Nov. 22, 2011
First Serve: Big Ten volleyball teams enter the final week of regular-season competition with all 12 teams competing in their last two matches this week. Nebraska remains atop the conference standings at 16-2 after clinching at least a share of the Big Ten title over the weekend, while Illinois, Penn State and Purdue stand in a three-way tie for second place at 14-4.
Nebraska Clinches Share of Title: Nebraska clinched at least a share of the conference championship on Saturday, earning a 3-1 win against Wisconsin en route to its first Big Ten title. The Huskers have compiled a 16-2 conference record and a 23-3 overall record in their first season in the Big Ten. Nebraska can clinch the outright title and the conference's automatic berth to the NCAA Championship with a win in either of its matches this week. The Huskers play at Iowa on Tuesday and at Northwestern on Saturday. Illinois, Penn State and Purdue each have a chance to clinch a share of the title but would need Nebraska to lose both of its contests.
The Week That Was: Nebraska posted back-to-back wins to clinch a share of the conference crown last week, defeating No. 19 Minnesota and Wisconsin by matching 3-1 scores. Michigan State and Penn State also put together two wins as the Spartans took down No. 7 Illinois, 3-1, and Northwestern, 3-2, and the Nittany Lions earned a 3-0 win over Indiana and a 3-1 win against No. 8 Purdue.
Nebraska's Werth Nabs National Honor: Nebraska's Hannah Werth was named the Sports Imports/AVCA Division I National Player of the Week after leading the No. 2 Huskers to four-set wins over No. 19 Minnesota and Wisconsin last week en route to at least a share of their first Big Ten title. The junior posted back-to-back double-doubles, averaging 3.8 digs and 3.5 kills for the week. Werth recorded 14 kills, 17 digs and a .379 hitting percentage against the Gophers, adding 14 kills and 13 digs against the Badgers. Werth is the first Husker to win the award since Sydney Anderson on Nov. 10, 2009, and the third Big Ten player to earn the honor this season.
Where We Rank: Six Big Ten volleyball teams appear in the top 25 in the latest AVCA Division I Coaches Poll. Nebraska leads the way for the conference contingent at No. 2, while a trio of conference teams joins the Huskers in the top 10. Illinois checks in at No. 7, while Purdue remains at No. 8 and Penn State jumps to No. 9 this week, tying the Big Ten with the Pac-12 for the most top-10 teams in the country. Minnesota holds No. 19 again this week, while Michigan moves up one spot to No. 22. Michigan State and Ohio State are receiving votes heading into the final week of the regular season.
The Ratings Are In: Eight Big Ten teams hold top-50 RPI rankings, with four appearing in the top 10 to lead all conferences. Illinois remains in the No. 1 spot for the sixth week in a row, while Nebraska follows at No. 3. Purdue continues its rise in the rankings, moving up to No. 5, while Minnesota rounds out the top 10 at No. 10. Penn State follows at No. 11, while No. 23 Michigan, No. 29 Michigan State and No. 49 Ohio State round out the Big Ten contingent in the top 50.
Statistically Speaking: The Big Ten boasts top-10 performers in nearly every major NCAA statistical category. Penn State's Micha Hancock leads the country in aces per set (0.82), while Purdue's Ariel Turner is fouth nationally in points per set (5.44) and fifth in kills per set (4.83). Minnesota's Mia Tabberson is seventh in assists per set (11.84), while Penn State's Katie Slay jumped into the top 10 in blocks per set this week, standing in eighth (1.48).
Three's Company: Illinois, Nebraska and Penn State have each earned a No. 1 national ranking this season, marking the first time this season and just the third time since 1982 that a conference has had three different top-ranked teams in one season. The Pac-12 also boasts three top-ranked squads this season, as California, UCLA and current No. 1 USC have topped the poll in 2011. The Pac-10 accomplished the feat in 2004 with Stanford, USC and Washington, while the WCAA did the same in 1984 with Stanford, UCLA and USC.