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Unfathomable

The Penn State women’s volleyball team won their second consecutive national championship this weekend, capping off a 38-0 season—only the fourth undefeated season in NCAA Division I history.  They defeated perennial power Stanford in the final, in straight sets.  But that’s not what’s so impressive.  What’s so impressive is that until they lost the third and fourth sets against Nebraska in the semifinal, they had won one hundred and eleven consecutive sets this season.  And Nebraska was basically playing a home game:

Heading into its match with Penn State, Nebraska had won 96 consecutive matches in its home state and had never lost at Qwest Center Omaha. Thursday’s match was played in front of a record crowd of 17,430, the majority of which was decked out in red.

Penn State dominated the first two sets, extending its NCAA record streak to 111 consecutive sets won. But the Huskers snapped the streak by winning the next two sets and took a 10-8 lead in the fifth set. A block by All-America setter Alicia Glass ignited a 7-1 run that propelled PSU past Nebraska.

I can’t even think of an achievement in team sports that’s comparable to winning 111 consecutive volleyball sets.  Unless you count the Brooklyn Superbas’ pennant-winning season in 1899 when they went 147-1 . . . oh no, wait, I read that wrong.

Really, has such a thing ever been done in any sport ever?  This is a real question.  Because I watched the finals at a party Saturday night with about 40 or 50 other people, and we couldn’t come up with anything.

Posted by on 12/22 at 04:34 PM
  1. Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh won 112 consecutive matches (not sure about sets, though), a steak that included the gold in the Beijing Olympics.  They didn’t drop a set in either the 2004 or 2008 Olypics.

    Posted by  on  12/22  at  06:29 PM
  2. The Cincinnati Red Stockings went 57-0 in 1869, the only undefeated season in baseball history. Not really comparable, admittedly, since they were a professional team touring the country playing local nines of variable talent, but still, they didn’t lose a game all year.

    Posted by peter ramus  on  12/22  at  06:33 PM
  3. Harlem Globetrotters v Washington Generals.

    Posted by  on  12/22  at  06:39 PM
  4. The Oklahoma Sooners won 47 straight football games from 1953 to 1957.

    UNC Tarheels women’s soccer team - 103 straight wins from 1986 to 1990.

    111 straight sets won is straight up crazy, though.

    Posted by  on  12/22  at  06:51 PM
  5. On behalf of Iowa State University, may I present Cael Sanderson? 

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cael_Sanderson

    Posted by  on  12/22  at  07:14 PM
  6. The non-silly candidate I thought of was Edwin Moses, who it turns out won 107 consecutive finals (122 races overall) in the 400m hurdles between 1977 and 1987.The fact that his event including jumping/leaping/(there must be some more apt term) over trippy obstacle thingies adds to his achievement in my eyes.

    Posted by  on  12/22  at  07:21 PM
  7. Peter!  My Brooklyn Superbas remark was meant to serve as pre-emptive parody of anyone who drew on Ye Early Days of Baseballing.  Fie on you!

    Edwin Moses’s streak was truly Teh Awesome, and I’d never heard of this also teh awesome Cael Sanderson until now.  (Thanks, Mr. Bear.) But one of the reasons I’m extra extra curious about team megastreaks is that they seem qualitatively different from individuals’ domination of a sport (Tiger’s 3,484 142 consecutive cuts comes to mind).  You know, more variables involved—one person’s off night can ruin months or years of streakdom.

    Still, these are great suggestions.  Also those Sooners, Tarheels, and Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh.  Thanks!  Wish you all had been there Saturday night.

    Posted by Michael  on  12/22  at  07:31 PM
  8. The more I think about it, the crazier this is.  I mean there are 3 sets in a women’s volleyball match, right?  So that’s like 35+ straight matches, and they beat Nebraska… so that streak is still going.  But that’s equivalent to 35+ straight matches where you never got outscored in any inning, period, or quarter.

    I don’t know much about volleyball, but that’s ridiculous!

    Posted by  on  12/22  at  07:51 PM
  9. Yeah, it’s like the 17-0 Miami Dolphins . . . if the 17-0 Miami Dolphins had outscored their opponents in every quarter and, like, held everyone to fewer than ten first downs.  Because one of the reasons Penn State was so hard to beat in even one 25-point set is that our defense is crazy good.  Teams would set up kill after kill only to find Penn State players diving all over the place, keeping balls in play and then somehow managing to return them with force.

    My only complaint about the finals—and I made it repeatedly, more loudly each time so as to ingratiate myself with my hosts—is that ESPN2 insisted on relying on the camera angle from behind one end of the court.  Whose bright idea was that?  There was no way to tell, from that stupid angle, just how scrumtrulescent some of those defensive saves really were—and no way to tell how people were playing at the net.  It was tres annoying.

