Student-athletes have great opportunities to attend college or a university in the United States, particularly if they can earn one of the 258.5 full scholarships that colleges are allowed to award under the rules of the NCAA. Both men and women can supplement their ability to handle their education costs this way. The following six notable schools in the world of volleyball give the best players in the country fabulous opportunities both to play at the highest level and to get their education without going into hock up to their eyeballs.
Related resource: Top 40 Historically Women’s Colleges in the U.S.
Women’s Volleyball Schools
Penn State is one of the most storied colleges in the history of NCAA volleyball. Their women’s team came into existence in 1976, and since then, they’ve won 25 conference championships and seven national titles. Twice, they won more than 100 games in a row, and they have been in every single NCAA tournament since the present format began in 1981. For 40 seasons, Russell Rose has been the head coach. His .861 winning percentage is first all-time among college volleyball coaches.
The United States Women’s Volleyball team had never won an international competition before defeating China in the 2014 world championships. Two members of that team were from Penn State. That championship medal goes with the multiple silver and bronze medals in all competitions Penn State alumnae have won. Since winning their seventh NCAA title in 2014, Penn State has been rebuilding after three All-Americans and two other starters graduated.
Stanford is as storied a program as Penn State. They have one more championship than their eastern rivals but four fewer conference championships. Still, they have eight runner-up finishes, which is the most ever. Their eight titles are the most ever as well. Their beginning year was 1976, and they are the other team that has not missed the NCAA Finals since 1981. Stanford has had eight coaches since 1976. The current coach is Kevin Hambly, who took over for the 2017 season.
Stanford also had two players on the 2014 world-championship squad in Italy, and their alumnae have also won multiple silver and bronze medals at the Olympics and other competitions. Stanford is the reigning NCAA champions, and their team is young with seven freshmen and sophomores on the roster.
Baylor is a relative newcomer to the national spotlight. They are ranked No. 1 in the NCAA poll among women’s volleyball teams in 2019. Baylor has never won the national title, but at 25-1 this season, as of the end of November, they are angling for their first. Under head coach Ryan McGuire’s leadership, the Lady Bears have achieved higher results in both the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments. This season Baylor has won the Big 12 Conference Championship. Several of the team’s star players have earned conference and national awards. They are also the NCAA tournament’s top seed for 2019. Baylor will host two rounds worth of games this season too.
UCLA is one of the greatest college teams in any sport. In comparison, in the modern era, the University of Alabama has won 11 national titles in American football. UCLA, who has had a men’s volleyball team since 1970, has won 19 NCAA titles. No other school is even close. Pepperdine is second at five. Such legendary Olympians as Steve Salmons, Karch Kiraly, and Ricci Luyties played for UCLA. Salmons and Kiraly won back-to-back gold medals during the U.S.’s dominance.
Al Scates coached the Bruins to all 19 of their championships and was their coach for 48 years. Since 2012, John Speraw took over as the head coach. UCLA has not won a championship since 2006, but they were ranked in the top 10 in 2019.
Long Beach State
Long Beach State may have only three NCAA titles, but they have won the tournament in back-to-back years. These two titles come nearly 30 years after their first. Even before their two successive wins, they made the Final Four in 2016 and 2017 under Alan Knipe. Knipe is both the sixth and the eighth coach for the 49ers. Andy Read took over from 2010 until 2012 when Knipe was rehired. Knipe also has the distinction of being a member of Long Beach State’s 1991 championship-winning team and has, therefore, won it all as both a player and a coach for the school.
Perhaps Long Beach State’s most notable alumnus is Bob Ctvirtlik, who was a member of the same 1988 gold-medal team as Salmons and Kiraly from UCLA. Tom Hoff was a member of the 2008 U.S. gold-medal team in Beijing.
BYU isn’t as old a program as other perennial powers, but in its 29 years of existence, the Cougars have won three national titles, the last coming in 2004. BYU was a poor team when it first joined the NCAA and went 1-15 in its conference in its first year. Through the hard work of coaches Carl McGown and Tom Peterson, the morphed the program into yearly contenders. Since their first title in 1999, the Cougars have also been runners-up four times.
The alumni of the men’s team at BYU have a great volleyball pedigree. Stanford’s current women’s coach, Kevin Hambly, played for BYU in the beginning and was instrumental in pushing the team to a 21-6 record, which was a far cry from the 5-22 just four years beforehand.
