On Streaks and Records (and Not Looking Back)

For the Penn State Women’s Volleyball team, the 2009 season might be called “The Year of the Streaks” — as in winning an unprecedented third consecutive NCAA Championship, extending the NCAA record for consecutive match victories to 102, winning an NCAA record 18th consecutive NCAA Tournament match, extending the record for consecutive Big Ten match victories to 65, and the record for consecutive match victories in Rec Hall to 74.

Oh, and Head Coach Russ Rose raised his win total to 1001, trailing only UCLA’s Andy Banachowski (1,106) and Hawaii’s Dave Shoji (1,016), coached his fourth NCAA Women’s Volleyball Champion, tying him with John Dunning (Pacific/Stanford) and Don Shaw (Stanford) for most Division I titles, and coached the first back-to-back undefeated women’s volleyball teams in NCAA Division I history.

But who’s counting?

“I Don’t Look Back”

Certainly not Russ Rose. Here he is making that clear in an interview with GoPSUSports prior to the start of the NCAA Tournament:

The money quote, responding to a question about the Penn State consecutive match winning streak:

The reason I don’t spend much time with the media is because that’s what they want to talk about. So I don’t talk about it with the team at all. I care about this team trying to get them focused, trying to get them better, and when we’re done, there’s more information maybe to fill in some media guides and some articles, but from my standpoint, we’re trying to get better every day and those are the things I talk about to the players.

Same story after the NCAA Championship victory over Texas. Here’s a link to the post-match press conference with Coach Rose, Megan Hodge, Alyssa D’Errico, Alisha Glass, and Arielle Wilson, when Coach Rose had this to say on whether the Championship match was his closest ever:

Well, we were lousy in the second game, so I don’t think it was the closest match. . . . I don’t rank things like that. The statistics are for other people to talk about.”

And this on whether the championships “get a little harder as the streak goes on and the pressure mounts”:

The competition gets harder and harder. I don’t think it’s the pressure. What pressure will we have next year? We’ll have nine new freshmen coming into the program. Their pressure is to try and keep the program at as high a level as we possibly can. So when they lose a match, I’m not going to say “it’s your fault,” because the streak was made up of a lot of players that are gone.

And this, after answering when was the last time his team was down two sets to none (he said against Texas, in 2006, when Megan Hodge and Alisha Glass were freshmen):

I don’t look back. I’ve got a cigar with my name on it out there tonight. So I’m not looking back.

But We’re Fans – We Do Look Back

We get the picture, and completely understand Coach Rose’s position on “historical statistics” (his term for statistics — like consecutive match winning streaks — that reflect past performance but have no bearing on one’s ability to win a match today or tomorrow).

But, as Coach Rose says in the interview, those kinds of statistics help fill media guides and articles (and blogs, Coach, and blogs) and they capture the attention of fans. So we’re going to take another look at the 102 match winning streak.

It’s been widely reported that the 102-match streak is second in Division I team sports behind the Miami men’s tennis program’s 137 consecutive wins from 1957-64. That’s true, but not the full story.

For one thing, as we and several others have noted, the Miami streak is the longest for an “aggregate score” team sport — like tennis, golf, and wrestling — where points earned in multiple individual competitions are aggregated to determine the team score.

Penn State’s streak, on the other hand, is the longest NCAA winning streak for “single score” sports — like volleyball, football, basketball, and baseball — in which two teams compete against one another in a single contest to accumulate a single score that determines the winner of the contest.

There’s nothing wrong with “aggregate score” competitions, but they are fundamentally different from “single score” contests. We think the two really should be reported separately.

Oh, and the One Team/One Coach win streak is 117

But there’s more. As Penn State fan and wrestling blogger UncleLar pointed out to us in the following e-mail, the Miami streak spans two coaches:

One coach retired after going 20-0, the second coach carried on the winning streak. So the individual coaching win streak is 117, which Russ could get a shot at next year. Second. Miami’s win streak is basically a regular season winning streak and doesn’t include the NCAA tournaments.

In those days, the NCAA championship was determined like the wrestling championship now. A team took their singles and doubles players to the NCAA tournament and, as the players advanced through the tournament, they accumulated points for the school. At the end of the tournament, the school with the most points was the winner.

Miami didn’t win any NCAA crowns during their winning streak — USC won most of the tennis titles then. But since Miami and USC never actually met head-to-head, the USC championships don’t count as Miami losses.

Which pretty much underscores, for us at least, why “aggregate score” winning streaks shouldn’t be lumped together with “single score” winning streaks.

That aside, the good news for record-conscious fans is there’s another record on the horizon: the One Team/One Coach consecutive match winning streak.

Will Penn State/Russ Rose break it? Who knows? Those nine incoming freshmen will make 2010 a very interesting year for Penn State. Losing a match (or more) certainly isn’t out of the question.

The only thing we’d be willing to bet on about the 2010 season is that for Russ Rose, the One Team/One Coach streak is just another historical statistic, fine for other people to talk about, but totally irrelevant to him.