    Posted by Michael  on  12/22  at  09:05 PM
  10. glad to hear you’re a wvball fan.

    i think thepuppethead (unintentionally) put it in perspective. 111 / 3 = 37 straight matches. 37 straight wins a.k.a. 111 straight sets *is* impressive. But so is:

    * 70 straight by uconn wbball from 2001-2003

    * 88 straight by ucla bball from 1972-1974

    * 47 straight by the oklahoma sooners (am. football) between 1953-1957

    * 5 for 5 in super bowl wins-appearances by the sf49ers (no other team has a “perfect” sb ledger)

    * 74 consecutive wins on jeopardy by ken jennings in 2004

    * 19 and counting, the number of undefeated races by pepper’s pride, beating the previous record of 16 co-held by citation and cigar

    Posted by  on  12/22  at  09:22 PM
  11. corr. “(no other team [with multiple appearances] has a “perfect” sb ledger)”

    Posted by  on  12/22  at  09:29 PM
  12. Team success?  OK.  As an Iowa State Alum, I hate to do this, but a tip of the hat to the U. of Iowa:

    “Iowa’s overall dual meet record is 807-213-30 (.783) in 95 seasons. The Hawkeyes have won 20 national titles, including nine of the last 16, and 31 Big Ten titles. Iowa’s 47 NCAA champions have won a total of 73 NCAA individual titles, crowning six three-time and 13 two-time champions. The Hawkeyes’ 99 Big Ten Champions have won a total of 180 conference titles. There have been seven four-time, 18 three-time and 24 two-time Iowa winners. Iowa’s 129 all-Americans have earned all-America status 263 times, including 16 four-time, 27 three-time and 32 two-time honorees.”

    http://www.iptv.org/wrestling/news.cfm?NewsID=1950

    Posted by  on  12/22  at  11:27 PM
  13. Oh, and the Vikings have a perfect Superbowl record:  0-4.  Maybe not the right kind of perfection but still.....

    Posted by  on  12/22  at  11:32 PM
  14. The Edmonton Grads, 522-20 between 1915 and 1940:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edmonton_Grads

    Also, I just read the other day about a high school football team, William Floyd on Long Island, which had a winning streak from 05 until they went down last month; 42 games. Not the same, I know, but quite something for a high school.

    D

    Posted by Derryl Murphy  on  12/23  at  12:02 AM
  15. As an undergraduate and graduate student athlete at UCLA from 1965 through 1978, i must protest the claim made about 38 straight victories by a women’s volleball team.  For example between 1965 and 1969 the UCLA men’s waterpolo team, upon which i played, went 46 straight without giving up a quarter or a match.  The NCAA did not have women’s volleyball championships until 1981, because prior to that 95% of all women’s VB took place on the west coast; and most of it still does so (in 28 years only six teams not from the west have won).  If Penn State were forced to compete twice a week out here, i don’t think they would have been quite so fortunate.  It should be noted that the NCAA purposefully tweaked the formula and selection process for the brackets for women’s volleyball to shift the attention to the other 3/4ths of country that was getting the short shrift in the previous configuration.  And i salute Penn State for having a roster of the best players east of the Rocky Mountains.

    UCLA currently holds the NCAA record for most total number of championships (currently 103) across all sports.  Some record streaks probably won’t be rebroken:

    UCLA men’s basketball has set several NCAA records.
    * 11 NCAA titles
    * 7 consecutive NCAA titles (1967-1973)
    * 13 NCAA title game appearances
    * 18 Final Four appearances*
    * 10 consecutive Final Four appearances (1967-1976)
    * 26 Final Four wins*
    * 38 game NCAA Tournament winning streak (1964-1974)
    * 134 weeks ranked #1 in AP Top 25 Poll
    * 221 consecutive weeks ranked in AP Top 25 Poll (1966-1980)
    * 54 consecutive winning seasons (1949-2002)
    * 88 game regular season winning streak (1971-1974)

    Posted by  on  12/23  at  12:24 AM
  16. Jose Capablanca was undefeated in competitive chess from 1916 to 1924 but he didn’t win every game. (Still, he didn’t lose any, or “loose” any per the current internet usage.) I’ve always thought of chess as hockey for non-skaters and those adverse to bloody noses.

    Posted by  on  12/23  at  12:30 AM
  17. reticulant @ 10

    That’s true, but (since I just now read the article.... d’oh!) Penn St. is actually at 37-0 just for this season—their win streak goes back to last year, and is currently at 63 straight.  And they’re still rolling—so even though one streak has ended, there’s still a pretty hot one cooking.  Streak within a streak, if you will.  So if you factor out the one streak, and multiply by the square root of pi, what you wind up with Penn State = Awesome.