When it comes to college scholarships, only the players on women’s teams get full scholarships. Men’s volleyball teams are considered an equivalency sport, which means that the scholarships cover part of the athletes’ tuition. Still, the scholarship process for all genders is largely the same.
The first thing a prospective athlete should do is create a scholarship portfolio. Like all student portfolios, the athlete’s portfolio should contain transcripts, activity paperwork, and awards. Additionally, the athlete should include relevant letters of recommendation from teachers, coaches, and heads of clubs and other activities in which the student participated.
This paperwork should be quite detailed. The athlete should list amounts of time spent doing each activity, the responsibilities the athlete had in each organization, and a frank and forthright analysis of how membership in the organization helped the athlete to grow. Scholarship applicants should include everything they did in high school. If they cannot remember everything, then they should come as close as possible.
The portfolio should also contain information about what the athlete did outside the school, such as volunteering or working a “day job.” Athletes should stress leadership positions they held and demonstrate how the volunteering or paid work helped shaped their outlook and development of leadership qualities.
Also, the athlete should include both printed statistics and a video history of game performance. The athlete should ensure that the video log is relevant. If the athlete is an outside hitter, then showing a film pastiche of track and field achievements would be wrong. In addition to having print letters of recommendation, it would also be good to include a few interviews with coaches, both from the athlete’s school and from the school’s opponents. Getting multiple perspectives is a good way to build a snapshot of an athlete’s skills, leadership, and grit.
After building the portfolio, securing a scholarship is about old-fashioned pavement pounding. It’s a brutal fact that only 2 percent of college athletes will get a full scholarship or something near it. There are more than 150,000 volleyball players of all genders seeking a limited number of scholarships, and the number of players accepted at elite schools like the six mentioned above is infinitesimal. For example, top volleyball schools only have 12 full volleyball scholarships to give. Division I NCAA volleyball teams have 16 roster spots, and yes, it is possible to be one of the four walk-ons, but walk-ons don’t get “full-ride” scholarships.
Traveling to the school the athlete wants to attend is a must. The portfolio gets someone in the door. Showing blocking, outside hitting, and serving skill in front of a coach is “where the rubber meets the road,” so to speak. It pays to be fully prepared for such exhibitions, which means the athlete must be in top shape and on top of the game through hard, comprehensive training.
All students, regardless of scholarship level, should complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It is a grim reality that a major injury is just one point away on the volleyball court. An athlete may be the best middle blocker in the country, but a torn ACL could ruin a career, which also might cause the cancellation of the scholarship. Having a “Plan B” is definitely a good idea.
The FAFSA is the form that the government and the college use to determine a student’s eligibility for need-based aid. Obviously, a student with a full scholarship has no need for such aid, but the school keeps the FAFSA on file until the end of each year, just in case. Students must fill out the FAFSA every year.
The need-based aid to which students might be entitled also includes grants and loans. Loans may be either subsidized or unsubsidized, depending on who issues them. A subsidized loan is one where the loan accrues no interest while the student is enrolled. Unsubsidized loans accrue interest from day one and also pile up interest on the interest.
Grants are like scholarships but are awarded by entities other than the school or the NCAA. Work-study is a special kind of grant, and there are certain rules about how much a student is allowed to work in any given week. Many students who play equivalency sports, such as men’s volleyball, take advantage of need-based financial aid, particularly if they’re walk-ons.
Because of the global nature of sports like volleyball, with several countries producing elite teams, many players come from overseas to play at elite colleges and universities in the United States. Student-athletes should ensure all of their immigration paperwork is ironclad and fully complete before applying for either the school, an athletic scholarship, or other forms of financial aid.
These students would likely need not only a student visa but also a work visa. If students were to receive money from using their name or likeness “in a manner consistent with the collegiate model,” as allowed under a new NCAA policy, then there would likely be other necessary paperwork to ensure the student lost neither scholarship nor acceptance at the school.
The Final Word
Volleyball is played widely in the NCAA, but students must remember that the number of slots is tiny for both acceptance on a team and for any scholarships that would cover most or all of the costs associated with going to college in the United States. Students must prepare for the scholarship process, which is grueling. It behooves the athlete, the athlete’s parents, teachers, and coaches to work together in the quest to find an appropriate scholarship for the athlete.
The No. 1 thing to remember is that no one knows everything. If something is unclear, ask someone who knows what’s what about it. By working together, athletes and their supporters can also network with others to get information, fill out paperwork, and do all the little things necessary to secure such a scholarship. After all, teamwork is what it’s all about, right?
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