Big Ten volleyball saw an eventful 2011 season come to a close at the NCAA Championship on Dec. 17, with Illinois advancing to its first NCAA Championship final. The Fighting Illini won their first five matches in the tournament before falling to UCLA, 3-1, in the title match. Along with the Illini making the national title match, the 2011 season brought a new Big Ten Champion, a conference record-tying eight NCAA qualifying teams and plenty of national and regional recognition.
Big Ten in the NCAA Championship: The Big Ten sent a conference record-tying eight teams to the NCAA Championship, with five earning top-16 seeds. No. 2 Nebraska, No. 3 Illinois, No. 5 Purdue, No. 8 Penn State and No. 13 Minnesota each earned seeds, while Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State picked up tournament bids as well. Before Illinois moved on to the NCAA Championship match, six Big Ten teams advanced through the first two rounds into the regional semifinals, which marked the most of any conference in the nation and tied a conference record set a year ago. In all, the Big Ten racked up a 17-8 record in this year's tournament. For a look back at the entire NCAA Championship, visit the Championship Central page here.
Nine Big Ten Players Tabbed AVCA All-Americans: Nine Big Ten players were selected as AVCA Division I All-Americans, with four players earning first-team status. Illinois' Colleen Ward, Nebraska's Gina Mancuso, Penn State's Deja McClendon and Purdue's Ariel Turner earned first-team honors, while Minnesota's Ashley Wittman and Penn State's Katie Slay were named to the second team. Illinois' Michelle Bartsch, Michigan State's Jenilee Rathje and Penn State's Ariel Scott earned third-team honors. Seven others received honorable mention -- Minnesota's Tori Dixon, Nebraska's Morgan Broekhuis, Lauren Cook and Hannah Werth, Ohio State's Emily Danks and Mari Hole and Purdue's Tiffany Fisher. For the complete list of All-Americans, click here.
Eight Tabbed Volleyball Magazine All-Americans: Eight Big Ten players were named All-Americans by Volleyball magazine, with three appearing on the first team. Headlining the publication's individual awards for the Big Ten was Illinois head coach Kevin Hambly, who was named the national Coach of the Year. Earning first-team All-America status were Illinois' Michelle Bartsch, Penn State's Deja McClendon and Purdue's Ariel Turner. Illinois' Colleen Ward, Nebraska's Gina Mancuso and Penn State's Ariel Scott were tabbed second-team honorees, while Minnesota's Ashley Wittman and Penn State's Katie Slay earned third-team laurels. Click here to see the complete list of Volleyball Magazine All-Americans and individual award winners.
Michigan State's Rathje, Purdue's Turner Named Academic All-America: Michigan State senior Jenilee Rathje and Purdue junior Ariel Turner earned Capital One Academic All-America honors. Rathje, a kinesiology major, and Turner, a mechanical engineering major, each received spots on the second team. The pair of Academic All-Americans gives the Big Ten the most since 2008, when two players hailing from the conference earned the accolade. For the complete list of Academic All-Americans, click here.
Big Ten Reels in Regional Awards: Big Ten volleyball standouts collected numerous AVCA Division I Regional Awards, with 12 players earning All-Region honors. Purdue head coach Dave Shondell was named the Mideast Region Coach of the Year, while Penn State newcomer Micha Hancock reeled in Mideast Region Freshman of the Year laurels. Earning All-Mideast Region accolades were Illinois' Michelle Bartsch and Colleen Ward, Michigan State's Jenilee Rathje, Minnesota's Tori Dixon and Ashley Wittman, Nebraska's Gina Mancuso, Ohio State's Mari Hole, Penn State's Deja McClendon, Ariel Scott and Katie Slay, and Purdue's Tiffany Fisher and Ariel Turner. Additionally, six players received Honorable Mention status -- Nebraska's Morgan Broekhuis, Lauren Cook and Hannah Werth, Northwestern's Stephanie Holthus, Ohio State's Emily Danks and Purdue's Rachel Davis. Click here to see the complete list of All-Region performers.
Nebraska Claims Big Ten Championship: In its first season in the conference, Nebraska won the Big Ten Championship and earned the conference's automatic berth to the NCAA Championship. The Huskers put together a 17-3 record in their first Big Ten season en route to Nebraska's first Big Ten Championship in any sport as a member of the conference. To read more on the Huskers' conference crown, click here.
Big Ten Announces Postseason Awards: The Big Ten announced its All-Conference teams and individual award winners, with Purdue's Ariel Turner earning Big Ten Player of the Year honors. Penn State's Katie Slay reeled in Defensive Player of the Year laurels, while Penn State's Micha Hancock was named Freshman of the Year, and Purdue's Dave Shondell was tabbed Coach of the Year by the conference's coaches and media. For the complete breakdown of All-Big Ten teams and individual honors, click here.
In the Polls: The Big Ten leads the country with seven volleyball teams ranked in the final AVCA Division I Coaches Poll of the 2011 season, including three top-10 squads, which also leads the nation. After reaching the NCAA Championship final, Illinois closes the season ranked second in the country. Joining the Fighting Illini in the top 10 are No. 9 Purdue and No. 10 Penn State, who each advanced to the tournament's regional semifinals. Nebraska closes the season at No. 12, while Minnesota ranks 15th. Michigan is tied for 20th in the final poll, while Ohio State rounds out the group of ranked teams at No. 23. Michigan State is also receiving votes in the season's final rankings. Click here to see the final rankings of 2011.