    Posted by  on  12/23  at  01:42 AM
  18. And don’t forget Wright State University football: undefeated since 1964!

    Posted by  on  12/23  at  09:12 AM
  19. Dan Gable won 118 consecutive wresting matches at Iowa State. Then he lost one (argh), but to a UW Husky, so it was OK. (I’m a UW grad.)

    Also, In 1972, he won a gold medal at the Summer Olympics without surrendering a point to any of his opponents.

    Posted by  on  12/23  at  11:31 AM
  20. Floyd Alvis Cooper had quite a streak going in his own domain, retiring undefeated after destroying Mary Rosh and the dreaded Sprezzatura in their famed Armageddon of the Trolls. Though I hear tell of a fearsome young contender.

    Posted by John Protevi  on  12/23  at  12:44 PM
  21. I thought you’d be watching.  You knew if you didn’t, you’d be shamed by fans who weren’t even PSU homers. 

    I’ll always go to bat for Ed Moses as the greatest individual performer we’ve seen.  Doing something tricky, like a quarter-mile of hurdles, really well gets our extra admiration.

    Best ever or not, PSU has ascended to the pantheon of greatest teams.  Volleyball, especially as played in D-I these days, is as complex as anything short of NHL hockey.  The skills aren’t that tough, but choreography and coordination make winners and champions.  And coaches can’t roll multiple lines. 

    It’s like four-dimensional ping pong, people trying to keep a ball under control that wants to fly free of a small space.  PSU plays a particularly fast version, pairs of big girls rushing around doing unexpected things and a different approach to defense. 

    Besides, Russ Rose reminds me a bit of Woody Allen.  He’s normally so phlegmatic on the bench that they joked about calling 911 in Omaha, except for the latter parts of the Nebraska match when he got up and told them what to do. 

    The team was able to shift to a gear nobody else has, even with 17,500 fans cheering the other team.  They’re a wonder to see. 

    Gotta represent for Emory.  They took the D-III title a few weeks back, coming back in their regional and in the finals to win it all.  Plus, the football team’s undefeated since 1836.

    Posted by  on  12/23  at  05:04 PM
  22. J. Michael Straczynski writing 59 straight episodes of Babylon 5?

    Posted by JD  on  12/23  at  07:25 PM
  23. Kentucky’s 129-game home court winning streak covering 12 years is arguably the safest record in college basketball.

    59 straight episodes of Babylon 5? Pffft. Weak tea. Bob Barker nailed 3,524 consecutive game show performances without once experiencing an on-air psychotic break.

    Stanley Kubrick demanding 127 takes from Shelly Duvall in the “baseball bat” scene in The Shining is untouchable.

    Posted by  on  12/24  at  01:42 AM
  24. The Chicago Cubs have gone 100 years without a championship. Any bad team can win accidently stumble onto a winning formula and win the occasional championship, but to go 100 years without one requires dedication and perseverance of the highest magnitude.

    Posted by  on  12/24  at  03:38 PM
  25. My immediate thoughts were Edwin Moses and Alexander Karelin, the Russian wrestler.  According to Wikipedia, Karelin was undefeated in international competition from 1987 until 2000, and went the last six years of his unbeaten streak without giving up a point.  I saw that 2000 match he lost (to American Rulon Gardner), and it was as close to a draw as you can get - neither could score on the other, but at one point Karelin let his grip be broken and suffered a one-point deduction - the only point of the match.  Still, I bet the PSU women could take him at volleyball.

    Posted by Dave Maier  on  12/25  at  06:10 PM
  26. That is one big thank list! Thank you for your good sense of humor and kindness.

    Posted by Everton Tickets  on  08/27  at  02:47 PM
  27. If money was no object ide take those cheating pikey scum from sth london to the european court and get them stripped of every league title they have won, as they bought their way into the 1st div at the expence of tottenham who got relegated , why should keep there titles?My hatred is such that if i go and price a job(i work for myself) and i see any hint of the ar$e 20% extra gets put on the bill !...pansat fta

    Posted by pansat fta  on  09/02  at  02:17 AM
  28. If money was no object ide take those cheating pikey scum from sth london to the european court and get them stripped of every league title they have won, as they bought their way into the 1st

    Posted by Cheap Evening Dresses  on  04/12  at  07:49 AM
  29. Sports turf fields often have an infill layer that acts as cushion, ensuring more safety for athletes. Made up of sand and small rubber particles that lie in between the synthetic grass blades, this infill layer minimizes impact and possible injuries. This cushion also allows athletes to pivot and assume the same sports position and stances as they would in natural grass.

    Posted by Cheap Sports Apparel  on  01/25  at  08:46 AM

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