Top 10 Above the Net

Conference action around the country is starting to reveal some interesting results. Texas has in the past week dropped two matches in the Big 12, though neither opponent was the vaunted #1 Huskers of Nebraska. In the Pac-10, Washington proved its preeminence with a pair of sweeps over Stanford and Cal. The Huskies however have a tall task at Pauley Pavilion on Friday.

1. Nebraska Cornhuskers (12-0, 4-0 Big 12)
Previous Ranking:  1

Results From Last Week:  Iowa State (W, 3-0); Texas Tech (W, 3-0); Creighton (W, 3-1)
This Week's Matches:  at Baylor (Sat.)

Summary:  Nebraska had a fairly uneventful outing in the opening week of Big 12 play, sweeping both visiting Iowa State and Texas Tech with ease.  Junior opposite Sarah Pavan led the way with 15 and 19 kills against the Cyclones and Red Raiders, respectively.  Maggie Griffin started in place of freshman Rachel Holloway and showed everyone she still has the goods to be a top setter after handing out 43 assists and leading Nebraska to a .312 hitting percentage.  However, in-state rival Creighton posed a much bigger threat on Sunday, pushing the No. 1 ranked team in the country to four games.  After dropping the first game 27-30, the Cornhuskers battled back to take the next three, led by Pavan and outside hitter Jordan Larson with 18 kills apiece.  Up next will be the ever-improving Baylor Bears on Saturday.

2. Penn State Nittany Lions (13-0, 2-0 Big 10)
Previous Ranking:  2

Results From Last Week:  Ohio State (W, 3-0); at Iowa (W, 3-0)
This Week's Matches:  at Indiana (Fri.); at Purdue (Sat.)

Summary:  The No. 1 recruit coming out of the high school Class of 2006 is certainly living up to her billing, as Megan Hodge decimated visiting Ohio State and host Iowa to the tune of 7.67 kills per game at a stellar .322 clip.  She also added 2.67 digs and 1.00 blocks per game.  For her efforts, the 6-3 outside hitter was named the Big 10 Player of the Week, only the fourth Nittany Lion freshman to do so, behind fellow classmate Alisha Glass and sophomores Nicole Fawcett and Christa Harmotto.  Together, Fawcett and Hodge maybe the youngest one-two punch in the country, but they are also putting down a staggering 4.52 and 4.40 kills per game, respectively.  Although Penn State had little trouble with highly regarded Ohio State, the same should not be said about rising program Purdue this Saturday.

3. Washington Huskies (12-1, 2-0 Pac-10)
Previous Ranking:  5

Results From Last Week:  California (W, 3-0); Stanford (W, 3-0)
This Week's Matches:  at UCLA (Fri.); at USC (Sat.)

Summary:  Upperclassmen Christal Morrison and Courtney Thompson are sending a message out to every volleyball aficionado: the Huskies are alive and kicking with every intention of defending their national crown from a year ago.  That message was received loud and clear after Washington easily dismantled visiting California and Stanford in straight sets.  Jim McLaughlin's crew is playing some of the best ball in the country and proved it after defeating such quality opponents in straight sets.  Morrison did what she does best against her Bay Area foes, which is making life difficult for the opposing team with her blazing swings from the antennas.  She garnered Pac-10 Player of the Week accolades after putting down 10 kills against the Golden Bears, followed up with a brilliant 17-kill, zero-error performance against the Cardinal.  As important as Morrison's play over the weekend, the award should have really gone to Thompson, as her intensity and determination carried the Huskies to victory.  She averaged 16.17 assists per game while leading her team to an incredible 0.384 clip.  After the weekend sweep, Thompson is now ranked second in the Pac-10's career assists list with 5,533, trailing only UCLA's Erika Selsor.  Next up will be the ever dangerous Southern California trip, with a visit to UCLA and USC on tap for Washington.

4. UCLA Bruins (15-0, 2-0 Pac-10)
Previous Ranking:  3

Results From Last Week:  at Oregon (3-0); at Oregon State (3-0)
This Week's Matches:  Washington (Thu.); Washington State (Fri.)

