NCAA volleyball: Catching Fire

Courtesy of Jon Kondrath

Like the “Hunger Games,’ the NCAA volleyball tournament has action, love, rivalries -- and occasional violence, such as a spike to the face.

Everyone knows that new “Hunger Games: Catching Fire’’ movie is killing it at box offices, but that’s not this week’s top release or box-office smash for volleyball fans across the country. For them (myself included), it’s the NCAA Division I volleyball championships!

The NCAA tournament pairings came out Sunday night. Sixty-four teams out of 332 are selected based on overall season performance and RPI, which stands for “rating percentage index.” The top 16 seeds host first- and second-round matches this week. Some are on Friday and Saturday, but we’re hosting matches on Thursday and Friday.

The tournament is a single-elimination format and by the end of this weekend, only 16 teams will still be in the hunt for the championship. The following weekend, Dec. 13 and 14, play will continue at four regional sites (Champaign, Ill.; Lexington, Ky.; Lincoln, Neb.; and our very own Galen Center here in Los Angeles). The four regional champions will meet in Seattle to determine the national champion.

In so many ways, the NCAA tournament is like the “Hunger Games.” It’s a fight to “stay alive” and it’s an annual tourney that determines who is the best. Looking for reasons why the NCAA tournament is as good as, or better, than the “Hunger Games”? I’ve got ’em:

1. The NCAA tournament has 32 times the amount of entertainment! With each match averaging about two hours and 63 total matches, you get 126 hours of gut-wrenching entertainment compared with a mere four-hour sit-down movie.

2. Like the “Hunger Games’’ series, this volleyball tournament has action, love, rivalries and just enough of that occasional violence, you know, when someone takes a spike to the face. We call that a six-pack in the volleyball world.

3. The tournament is a lot like the “Catching Fire’’ movie because each of the champions of the respective volleyball conferences is represented. Each one is a respected opponent that brings its own unique qualities to the court.

4. We’ve got teams like District 2, Cato and Clove, which have a strong reputation for winning. Penn State won four titles in a row between 2007 and 2010. That’s four of the last six!

5. There are teams like Rue from District 11 that are great and fly under the radar. Last year, Michigan entered the tournament ranked 33rd and ended up in the final four.

6. Can’t decide between Team Peeta and Team Gale? Try that times 64.

7. We’ll gladly volunteer for tribute. If your team loses, that’s basically the end of our volleyball lives this season, as we know it. It’s single elimination and for players that are seniors, it’s their last chance to play collegiately. Every team wants to be in the tournament because that elusive prize of being the best is worth the fight.

8. The NCAA is better than President Snow and Seneca Crane. First, the NCAA is not evil. It ranks the teams fairly based on RPI and overall performance so it can organize the whole tournament. Plus, it can’t control the matches by dropping burning logs and creating crazy force fields to try to kill us!

9. We’ve got Jennifer Lawrence beat. Sixty-four teams times 15 girls equals 960 top female athletes in spandex. Enough said.

10. You can’t read the books to find out what’s going to happen!

Good Luck to all the teams participating and “may the odds be ever in your favor.”