Aug. 25, 2008
Another Big Season for the Big Ten
The 2008 season of Big Ten volleyball begins Friday, Aug. 29, with all 11 conference teams in action, including Penn State, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Purdue, who are ranked Nos. 1, 13, 16 and 25, respectively, in the national preseason poll. Three conference squads will open their seasons at home as Illinois hosts the Illini Classic, Ohio State plays host to the Sports Imports Classic and Purdue hosts the Mortar Board Premier.
The Big Ten returns a bulk of its firepower from the 2007 season that saw the conference send six squads to the NCAA Championship. Seven of the top 10 hitting percentage leaders will be back in Big Ten uniforms, including stat leader Christa Harmotto of Penn State, who posted a record-setting .492 mark. Also returning for the Big Ten are six of the last year’s top 10 kills leaders, five of last year’s top 10 assists leaders and six of last year’s top 10 blocks leaders. Returning stat leaders include Illinois’ Laura DeBruler (4.89 kpg) and Penn State’s Arielle Wilson (1.80 bpg).
PSU Looks to Defend NCAA, Big Ten Titles
Five-time defending Big Ten Champion and last year’s NCAA Champion Penn State is once again the preseason favorite to win the Big Ten crown, marking the fourth consecutive year the Nittany Lions have earned the distinction from the conference coaches. PSU returns all seven starters from a season ago, including last year’s conference Player and Freshman of the Year, Christa Harmotto and Arielle Wilson. The Nittany Lions return three first-team All-Americans (Nicole Fawcett, Harmotto and Megan Hodge) and one second-team member (Alisha Glass). Fawcett, Glass, Harmotto and Hodge were All-Big Ten selections in 2007, while Wilson and Blair Brown were All-Freshman team honorees.
2008 Opens with Formidable Foes
The opening weekend of the 2008 season puts the Big Ten up against 15 opponents either ranked or receiving votes in the national preseason poll. Illinois and Penn State each face multiple ranked teams as the Illini host No. 23 New Mexico State and No. 11 Oregon, and Penn State faces No. 12 Hawai’i, No. 6 UCLA and Ohio (receiving votes).
Big Ten Alums Compete in Beijing
Two former Big Ten volleyball standouts traveled to Beijing recently, representing the U.S. Olympic Team in indoor and beach volleyball. Former Minnesota standout Lindsey Berg helped lead the U.S. indoor volleyball team to the silver medal, marking the first medal for Team USA in the sport since 1992 and the highest Olympics finish for the squad since 1984. Another former Golden Gopher, Nicole Branagh teamed with Elaine Youngs to advance to the quarterfinals of beach volleyball competition.
Big Ten Draws Big Crowds
The Big Ten led all conferences in average attendance in 2007 according to statistics released by the NCAA at the end of the season. Conference squads averaged 1,917 fans per game last year, which is almost 200 more than the next closest conference (Big 12 - 1,721). Wisconsin, Minnesota and Penn State led the way for the Big Ten, ranking third through fifth, respectively, among all NCAA Division I teams. The Badgers were one of just three teams in the country to bring in more than 5,000 fans per game in 2007.
Big Ten on TV
The Big Ten’s 11 volleyball squads will enjoy vast exposure during the 2008 regular season with 23 matches set to air on national television with 20 contests on the Big Ten Network and three on ESPN2. The Big Ten Network will also feature Big Ten volleyball as part of its nightly highlight show, Big Ten Tonight, as well as the Big Ten Women’s Show, which airs Monday evenings. Match coverage begins Sept. 14, as Minnesota hosts Notre Dame as part of the Diet Coke Classic.