Summary:  After weeks on the road, UCLA is finally coming home, though what is waiting for them in Pauley Pavilion will be anything but a cake walk.  Nana Meriwether will do her best to patrol the net and protect her home court with a conference-leading 1.64 blocks per game.  Nellie Spicer ranks second in the conference in assists per game with 13.89, and two of her favorite targets all season long have been Meriwether (4.32 kills per game) in the middle and Ali Daley (3.43 kills per game) on the left.  Last weekend, the duo combined for 26 kills in a sweep against Oregon; the following evening, four Bruins collected double-digit kills in an easy win over Oregon State.  After the much anticipated bout with Washington, UCLA should have no trouble disposing of hapless Washington State Friday night.

5. Stanford Cardinal (10-2, 1-1 Pac-10)
Previous Ranking:  6

Results From Last Week:  at Washington State (W, 3-0); at Washington (L, 3-0)
This Week's Matches:  Arizona (Fri.); Arizona State (Sat.)

Summary:  It's very unusual for a team to get swept and yet move up in the polls the following week.  However, in the case of Stanford (and subsequently California), the conqueror was Washington, a real threat to repeat as NCAA champions with the type of team ball they are displaying now.  Also consider the two inexcusable losses by Texas to inferior teams (apologies to a certain fan from Erin Waller's home state!), and it all added up to a bump in the standings.  The one real highlight of the weekend was the dominating display of offense from sophomore outside hitter Cynthia Barboza.  Against one of the most disciplined defensive team in the nation, the 6-0 attacker blew up for 25 kills, one off her career-high, and showed once again why she was the most talked-about high school recruit two years ago.  The Cardinal still have some issues to work out on the court, namely more consistent passing, but they are still a threat to reach Omaha.  Kristin Richards must be more of a factor on offense (10 kills against eight errors for a hitting percentage of just .057 against Washington) against the top tier teams.

6. California Golden Bears (12-1, 1-1 Pac-10)
Previous Ranking:  7

Results From Last Week:  at Washington (L, 3-0); at Washington State (W, 3-0)
This Week's Matches:  Arizona State (Fri.); Arizona (Sat.)

Summary:  Angie Pressey is proving that height is overrated.  With a frame that only extends to 5-8, the junior outside hitter is defying all odds and leading the Pac-10, the toughest conference in America, in kills (4.86) and points (5.52) per game.  She was the leading terminator for California this past weekend against Washington and Washington State, posting 14 and 22 kills, respectively.  She was also a defensive terror against the Cougars, clamping down on the net with four blocks and accumulating 15 digs.  Outside hitter Hana Cutura, Cal's prized foreign freshman, may have struggled this past weekend, hitting -.167 against Washington and only .037 against Washington State, but expect her to come out of funk beginning on Friday, when California hosts Arizona and then Arizona State the following evening.

7. USC Trojans (13-0, 2-0 Pac-10)
Previous Ranking:  9

Results From Last Week:  at Oregon State (3-0); at Oregon (3-2)
This Week's Matches:  Washington State (Thu.); Washington (Fri.)

Summary:  USC nearly had its 15-match unbeaten streak snapped last weekend by perennial conference doormat Oregon, but outside hitters Jessica Gysin and Asia Kaczor ensured a five-game victory with 17 kills apiece.  While the Ducks are a much improved team, evidenced by their 10-2 record, the Trojans should have been able to contain the host team in straight games.  Libero Debora Seilhamer did her part to keep the Trojans undefeated, averaging 7.88 digs per game to anchor the back-row defense, while Bethany Johansen spearheaded the blocking campaign, averaging 1.88 blocks per game.  Southern California will need all the defensive efforts of its crew to stop the offensive juggernaut known as Washington this Saturday.

8. Texas Longhorns (8-4, 3-2 Big 12)
Previous Ranking:  4

Results From Last Week:  Colorado (W, 3-0); at Missouri (L, 3-0)
This Week's Matches:  at Oklahoma (L, 3-2); Kansas State (Sat.)

