Aug. 22, 2005
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Welcome Back for Another Promising Season
The 2005 edition of Big Ten volleyball gets underway Friday, when two-time defending conference champion and preseason favorite No. 5 Penn State battles defending national champion No. 3 Stanford in the AVCA/NACWAA College Volleyball Showcase in Omaha, Neb. The Nittany Lions will also have the opportunity to face either No. 1 Nebraska or No. 4 Hawaii the following day. Also in action will be Illinois at intrastate foe Illinois State.
Six additional league teams will take to the court on Saturday, which slates eight of the 11 conference schools in action on the opening weekend.
Penn State Looking For Three Straight Titles
Penn State, the two-time defending conference champion, finished 29-3 overall, 18-2 in league play and seventh in the final national poll last season. The Nittany Lions advanced to the NCAA Tournament regional semifinals in 2004 and have four starters and their libero returning this year.
By George! Welcome to the Big Ten
Cathy George, former head coach at Western Michigan, was named Michigan State volleyball's fifth-ever head coach on December 9 to replace Chuck Erbe, who retired after 24 years of coaching. Prior to MSU, George spent 11 years at the helm of the Western Michigan program, where she compiled a 187-131 record. Her 367-216 record in 18 years as a collegiate head coach places her among the 50 winningest coaches in NCAA Division I volleyball history. While at Texas-Arlington, she became the first woman to coach in the NCAA Division I Final Four (1989). George has earned conference coach of the year honors in every league in which she has coached.
Four Schools Ranked in Nation's Top 12
Four Big Ten volleyball teams have been selected to the CSTV/AVCA Top 25 Preseason Coaches Poll. Penn State, which garnered one first-place vote, leads the Big Ten contingent at No. 5, followed by No. 6 Minnesota. Wisconsin earned a top-10 ranking as the Badgers are 10th, while Ohio State was tabbed 12th. Illinois and Purdue also received votes in the poll.
The Big Ten and Pac-10 each nabbed three spots in the top 10 of the preseason poll. Overall, the Pac-10 is represented by six teams in the top 19 spots, while all of the Big Ten's four representatives are in the top 12.
Record Six Top-10 Meetings Highlighted 2004
On six occasions last season, two conference teams ranked in the top 10 nationally battled against one another. Prior to 2004, the most top-10 meetings that occurred in a single season was four in 1995. This instance has happened on 21 different occasions and was highlighted last year by the highest-ranked match in league history. Then-No. 1 Minnesota defeated fourth-ranked Penn State, 3-2, on October 2.
In Her Defense...
Minnesota's Paula Gentil returns for her senior season as the three-time defending Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. The Golden Gopher libero shattered a number of records for digs last year, including the NCAA and Big Ten single-season mark of 924. She also topped the league charts with 47 digs in a single match, a 6.70 digs per game average and a 6.81 dpg mark for conference matches only. With one season remaining, Gentil has a league-record 2,154 digs for her career -- 223 more than second place.
The Season for Multiple 30-Win Seasons?
With four conference teams ranked in the nation's top 12, the opportunity for multiple 30-win seasons is certainly a possibility. Last year, the Big Ten just missed three 30-win seasons as Minnesota finished 33-5, Ohio State was 30-4 and Penn State was 29-3. The 2005 season did however mark the first time the Big Ten had at least two teams with 30 or more wins in a season since 2000, when the league had three. That year was the only time three teams won 30-plus games, as Wisconsin was 34-3, Minnesota was 31-3 and Penn State was 30-6. Since the Big Ten's official inception of women's volleyball in 1983, at least one team has won 30 games in 16 of the 21 seasons.
Speaking of 3s...
The past three years, the Big Ten has led the nation in NCAA Tournament selections. In 2004, the Big Ten and Big 12 each had seven teams selected to lead the nation. The Big Ten also had seven teams invited in 2003, which was the highest number for any conference. In 2002, the league has a record-tying eight teams selected, which tied to the Pac-10 for the nation's best.