while five teams are making their initial NCAA Tournament appearances in this year's field: Central Michigan, Jackson State, Marquette, Maryland-Eastern Shore and Samford, where Northern Colorado coach Lyndsey Benson spent the 2002 season as an assistant coach.
Ten programs have been crowned the champion in the 30-year history of the championship, and nine of those are on this year's bracket, including four-time defending champion Penn State. Additional past winners making this year's field are Stanford (1992, 1994, 1996, 1997, 2001, 2004), Hawaii, Long Beach State (1989, 1993, 1998), UCLA (1984, 1990,1991), Nebraska (1995, 2000, 2006), USC (1981, 2002, 2003), Texas (1988) and Washington (2005).
First- and second-round matches will be played at 16 campus sites. A list of the first-round match-ups follows is below.
Teams winning both matches next weekend will move on to regional play December 9 and 10. The pre-determined regional sites are Gainesville, Fla.; Honolulu; Lexington, Ky.; and Minneapolis, Minn. All regional semifinal games will be shown on ESPN3.com, while regional final games will air on ESPNU.
The regional winners will advance to the semifinals and final on Dec. 15 and 17 at the Alamodome in San Antonio. Both national semifinal games as well as the championship game will be broadcast on ESPN2.
All regional and championship site game times can be found on the attached championship bracket or online at www.ncaa.com/wvb.
For more information about the championship, log on to www.ncaa.com/wvb.