Top 10 Above the Net

There has already been a frenzy of activity in the 2006 college volleyball season, with upset losses dropping several top teams in our new rankings. That included a defeat for the top-ranked Cardinal in Provo, which has them plummet in this week's Top 10. Only one team holds the same ranking as in our last "Above the Net," with the national pecking order only beginning to sort itself.

1. Nebraska Cornhuskers (4-0)
Previous Ranking: 2

Results From Last Week:  Saint Mary's, Calif. (W, 3-0); Middle Tennessee (W, 3-0); Long Beach State (W, 3-0)
This Week's Matches:  Louisville (Fri.); Cal Poly (Sat.); Minnesota (Sun.)

Summary:  Sarah Pavan currently leads the Big 12 in kills per game with 5.25 and she is certainly an early favorite as the AVCA National Player of the Year.  Fellow classmate Tracey Stalls is doing her part in the middle, averaging 3.42 kills per game while hitting over .500 in all four matches this season.  Rachel Holloway is doing a fantastic job running the Cornhuskers, racketing up 14.36 assists per game while having her squad hit at an amazing .346 clip.  The toughest test for Nebraska this weekend will come in the form of Cal Poly, a team that upset Texas last weekend in five games, though all three matches will be played in the comfy confines of the NU Coliseum.

2. Penn State Nittany Lions (6-0)
Previous Ranking: 4

Results From Last Week:  Eastern Kentucky (W, 3-0); West Virginia (W, 3-0); Duke (W, 3-0)
This Week's Matches:  Missouri (Thu.); Texas (Fri.)

Summary:  Outside hitter Nicole Fawcett appears to be immune to the term "Sophomore Slump," as the 2005 AVCA National Freshman of the Year has picked up right where she left off.  The sophomore left side picked up the MVP honors at the Penn State Invitational, hammering down 4.89 kills per game while hitting .500 in three matches.  For her efforts, she was named the Big 10 Player of the Week, her fourth award of her young career.  Freshman Megan Hodge is one of Penn State's leading attackers this season, as the 2005 Gatorade High School National Player of the Year is averaging 3.30 kills per game.  This weekend, Penn State will face difficult challenges from the Big 12 in the shape of Missouri and Texas, but the Nittany Lions hope that their huge front-row defense will lead them to victory, as they lead the country with 4.22 blocks per game.

3. Texas Longhorns (4-1)
Previous Ranking: 3

Results From Last Week:  Pepperdine (W, 3-1); Cal Poly (L, 3-2); Long Island (W, 3-0)
This Week's Matches:  Santa Clara (Thu.); Penn State (Fri.)

Summary:  After looking very impressive during the first weekend of action by downing host Wisconsin and defending national champion Washington at the AVCA Showcase, Texas came crashing down to Earth with a shocking loss to Cal Poly last weekend despite a combined 39 kills from outside hitter Dariam Acevedo and middle blocker Leticia Armstrong.  The Longhorns were also dealt a severe blow to their depth when it was announced that Brandy Magee, a 2005 AVCA Third Team All-American, would be out for the rest of the year with a torn ACL.  Texas returns home for the first time this season with a premiere match-up against Santa Clara, and the face off between the two teams will be interesting to see - ‘Horns coach Jerritt Elliott and Broncos general Jon Wallace were former roommates from their assistant coaching days in Southern California and remain close friends.  Waiting for Texas the following day?  None other than Big 10 favorites Penn State.

4. Santa Clara Broncos (5-0)
Previous Ranking: 8

Results From Last Week:  Valparaiso (W, 3-0); Notre Dame (W, 3-0)
This Week's Matches:  Texas (Thu.); Missouri (Fri.)

Summary:  The motto for Santa Clara this season seems to be "Three Up, Three Down," as last year's Cinderella story has yet to drop a single game in their five matches played this season.  Last weekend, host Notre Dame was the latest team to fall victim to Santa Clara, as 2005 AVCA Third Team All-American and recently crowned West Coast Conference Player of the Week Crystal Matich guided her squad to an outstanding hitting percentage of .406 over three matches, handing out 14.17 assists per game.  Fellow Third Team All-American Anna Cmaylo has been unstoppable in the middle this season, with her slide attack garnering her 4.07 kills per game at a .625 hitting percentage.  Outside hitter and team captain Kim McGiven leads the Bronco offense with 5.15 kills per game.  Up next will be two difficult opponents in Big 12 foes Texas and Missouri at the Time Warner Cable Texas Invitational.

