2004 Big Ten Volleyball Season in Review
Jan. 6, 2005
Big Ten Volleyball Postseason Honors
On the national scene, the Big Ten once again led all conferences with seven teams selected to the NCAA Tournament. Minnesota finished the season 33-5 (17-3 Big Ten) and No. 2 in the country after its runner-up finish to USC in the National Championship match. Minnesota was the only team to be ranked in the top five in all 16 polls this season. Ohio State was ousted in the regional semifinals by Minnesota, but finished the year 30-4 (17-3), marking the first time the Big Ten had two teams that won 30 or more games in a season since 2000, when the League had three. The Buckeyes, who finished No. 6 in the nation, were led all year by two-time Big Ten Player of the Year Stacey Gordon. Penn State earned its second consecutive regular season League title this past season and finished the 2004 campaign as the seventh-ranked team in the country with a 29-3 record, including a Conference best 18-2 in Big Ten action. Wisconsin was the fourth Big Ten team ranked in the top 25 poll at season's end, as the Badgers ended with the No. 14 ranking. The Badgers finished 22-10 (13-7), with two of those wins coming in impressive fashion. Wisconsin upended then-No. 2 Minnesota in five games on October 30 and then upset Hawaii, which entered the match 30-0 and No. 2 in the country, in the NCAA regional championship. Purdue (17-15, 9-11) ended the season receiving votes in the final poll, after it cracked the top 25 in September for the first time since 1990.
While Minnesota topped USC in the National Semifinals, it was Illinois (19-11, 9-11) that shocked the volleyball world on September 11 with a 3-2 upset of the Women of Troy. The 16th-ranked Fighting Illini defeated the top-ranked and two-time defending national champion, 3-2, ending the longest winning streak in NCAA volleyball history at 52 straight. Illinois' win marked the first time in school history that the Orange and Blue defeated a No. 1 team. Ironically, it was that win by Illinois that allowed Minnesota to earn the top rank the following week for the first time in school history.
Despite falling to No. 16 Ohio State the night before, Minnesota brought its No. 1 ranking into State College on October 2 and defeated No. 4 Penn State, 3-2. The match marked the highest-ranking matchup in Big Ten history and only the second time ever that two League teams faced off while each is nationally ranked in the top five. The only other time this scenario occurred in Conference history was when No. 4 Ohio State battled No. 5 Penn State on November 29, 1994. Not since October 19, 2002, had two Big Ten squads taken to the court ranked in the top 10. Ironically, that match was also between Minnesota (9) and Penn State (8). On six occasions this season, two Conference teams ranked in the top 10 nationally battled against one another. Prior to this season, the most top-10 meetings that occurred in a single season was four in 1995.
This season was also a year for coaching milestones in the League. Minnesota's Mike Hebert and Penn State's Russ Rose earned their 800th career victories in 2004, while Michigan State's Chuck Erbe (550), Ohio State's Jim Stone (500), Wisconsin's Pete Waite (400), Illinois' Don Hardin (350) and Michigan's Mark Rosen (300) all eclipsed career milestones for wins. After 12 seasons at the helm of the MSU and 24 years as a collegiate coach, Erbe announced his retirement on December 2. Erbe guided the Spartan volleyball program to a mark of 244-140 during his 12-year tenure at State. Since his arrival in East Lansing in 1993, Erbe led MSU to 10 consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament (1994-2003) and guided MSU to back-to-back Big Ten titles in 1995 and '96. Cathy George, former head coach at Western Michigan, was named as Erbe's replacement.
Both Gordon and Stone earned national recognition in 2004 as the Buckeyes improved 19 matches from a year ago. Stone earned the Big Ten and Tachikara/American Volleyball Coaches Association Mideast Region Coach of the Year awards, while Gordon concluded her collegiate career as one of the Big Ten's most outstanding student-athletes. A two-time Big Ten Player of the Year, Gordon was also tabbed the AVCA co-National Player of the Year. The Buckeye senior nearly rewrote every Conference record for kills this season, missing the single-match record of 45 but just one kill in the loss to Minnesota. She finished the season with 842 kills (7.08 kills per game), both of which are Ohio State and Big Ten records. Gordon also ends her career with a Big Ten record of 2,798 career kills, which lands her third on the NCAA Division I career kills list.
The other standout in the League this season was Minnesota's Paula Gentil, the Big Ten's three-time defending Defensive Player of the Year. Gentil finished the season with a Big Ten record 924 digs, which is the highest single-season total in school history and tops the previous League record by 268. She also shattered the all-time Conference digs record by 223 and will enter her senior season third on the NCAA career digs list with 2,154.
Three student-athletes -- Gordon (OSU), Kelly Bowman (MINN) and Syndie Nadeau (PSU) -- also earned AVCA National Player of the Week honors this season.
Wisconsin barely missed setting the Big Ten volleyball record for attendance for the second year in a row. In 2004, Wisconsin totalled 46,026 fans in 10 Conference matches for an average of 4,603. The Badgers set the current record average of 4,649 in 2003. On October 16, 2004, the 10,927 fans that came to see the Golden Gophers defeat then-No. 23 Illinois, were the most fans to attend a Division I volleyball match this season. The Minnesota-Illinois match was the second-highest attended match between two Big Ten teams in the history of the League. The highest attended match came when 10,935 fans watched Illinois and Wisconsin battle on November 30, 1990, in Madison.
As successful as 2004 was for Big Ten Volleyball, the 2005 campaign should be more exciting than ever before!