The Streak: Flying High and the Law of Gravity

During “The Streak” (109 consecutive victories by the Penn State Women’s Volleyball team from September 21, 2007 to September 10, 2010), Penn State won an NCAA record 55 consecutive road matches, three consecutive NCAA titles, lost a total of 19 sets, and from the final set of the 2007 National Championship match against Stanford to the third set of the 2008 NCAA National Semifinal match against Nebraska, won an NCAA record 111 straight sets.  

It is the longest consecutive victory streak by an NCAA Division I women’s team in history and (arguably) second overall to the Miami men’s tennis team’s 137 match streak. (As we discussed here, that’s true, but not the full story.  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.  The Streak is the longest for a “single score” sport — like football, or basketball, or volleyball.  We think these records are really apples and oranges). 

But it was going to end sometime, and as everyone in the college volleyball world knows by now, the Streak was broken on September 11, 2010 by Stanford in the Finals of the Nike Big Four Volleyball Classic in Gainesville Florida. 

Coach Rose: I Don’t Look Back

Penn State Women’s Volleyball Coach Russ Rose didn’t want to talk about The Streak when it was alive and he doesn’t want to talk about it now that it is over (we still love his quote: “I don’t look back.”)

We don’t blame him: a winning streak that spans more than one season (this one spanned parts of four) is a strange hybrid, involving a changing cast of characters each with different strengths and weaknesses and each with different team dynamics.  So although each group of players that contributes to the streak can take ownership for their part in it, no single group can lay claim to the entire streak. That’s one reason Coach Rose doesn’t like to talk about it. 

More fundamentally, we think, his focus is on the present and the future (as it should be) and how to make his current team better, not on what happened in the past. That’s for fans. 

Who’s Next?

But fans, being fans, think about things like streaks and records and the past.  So for many fans, the question is will The Streak be broken by an NCAA women’s volleyball team (there is plenty of support for the notion that the UConn women’s basketball team will end up with more than 109 consecutive victories) and if so, when.

Never is a very long time, so we wouldn’t make a bet on The Streak lasting forever.  We certainly can say it will take almost three years (assuming 38 matches per season per team), with the Streak-Breaker being undefeated in at least two of those seasons.  Back-to-back.  Given how rarely NCAA women’s volleyball teams have gone undefeated (only five times since since 1981 — if you include NCAA Tournament matches), it’s clear that’s a very tall order. 

So, the Streak probably will be broken someday, but it will be a challenge.  And the fans of the program that meets that challenge will have something to be proud of.  And to talk about.  The team’s coach probably will be focused on other things.  As she or he should be.

To underscore the difficulty of the challenge, the table below shows the Final Four teams from 1998, with total wins, losses, sets won, and sets lost (in all cases, including the NCAA tournament).  It’s sortable — click on the arrows at the head of each column to reset the order of the teams in that column. 

Won Lost Records (Matches and Sets): Final Four Teams from 1998 to 2009

YearTeamConferenceNCAA FinishWins (Matches)Losses (Matches)Wins (Sets)Losses (Sets)
2009Penn StateBig 10First3801148
2008Penn StateBig TenFirst3801142
2007Penn State Big TenFirst34210418
2006Nebraska Big 12First33110114
2005WashingtonPac 10First3219810
2004Stanford Pac 10First3069835
2003USC Pac 10First3501058
2002USC Pac 10First3119512
2001Stanford Pac 10First33210121
2000NebraskaBig 12First34010213
1999Penn State Big TenFirst36111015
1998Long Beach Big WestFirst3601088
2001Long Beach Big WestSecond331NANA
1998Nebraska Big 12Semi-finals3229916
2004USC Pac 10Semi-finals2367632
2001Nebraska Big 12Semi-finals3129414
2005Nebraska Big 12Second33210115
2006WashingtonPac 10Semi-finals2959226
2008Nebraska Big 12Semi-finals3139721
1999Stanford Pac 10Second3139518
2007USC Pac 10Semi-finals2959135
2002Stanford Pac 10Second32510227
2000USCPac 10Semi-finals2938720
2006Stanford Pac 10Second3049219
2007Stanford Pac 10Second32310124
2008Stanford Pac 10Second3149523
2003MinnesotaBig TenSemi-finals26118549
2004MinnesotaBig TenSecond33510534
2004WashingtonPac 10Semi-finals2838923
1999Long Beach Big WestSemi-finals3149523
2007CaliforniaPac 10Semi-finals2688736
2006UCLAPac 10Semi-finals33410424
1999PacificBig WestSemi-finals323NANA
2000WisconsinBig TenSecond334NANA
2001ArizonaPac 10Semi-finals2557925
2005Santa ClaraWCCSemi-finals2758830
2008TexasBig 12Semi-finals2949424
2009TexasBig 12Second2929113
2009MinnesotaBig 10Semi-finals2898841
1998Penn StateBig TenSecond3411046