5. UCLA Bruins (6-0)
Previous Ranking: 7

Results From Last Week:  Colorado (W, 3-0); Florida (W, 3-0); Hawaii (3-0)
This Week's Matches:  Texas State (Fri.); Georgia (Sat.); Denver (Sat.)

Summary:  UCLA hasn't been to a Final Four since the 1994 season, but this could be the year that the three-time national champions return to national glory after dominating two very good teams in Florida and Hawaii on the way to capturing the Hawaiian Airlines Classic this past weekend.  Middle blocker Nana Meriwether was a beast up at the net in Honolulu, as she put up 10 blocks against Colorado and hit an amazing .875 against Florida, cracking 22 kills in the process.  She was named not only the Pac-10 Player of the Week, but also the AVCA Player of the Week for her outstanding performances.  The Bruins will hit the road once again, marking the third consecutive time the Blue and Gold will play outside Pauley Pavilion and it won't get any easier.  There are two more weeks left of traveling before they are able to open up in Westwood.  But first things first – head coach Andy Banachowski will look to keep his team undefeated at the Pioneer Classic, hosted by Denver.

6. Washington Huskies (4-1)
Previous Ranking: 5

Results From Last Week:  Davidson (W, 3-0); Morehead State (W, 3-0); Liberty (W, 3-0)
This Week's Matches:  Portland State (Thu.); University of Maryland, Baltimore County (Fri.); North Dakota State (Fri.); Gonzaga (Sat.)

Summary:  Returning to the Bank of America Arena for the first time this season, Washington will look to continue its domination at home.  The defending national champions went 11-0 last season in Seattle and hope to accomplish the same unbeaten streak again in 2006, first by hosting four teams in the Husky Classic.  AVCA All-American Christal Morrison is the top returning attacker and last weekend proved her worth after averaging 4.67 kills and 2.69 digs per game to capture MVP accolades at the Mizuno Wildcat Classic.  Senior setter and two-time AVCA First Team All-American Courtney Thompson, considered the top playmaker in the country, dished out 13.67 assists last weekend and enabled the Huskies to hit at an amazing .364 hitting percentage.  Junior outside hitter Stevie Mussie, a local product who transferred to Washington from Pacific two season ago, leads the team in kills per game with 4.47, and the combination of Morrison and Mussie on the left side will be devastating to opponents, as Portland State will soon find out on Thursday.

7. Florida Gators (4-1)
Previous Ranking: 6

Results From Last Week:  Hawaii (W, 3-0); Colorado (W, 3-0); UCLA (L, 3-0)
This Week's Matches:  Central Florida (Fri.)

Summary:  Florida has dominated the state in terms of collegiate volleyball, winning 35 straight matches against in-state opponents, and Friday's face off against Central Florida should result in No. 36 for Mary Wise & Co.  Last weekend's straight set loss to UCLA will have to be forgotten if Florida is to forge on and capture its 16th straight Southeastern Conference crown in 2006.  Freshman Elyse Cusack has made quite an impression in her already young career, claiming this week's SEC Defensive Player of the Week.  She is currently averaging a program-best 5.75 digs per game and at this rate, would easily surpass former Gator Rachel Engel's mark of 5.12 digs per game.  While Cusack is a defensive force in the back row, sophomore middle blocker Kelsey Bowers leads the SEC in hitting percentage at .545, while junior outside hitter Marcie Hampton is the top attacker, with 4.06 kills per game.

8. Stanford Cardinal (3-1)
Previous Ranking: 1

Results From Last Week:  BYU (L, 3-1); Virginia Commonwealth (W, 3-0); Texas A&M Corpus Christi (W, 3-0)
This Week's Matches:  Northwestern (Th.); Fairfield (Fri.); Hawaii (Sat.)

