From the Fringe...
In matches that really matter, the Montana State University-Northern volleyball team is perfect. Yes, through eight matches against Frontier Conference competition, no one in the league has been able to knock off the Skylights.
In a league noted for depth and talent, that should be enough to raise some eyebrows across the NAIA landscape, but so far, the respect the Skylights have been getting nationally is minimal. And that’s a shame because it’s become quite clear, Northern is one of the best teams in the country.
Without having seen much of the rest of the nation, I know Northern is, at the very least, one of the best 25 teams in the NAIA right now because there is no way there are 25 other volleyball teams playing better than the Skylights are right now, and have for the last five weeks.
Yet, as I’ve been frustrated by the NAIA’s ranking system so many times before, it’s déjà vu all over again. Northern isn’t getting the respect in the NAIA Volleyball Coaches Poll that it rightly deserves.
Some may argue that polls are meaningless, and that many polls are just something that can give fans bragging rights. Some argue that polls are an arbitrary number and not a true representation of the team the rankings are, or in the Skylights’ case, aren’t associated with.
And to a degree, I agree with those arguments. But in Northern’s case, in the case of the Frontier and all of NAIA volleyball, a national ranking, or lack there of, has true meaning. Rankings determine at-large bids to the NAIA national tournament, and a Top 25 ranking at the end of the season could determine whether or not Northern makes the NAIA national tournament field.
Of course, the Skylights could go on and win the Frontier tourney in November, but even if they don’t, they already deserve to go to the national tournament in my opinion. There is no way, even with eight matches left in the regular season, that the Skylights aren’t one of the 32 best teams in the country.
But right now, the NAIA poll isn’t reflective of that, and that’s because the system is flawed. MSU-N hasn’t lost a match in over a month, and has only dropped a total of five sets in eight conference matches. Polls are supposed to reflect the teams playing the best in the here and now, and that’s Northern. Yet, the NAIA poll is doing just the opposite. Three weeks ago, the Skylights had 80 votes in the poll. The next week, they dropped below 50 and just rose above 50 in this week’s poll.
It’s not fair what’s happening to the Northern volleyball team right now as it relates to the NAIA poll. It’s actually a travesty because the Skylights have met the criteria to be nationally ranked and then some.
A flawed system is holding MSU-N back right now. Here’s hoping it doesn’t last, because no matter what the Skylights do from here on out, they’ve already proven, on the court, that they are one of the 25 best teams in the country.
Sometimes numbers are meaningless. But this isn’t one of those times. Northern deserves to see its name next to a national volleyball ranking. The fact that it hasn’t happened with the season more than half over, only once again proves just how wrong the NAIA ranking system truly is.