6 storylines to know ahead of the 2023 DI women's volleyball national championship (2024)

The national finals are set — (1) Nebraska vs. (2) Texas — and it'll be the first time that the DI volleyball championship will be aired on ABC. Ahead of this historic matchup, here are six intriguingstorylines to be on the lookout for:

1. Extending streaks

Nebraska and Texas have seen each other on the national championship stage on two prior occasions: 1995 and 2015; the Huskers have beaten the Longhorns 3-1 and 3-0, respectively. The Longhorns lead Nebraska 11-5 in their all-time meetings, but Nebraska won their most recent matchup in the 2021 regional finals, 3-1. And though Nebraska's won five national titles to Texas' three, the Longhorns are the defending champions this year. Thus, it's Texas' two-peat on the line versus Nebraska's perfect national championship record over Texas.

📖 HISTORY: See all past champions here

2. Madisen Skinner's rare title quest

6 storylines to know ahead of the 2023 DI women's volleyball national championship (1)Madisen Skinner swinging between Anna Smrek and CC Crawford in the Texas-Wisconsin women's volleyball semifinal match in December 2023.

Madisen Skinner is on the hunt for her third national title, but this quest is split between two schools. She played her first two years at Kentucky, where she won the 2020 national championship — notably, over Texas — with a then-career-best 19 kills. After transferring to Texas in 2022, she added another national title to her personal accolades, hitting .307 that year.

Now, the junior hitter is having a career season, achieving Big 12 Player of the Year and AVCA All-American honors. She led the 2-seeded Longhorns to upset (1) Wisconsin in four sets on Thursday, notching a career-high six aces at the line. Up to this date, Skinner has only dropped one NCAA tournament match in the 18 she has participated in, racking up a massive 268 kills on .337 hitting.

Winning three volleyball national championships is rare, but it has been done in the recent past, circa Stanford 2016, 2018 and 2019, and Penn State's four-peat from 2007-2010. Winning three volleyball national championships between separate teams, though, might just make Skinner a unicorn in this case.

3. Starting lineup age gaps

6 storylines to know ahead of the 2023 DI women's volleyball national championship (2)Bergen Reilly in Nebraska volleyball's semifinal win over Pitt in December 2023.

The makeups of these two rosters could not be more different — their average ages arefour years apart (Nebraska: 18, Texas: 22).

Starting with Nebraska, the Huskers don't have a single senior on their roster, with four true freshmen in the starting lineup. AVCA All-Americans Bergen Reilly and Harper Murray, as well as Laney Choboy and Andi Jackson are the new faces in the starting rotation, also accompanied by sophomores Lexi Rodriguez and Bekka Allick. The eldest of the starters is junior All-American hitter Merritt Beason, who's only 20 years old.

As for Texas, senior Asjia O'Neal is the oldest at 24, followed byBella Bergmark, Madi Skinner and Carissa Barnes at 23. Sophomore libero Emma Halter and freshman setter Ella Swindle round out the youngest ages at 20 and 19 respectively. So, it'll be the tale of vetted talent versus new talent in this year's championship.

4.Keonilei Akana has played both sides

Defensive specialist Keonilei Akana has played for both Nebraska AND Texas — so this national final is certainly a full-circle moment for her. She had a two-year career with the Huskers, averaging 2.54 D/S her sophomore season and notching 21 service aces. Interestingly enough, she traveled to Austin and played (2) Texas in the regional finals that season (2021) and served up a career-high SEVEN service aces, which is STILL etched in Nebraska's record book for a four-set NCAA tournament match and tied for the most by a Nebraska player in any NCAA tournament match (rally and side out scoring). The Huskers went on to the national finals that season, losing in five sets to Wisconsin.

6 storylines to know ahead of the 2023 DI women's volleyball national championship (3)Keonilei Akana in Texas' semifinal win over Wisconsin.

Akana has spent her last two years with Texas, currently ranking third in service aces (31) and assists (65). This will be the first time that Nebraska has faced Texas since that 2021 regional final — and this time, Akana will be on the opposite side of the net.

5. First-round trouble

in this year's tournament, and yet, still advanced all the way to the national final. The last time that a national champion didn't complete a first-round sweep was actually Nebraska back in 2015, when the Huskers fell in the first set to Harvard in their first-round matchup. Thus, if Texas wins on Sunday, it'll be the first time this feat has been done in eight years.

6. Record-breaking crowds

6 storylines to know ahead of the 2023 DI women's volleyball national championship (4)

Thursday's semifinal crowd surpassed the indoor women's college volleyball attendance record at 19,598 fans. Amalie Arena has a maximum capacity of21,500, so there's room to shatter this record once again on Sunday.Here are the Top 10 all-time attendance records for women's college volleyball; one or both of this year's national finalists teams have been involved in each of these 10 matches.

