Hey guys! It’s volleyball season! It’s actually been volleyball season for awhile now, but I decided not to write about anything until conference play, as I am pretty swamped with the new job. That also means that Net Results is going to be more abbreviated than these talented women deserve, but better something than nothing, right? I’ll do the best I can.
With that, let’s get to it. The Big Ten again looks to be a powerful conference, although rankings-wise, they’re not quite as dominant as in years past, at least not yet in this young season. Part of that is due to PSU’s relative slump, and MSU’s more expected slump (they graduated six seniors last year). But this is still a phenomenal conference, and there are going to be a lot of great matchups pretty much every weekend. The Pac-12, as usual, is the other big player in the national rankings, with nine ranked teams, though they skew closer to the bottom than does the Big Ten.
The AVCA poll of September 24 features seven ranked B1G teams, five of them in the top ten. So, you know, not too shabby:
#3 Nebraska (11-1)
#5 Wisconsin (9-1)
#6 Minnesota (8-2)
#7 Illinois (13-0)
#9 Penn State (9-3)
#16 Purdue (12-1)
#17 Michigan (12-1)
Receiving Votes: OSU (23), MSU (4)
I’d love to do a more thorough analysis of where each team is at right now, but unfortunately, that’s just not in the cards this week. Here’s what’s up with the top teams in the conference, as well as two (sort-of) surprises in Iowa and MSU.
Nebraska (11-1, 2-0)
The Huskers lost their first match of the season, which is never a good thing—but it was to Florida, the team they defeated in the National Championship match last year, so it wasn’t to some slouch of a team. Anyway, last year they started off the year with two straight losses, and still won it all, so Husker fans weren’t (or shouldn’t have been) too worried. Since then, they’ve continued to improve, and won some important and tough non-con match-ups (#12 Oregon and #10 Creighton) and a conference-opening weekend against the denizens of the Mitten State (including #17 Michigan). The Huskers lost first-team All-American setter Kelly Hunter, but so far freshman Nicklin Hames is improving nicely, and Mikaela Foecke seems poised to have a monster senior season.
Wisconsin (9-1, 2-0)
Wisconsin also aced (see what I did there) some non-con trials, most notably knocking off then-#2 Texas in four sets the second weekend of the season. They also swept #21 Marquette. However, the Badgers stumbled against 9-4 Baylor, falling in four. An opening conference weekend found them victorious against OSU and, as expected, blowing Rutgers out of the gym. Tonight will be a telling match as they take on Minnesota on the road in a match with big conference implications.
Minnesota (8-2, 2-0)
Minnesota did not have a shining non-conference, suffering losses to both ranked teams they faced (Oregon and Stanford, now #12 and #2 respectively) and bringing shame on the Big Ten in the Big Ten/Pac 12 Challenge. However, they entered Big Ten play with a splash, sweeping Penn State last Wednesday. Over the weekend, they took out Maryland, and now are poised for a big showdown with the Badgers tonight.
Illinois (13-0, 2-0)
Illinois is red-hot (orange-hot?) right now. Not only are they undefeated, five of their wins have come against ranked competition (Colorado and Washington—bringing honor to the Big Ten in the Big Ten/Pac-12 Challenge), Colorado State, Creighton, and Purdue). With Nebraska coming up on Saturday and Wisconsin next Wednesday, both at home, Illinois has a chance to put some early and critical distance between themselves and some favorites for the Big Ten title. However, they may not be entirely invincible— Indiana unexpectedly got the Illini down two sets on Sunday before they came back to win in five.
Penn State (9-3, 0-2)
Penn State finds itself in unfamiliar territory in 2018—off to an 0-2 conference start for the first time since 2000. A fairly puffy non-conference slate found the Nittany Lions splitting outcomes with the two ranked teams it faced, losing in three to Stanford, and sweeping Oregon (did Oregon play the entire Big Ten in the non-con, by the way?) A conference-opening sweep to Minnesota was not beyond the realm of understanding, but last weekend’s four-set loss to unranked OSU was more surprising—it was only the 2nd time in the last 22 tries that OSU has managed to best Penn State. Given coach Russ Rose’s experience and PSU’s significant talent (as far as we know, the volleyball program, at least, DOES believe that talent is required), they certainly can’t be counted out of anything yet and I’d expect them to improve—but by putting themselves in a hole early, they’ve not made things easy for themselves in the brutal Big Ten conference race.
Purdue (12-1, 1-1)
Purdue’s record is looking mighty pretty right now, in spite of them being ranked “only” #16 in the country. That comes courtesy of them playing only a single ranked team in the non-con, and that was then-#25 Alabama (volleyball: where it’s actually ok to say “we want Bama” as a Big Ten fan). They also prevailed in a tough five-set match against Louisville, who is just outside the Top 25. They stole a set from the Illini to open conference play, but lost the match, before rolling on to defeat lackluster Northwestern. Thanks to their schedule, we don’t know a lot about the Boilermakers yet—expect them to be another good but not great Big Ten team who is good enough to beat the bottom tier and maybe cause occasional drama for those at the top.
Michigan (12-1, 1-1)
Boy, that record sure looks a lot like Purdue’s! In fact, you could pretty much copy/paste Purdue’s paragraph for Michigan. A relatively weak non-con with the only test being a sweep of Colorado State (who spent early weeks flirting with the bottom of the rankings) found the Wolverines undefeated to start conference play. However, they too failed their first big test with a road game at Nebraska (that is, admittedly, a tough conference opener) before moving east and getting the better of Iowa.
Two other teams of note: Iowa (9-4, 1-1) did not win any ranked games during the non-con, but did score a reasonably surprising upset of MSU to begin conference play. For the past few seasons, Iowa has been making very slow but steady headway toward the middle of the Big Ten (that sounds like damning with faint praise, but in this conference, where it’s so hard to improve, it’s really not), and it seems that trajectory is continuing this year. Might they surprise some big names this season? Meanwhile, MSU (12-3, 0-2) is experiencing some not-unexpected growing pains after graduating six seniors after last year’s squad. This might be a rough one for the Spartans, but veteran coach Cathy George will no doubt find a way to improve this team throughout the season, even if this isn’t exactly one for the record books.
BTN has a double-header tonight, and the late game is one to tune into if you like good volleyball:
Wed, September 26
7:00 PM ET— Indiana @ OSU
9:00 PM ET—Wisconsin @ Minnesota
Friday, September 28
7:00 PM ET—Penn State @ MSU
Saturday, September 29
8:00 PM ET—Nebraska @ Illinois
That’s actually quite a few televised games for the ol’ BTN—have they finally heard my annoyed chastisements for not airing more of this conference’s best product? We shall see.
Who ya got?
This poll is closed