Summary:  Kristin Richards did not get quite the homecoming she was hoping for this past weekend, as Brigham Young shocked Stanford in Provo behind a vocal crowd of 4,000 fans.  Neither she nor Cynthia Barboza played particularly well in the 3-1 loss to the Cougars, as the duo collected only 24 kills against a paltry .043 hitting percentage.  The lone bright spot this past weekend was the stellar play of middle blocker Foluke Akinradewo, who attacked and defended well up at the net.  The talent is still there for a national championship, but there are questions regarding the Cardinal's communication, passing and defense.  Hawaii will be a great test for them on Saturday, playing in another hostile environment against a solid team that rarely loses on its home court.

9. California Golden Bears (6-0)
Previous Ranking: 10

Results From Last Week:  Xavier (W, 3-0); Oral Roberts (W, 3-0); Florida International (W, 3-0)
This Week's Matches:  Colorado State (Fri.); American (Sat.); Pepperdine (Sat.)

Summary:  Remember the name Hana Cutura, as the California freshman from Croatia has already made quite an impact for her team in such a short amount of time.  In her first two weeks as a collegiate player, one of Europe's finest youngsters already picked an MVP award in one tournament and shared the top honor with teammate Angie Pressey in another.  The 6-3 outside hitter is an imposing force at the net and averages 4.67 kills per game.  Paired with Pressey on the outside, the Golden Bears are in good hands with these terminators.  Up next for Rich Feller's crew is the two-day Golden Bear Invitational, with the highlight of the weekend being a date with West Coast Conference power Pepperdine.

10. USC Trojans (6-0)
Previous Ranking: 12

Results From Last Week:  Fresno State (W, 3-0); Utah (W, 3-1); Tennessee (W, 3-1)
This Week's Matches:  Florida State (Fri.); South Carolina (Fri.); Saint John's (Sat.)

Summary:  Against highly-regarded Utah, junior outside hitter Diane Copenhagen lifted her team to a four-game victory thanks to 23 kills, one shy of her personal best.  The following night, fellow junior Asia Kaczor, a transfer from the College of Southern Idaho and reigning NJCAA Player of the Year, registered 24 kills in carrying Southern California past Tennessee.  Often-injured Jessica Gysin also contributed greatly during the weekend, giving the Trojans firepower at the antennas, while stabilizing the passing lanes during serve receive.  While this weekend isn't terribly challenging, it will allow Mick Haley to try out different player combinations and give his starters some rest before the grueling Pac-10 season begins in late-September.

The Best of the Rest

11. BYU Cougars (6-0)
Previous Ranking: NR

Results From Last Week:  Stanford (W, 3-1); Texas A&M Corpus Christi (W, 3-0); Virginia Commonwealth (W, 3-0)
This Week's Matches:  Kansas (Thu.); Arkansas (Fri.)

12. Hawaii Rainbow Wahine (3-2)
Previous Ranking: 11

Results From Last Week:  Florida (L, 3-0); Colorado (W, 3-0); UCLA (L, 3-0)
This Week's Matches:  Fairfield (Thu.); Northwestern (Fri.); Stanford (Sat.)

13. Wisconsin Badgers (4-1)
Previous Ranking: 9

Results From Last Week:  Oklahoma (W, 3-0); South Dakota State (W, 3-0); Oregon State (W, 3-0)
This Week's Matches:  Northern Colorado (Fri.); Windsor (Sat.); UW-Milwaukee (Sat.)

14. Purdue Boilermakers (7-0)
Previous Ranking: NR

Results From Last Week:  Virginia Tech (W, 3-1); Arizona State (W, 3-2); Auburn (W, 3-0)
This Week's Matches:  Dayton (W, 3-2); Western Michigan (Sat.)

15. Tennessee Lady Vols (5-1)
Previous Ranking: 15

Results From Last Week:  Loyola Marymount (W, 3-1); North Carolina (W, 3-0); USC (L, 3-1)
This Week's Matches:  Pittsburgh (Fri.); Marshall (Sat.); Lehigh (Sat.)

Dropped Out:  Louisville (13), Minnesota (14)

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