Summary:  Talk about a mid-season slump.  Again, with apologies to a certain Missouri fan, Texas had no business getting hammered by a Tigers team that graduated its best setter in program history, along with one of its top outside hitters.  Losing is one thing, but to go down without putting up much of a fight is an entirely different matter.  To add salt to its injury wounds, Jerritt Elliott & Co. dropped a devastating five-game match to Oklahoma.  It was the first time in 30 tries that the Sooners had earned a "W" against the Longhorns and it could not have come at a more inopportune time for the Burnt Orange.  With two losses already to its credit and two matches with Nebraska on its way, it is almost certain that the Big 12 crown is out of reach for Texas after so much hype based on early season results.  The talented ‘Horns have so many weapons at its disposal and should have had no trouble taking out teams like Missouri and Oklahoma.  Right now, it's gut-check time for this Jekyll and Hyde team – they have to decide to they want to be known as the team that can win the national championship, or the team that can lose to just about anyone in the country?  The healing process (or continuing downward spiral) continues this Saturday against Kansas State.

9. Santa Clara Broncos (10-2, 0-0 WCC)
Previous Ranking:  8

Results From Last Week:  Sacramento State (W, 3-1)
This Week's Matches:  at St. Mary's (Thu.); at San Francisco (Sat.)

Summary:  The big news last week for Santa Clara wasn't that it finally got to play in the Leavey Center for the first time this year, but that junior middle blocker Annalisa Muratore had announced her retirement, due to injuries.  In her final performance as a collegiate athlete last week against Sacramento State, she tallied 10 kills and two blocks.  With the loss of Muratore, the Broncos only have senior Megan Pura and junior All-American Anna Cmaylo to man the middle, so staying healthy is a must.  While Pura does not possess the offensive firepower that Muratore does, she does a solid job with her blocking assignments and has the experience to step in right away.  Losing Muratore also means that Cmaylo and her teammates will need to step up their efforts to be more of a defensive presence at the net.  It will take some tweaking by head coach Jon Wallace, but Santa Clara should have enough weapons in veterans Kim McGiven and Cmaylo, along with newbie Lindsy Evans, to repeat as West Coast Conference champions.  A visit to Moraga is up first for the South Bay squad, as St. Mary's awaits Thursday night.

10. Florida Gators (10-2, 3-1 SEC)
Previous Ranking:  10

Results From Last Week:  Auburn (W, 3-0); Alabama (W, 3-0)
This Week's Matches:  at Kentucky (Fri.); Tennessee (Sun.)

Summary:  Florida rebounded nicely from the shocking upset pulled by South Carolina nearly two weekends ago by sweeping Auburn and Alabama at home.  Defense was the name of the game for the Gators, as they averaged 4.67 blocks per game against the Tigers and Crimson Tide.  Sophomore middle blocker Kelsey Bowers was especially impressive up at the net, exhibiting her blocking prowess by averaging 2.83 blocks per game against her SEC rivals.  Her numbers were good enough to earn her SEC Defensive Player of the Week accolades, the second time a Gator has picked up the award this season following on the heels of sidelined libero Elyse Cusack, who won the award earlier this year.  The SEC schedule does not get any easier for Florida, as they face two solid teams in Kentucky and Tennessee this weekend.

11. Purdue Boilermakers (12-1, 2-0 Big 10)
Previous Ranking:  11

Results From Last Week:  at Michigan State (W, 3-2); at Michigan (W, 3-2)
This Week's Matches:  Ohio State (Fri.); Penn State (Sat.)

12. BYU Cougars (12-1, 4-0 MWC)
Previous Ranking:  12

Results From Last Week:  at San Diego State (W, 3-1); at UNLV (W, 3-0)
This Week's Matches:  Utah (Fri.)

13. Wisconsin Badgers (10-2, 2-0 Big 10)
Previous Ranking:  14

Results From Last Week:  at Illinois (W, 3-0); at Northwestern (W, 3-0)
This Week's Matches:  Michigan State (Fri.); Michigan (Sat.)

14. Ohio State Buckeyes (11-1, 1-1 Big 10)
Previous Ranking:  13

Results From Last Week:  at Penn State (L, 3-0); at Iowa (W, 3-1)
This Week's Matches:  Purdue (Fri.); Indiana (Sat.)

15. Tennessee Lady Vols (12-2, 3-1 SEC)
Previous Ranking:  15

Results From Last Week:  Louisville (W, 3-1); at Mississippi (W, 3-1); at Mississippi State (W, 3-1)
This Week's Matches:  at Auburn (Fri.); at Florida (Sun.)

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