Big Ten Volleyball Weekly Release - NCAA Semifinals & Final

Illinois squares off with USC on Thursday for a spot in the national championship match.

Illinois squares off with USC on Thursday for a spot in the national championship match.

Dec. 13, 2011

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Interactive Bracket | NCAA Championship Central

Illinois Travels to Semifinals: Illinois reeled off back-to-back four-set wins last weekend to claim the Gainesville Regional title and a trip to the NCAA Championship semifinals. The No. 3 seed Fighting Illini travel to San Antonio, Texas, to take on No. 7 USC in the national semifinals. The national semifinal appearance is the third for Illinois and the team's first since 1988. Illinois is the highest-seeded team remaining in the tournament, while USC is seeded seventh. Thursday's first semifinal features No. 9 UCLA against No. 12 Florida State at 7 p.m. ET, while the Illini and Trojans follow at 9 p.m. Both semifinal matches, along with the national championship match, can be seen live on ESPN2 and ESPN3.com.

NCAA Championship By The Numbers: Big Ten teams have compiled a 16-6 record through this year's NCAA Championship Regionals, marking the second-highest all-time win total for the conference behind the total of 19 in 2010. Illinois' trip to San Antonio gives the Big Ten a team in a national semifinal for fifth consecutive season. Every participating Big Ten team advanced out of the tournament's first round for just the second time in conference history, as four teams swept their way into the second round, while the other four won in four sets. Six squads then won their second-round contests, giving the Big Ten the most regional semifinal teams of any conference.

Big Ten in the NCAA Championship: The Big Ten boasts eight all-time national championship teams in Penn State (1999, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010) and Nebraska (1995, 2000, 2006). The Big Ten sent eight squads to this year's national tournament, tying a conference record. The conference has sent eight teams to the postseason three other times -- in 1999, 2002 and 2010.

Recapping The Regionals: Illinois took on Ohio State in the Gainesville Regional semifinals in the first Big Ten vs. Big Ten match in the NCAA Championship since 2007. The Illini downed the Buckeyes, 3-1, before defeating regional host Florida, 3-1, to move on to the national semifinals. Michigan fell to Florida, 3-0, in the Gainesville Regional semifinals, No. 13 Minnesota dropped a four-set contest to No. 4 Iowa State, and No. 5 Purdue lost in as many sets to No. 12 Florida State. No. 8 Penn State bowed out of the tournament with a 3-0 loss to No. 9 UCLA.

Recapping Rounds 1 & 2: No. 3 Illinois swept Central Michigan and Marquette, while Michigan earned four-set wins over Baylor and No. 11 Stanford. Michigan State defeated Arizona, 3-1, before dropping its second-round contest to No. 1 Texas. No. 13 Minnesota beat North Dakota State in three before coming from behind to defeat Washington in five, while No. 2 Nebraska swept Jackson State before falling to Kansas State in five. Ohio State took down Middle Tennessee in four sets, following with a five-set win over No. 14 Tennessee. No. 8 Penn State picked up back-to-back sweeps over Liberty and Delaware, while No. 5 Purdue won consecutive four-set matches against Morehead State and Louisville en route to the regional semifinals.

Big Ten Claims AVCA Regional Honors: 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.

Awards Season: 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.

Nebraska Clinches Big Ten Title: With its 3-0 win over Iowa on Nov. 22, Nebraska clinched its first Big Ten Championship outright. The second-ranked Huskers earned their 17th conference win of the season en route to the university's first Big Ten title as a member of the conference.

The Ratings Are In: Eight Big Ten teams held top-50 rankings in the final national RPI of the regular season, with five teams landing in the top 12 to lead all conferences. Illinois continued its reign atop the rankings, holding the No. 1 spot for the seventh time. Nebraska checked in at No. 4, followed by No. 6 Purdue, No. 11 Penn State and No. 12 Minnesota. Michigan held No. 23, while Michigan State ranked 37th and Ohio State stood at No. 48.

Where We Rank: Six Big Ten volleyball teams appeared in the top 25 in the final regular season AVCA Division I Coaches Poll. Nebraska led the way for the conference contingent at No. 2, while a trio of conference teams joined the Huskers in the top 10. Illinois checked in at No. 7, while Purdue remained at No. 8 and Penn State jumped to No. 9, tying the Big Ten with the Pac-12 for the most top-10 teams in the country. Minnesota again stood at No. 19, while Michigan moved up one spot to No. 22. Michigan State and Ohio State received votes in the poll.

Statistically Speaking: The Big Ten has top-10 performers in nearly every major NCAA statistical category. Penn State's Micha Hancock finished the season second nationally in aces per set (0.75), while Minnesota's Mia Tabberson closed 2011 in second in assists per set (12.16).Purdue's Ariel Turner is third nationally in points per set (5.46) and sixth in kills per set (4.84), while fellow Boilermaker Tiffany Fisher is 10th in hitting percentage (.394).

Three's Company: Illinois, Nebraska and Penn State 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.