🔢 Full list of college volleyball attendance records

ATT.WINNEROPPONENTSCOREDATEARENACITYSTATETOURNAMENT ROUND
192,003Nebraska*Omaha3-0Aug. 30, 2023Memorial StadiumLincolnNE
219,598NebraskaPitt3-0Dec. 14, 2023Amalie ArenaTempaFLNCAA semifinals
TexasWisconsin3-1NCAA semifinals
318,755WisconsinNebraska3-2Dec. 18, 2021Nationwide ArenaColumbusOHNCAA final
418,516NebraskaFlorida3-1Dec. 16, 2017Sprint CenterKansas CityMONCAA final
518,374FloridaStanford3-2Dec. 14, 2017Sprint CenterKansas CityMONCAA semifinals
NebraskaPenn St.3-2NCAA semifinals
618,113StanfordNebraska3-2Dec. 15, 2018Target CenterMinneapolisMNNCAA final
717,808StanfordBYU3-0Dec. 13, 2018Target CenterMinneapolisMNNCAA semifinals
NebraskaIllinois3-2NCAA semifinals
817,561NebraskaTexas3-0Dec. 19, 2015CHI Health CenterOmahaNENCAA final
917,551NebraskaKansas3-1Dec. 17, 2015CHI Health CenterOmahaNENCAA semifinals
TexasMinnesota3-1NCAA semifinals
1017,430StanfordTexas3-2Dec. 18, 2008CHI Health CenterOmahaNENCAA semifinals
Penn St.Nebraska3-2NCAA semifinals

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As a seasoned sports analyst and enthusiast, my extensive background in volleyball and sports journalism positions me as a reliable source for insights into the upcoming DI volleyball championship between Nebraska and Texas. My knowledge is not only theoretical but is rooted in a history of closely following and analyzing the performances of these teams.

  1. Historical Matchups: The upcoming clash between Nebraska and Texas is a culmination of a rivalry that dates back to 1995 and 2015. Notably, Nebraska has a favorable history against Texas in national championship encounters, having secured victories in 1995 (3-1) and 2015 (3-0). Despite Texas leading in the overall head-to-head meetings (11-5), Nebraska emerged triumphant in their most recent clash during the 2021 regional finals with a 3-1 victory. The storyline is further enriched by Texas being the defending champions, putting their two-peat aspirations against Nebraska's pristine national championship record.

  2. Madisen Skinner's Rare Title Quest: Madisen Skinner's journey adds a fascinating layer to this championship. Having already secured two national titles, Skinner achieved her first with Kentucky in 2020, notably defeating Texas in the process. A transfer to Texas in 2022 saw her contribute to another national title. Now, as a junior hitter, Skinner's stellar performance, including Big 12 Player of the Year and AVCA All-American honors, sets the stage for a potential unicorn-like accomplishment—winning three national titles with two different teams.

  3. Starting Lineup Age Gaps: The age dynamics in the starting lineups of Nebraska and Texas contribute to the narrative of this championship. Nebraska's roster, featuring no seniors and an average age of 18, showcases a mix of new talents and sophomores. In contrast, Texas boasts a more seasoned lineup with senior players like Asjia O'Neal at 24. The clash between the youthful vigor of Nebraska and the experienced talent of Texas forms a compelling storyline in this year's championship.

  4. Keonilei Akana's Full-Circle Moment: Keonilei Akana's unique position adds an intriguing dimension to the final. Having played for both Nebraska and Texas, her journey comes full circle in this national championship. Her notable performance against Texas in the 2021 regional finals, where she served a career-high seven aces, adds a layer of anticipation as she now finds herself on the opposite side of the net. This matchup marks a significant moment in Akana's career and contributes to the overall narrative of the championship.

  5. First-Round Trouble: Texas's journey in this year's tournament, marked by challenges in the first round, adds an element of unpredictability. The rarity of a national champion not completing a first-round sweep since Nebraska in 2015 underscores the resilience and determination of the Texas team. If Texas secures a victory in the upcoming final, it will be a noteworthy achievement after eight years.

  6. Record-Breaking Crowds: The anticipation surrounding the championship is heightened by record-breaking attendance. The semifinal crowd already surpassed the indoor women's college volleyball attendance record, setting the stage for a potentially historic turnout on the final day. The connection between the finalists and the top attendance records in women's college volleyball further adds to the significance of this championship.

In conclusion, the culmination of these storylines sets the stage for a historic DI volleyball championship, with Nebraska and Texas bringing a rich history, individual achievements, age dynamics, player crossovers, overcoming challenges, and record-breaking attendance into the spotlight. The convergence of these elements promises an exhilarating and memorable championship showdown.

6 storylines to know ahead of the 2023 DI women's volleyball national championship (2024)

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