Top 10 Above the Net

Plenty of movement in women's volleyball this week, including a fourth different Pac-10 team to be ranked in the top five. Also we have one team enter and one exit our Top 10. Newcomer Purdue impresses us in a loss against #2 Penn State, while Santa Clara's star falls with a second straight week of injury - this time All-American setter Crystal Matich goes down and gives way to a frosh.

1. Nebraska Cornhuskers (13-0, 5-0 Big 12)
Previous Ranking:  1

Results From Last Week:  at Baylor (W, 3-1)
This Week's Matches:  Kansas State (Wed.); at Texas A&M (Sat.)

Summary:  In its only match of the week, Nebraska took down host Baylor, but it wasn't without a fight.  The Bears were able to outlast the Cornhuskers in Game One and capture the 32-30 frame.  However, Sarah Pavan and Jordan Larson took over the match and combined for 41 kills to lead the defending Big 12 champions to a four-game victory.  Floor defense was another highlight against Baylor, as four players registered double digit digs, led by libero Dani Busboom and Larson, each with 16, followed by setter Rachel Holloway and defense specialist Rachel Schwartz with 15 and 14, respectively.  Holloway also dished out 54 assists and seven kills in a fine all-around effort.  Conference play continues, with Kansas State up first and a road trip to Texas A&M looming in the distance.

2. Penn State Nittany Lions (15-0, 4-0 Big 10)
Previous Ranking:  2

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

Summary:  In the final week of Big 10 action last season, then-freshman phenom Christa Harmotto suffered a torn-ACL, and Penn State's chances at a national championship went with her.  Less than a year later, Harmotto is back out on the court, better than ever.  She proved that she is completely healthy with last week's dominant performances against Indiana and Purdue.  She averaged 4.83 kills and 0.67 blocks per game en route to capturing the Nittany Lions' fourth Big 10 Player of the Week award this season.  Along with Harmotto, fellow classmate Nicole Fawcett was unstoppable at the net, posting 30 kills on the weekend, while freshman setter Alisha Glass continued to excel in running the offense after posting 15.00 assists per game against the conference foes.  Penn State faces its stiffest one-two punch of the Big 10 season this weekend, with rivals Minnesota and Wisconsin invading Happy Valley beginning on Friday.

3. UCLA Bruins (17-0, 4-0 Pac-10)
Previous Ranking:  4

Results From Last Week:  Washington (W, 3-2); Washington State (W, 3-1)
This Week's Matches:  at Arizona (Fri.); at Arizona State (Sat.)

Summary:  Last season, UCLA was the one team to tack on a loss to Washington's NCAA Championship campaign.  History repeated itself Friday, with the Bruins handing the Huskies yet another five-game defeat.  Katie Carter was unstoppable on the outside, racking up 23 kills on a .321 clip while adding four blocks, while middle blocker Nana Meriwether had 15 kills and an incredible 15 blocks in the epic battle that saw the Blue and Gold come back from a two-game deficit to take the win.  Carter's heroics did not go unnoticed, as she was named this week's Pac-10 Player of the Week.  Oft-injured Colby Lyman proved to be a huge asset in the back row, tallying 17 digs, second only to libero Jordan Smith's 23.  The following night, Carter again led the Bruin offense in a four-game triumph, this time over Washington State.  UCLA gets a breather this weekend when it goes up against the Arizona schools, who are a combined 1-5 in conference action.

4. USC Trojans(15-0, 4-0 Pac-10)
Previous Ranking:  7

Results From Last Week:  Washington State (W, 3-1); Washington (W, 3-1)
This Week's Matches:  at Arizona State (Fri.); at Arizona (Sat.)

Summary:  Despite dropping a game to lowly Washington State, USC still leapfrogged past Stanford and California by virtue of its four-game victory of Washington, a team that had swept past the Bay Area schools just two weeks earlier.  After a subpar performance against the Cougars Thursday night, outside hitter Jessica Gysin turned up her offensive output to lead the Trojans past the Huskies with 20 kills.  Coming to Gysin's aide was the duo of Asia Kaczor and Diane Copenhagen, combining for 34 kills, while Debora Seilhamer continued to put up stellar numbers from the back with 36 digs.  Southern Cal looks to maintain its perfect 15-0 record when it travels to Arizona State and Arizona this weekend.

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

Results From Last Week:  at UCLA (L, 3-2); at USC (L, 3-1)
This Week's Matches:  Oregon (Fri.); Oregon State (Sat.)

Summary:  At home, Washington is one of the top teams in the country.  On the road, the Huskies are just like everyone else, vulnerable to upset on any given night.  Last weekend did not go according to Jim McLaughlin's plan, dropping two matches to UCLA and USC.  Outside hitter Christal Morrison continued to shoulder much of the offensive load, posting 4.55 kills per game in both losses, though only hitting .248, well below her season average of .328.  Stevie Mussie, a transfer from the University of Pacific, solidified her position at the second outside hitter spot, averaging 4.55 kills and 2.44 digs per game.  Sophomore middle blocker Jessica Swarbrick had a good weekend in the middle, with 2.67 kills and 1.44 blocks per game.  Washington looks to end its two-game losing streak this weekend, when it hosts Oregon and Oregon State.

6. Stanford Cardinal (12-2, 3-1 Pac-10)
Previous Ranking:  5

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

Summary:  Debate over who will be crowned the 2006 AVCA National Player of the Year has already began, and sophomore Cynthia Barboza has worked her way into the heart of the conversation.  Her magnificent individual performance against Washington proved to everyone just how dominant of a player she can be, and she continued her monstrous season with an assault on the Arizona schools, posting 19 and 17 kills against Arizona and Arizona State, respectively.  For the year, she is averaging 4.60 kills, 2.70 digs, 0.60 blocks, and 0.47 aces per game, while hitting at a .314 clip.  Setter Bryn Kehoe directed the Cardinal offense to a "T", dishing out 16.33 assists per game while leading the squad to a .357 hitting percentage.  She also added 2.33 digs per game in the straight-set victories over the Arizona schools.  Up next on Stanford's difficult schedule is bitter South Bay rival California on Friday for a grudge match for the ages.

7. California Golden Bears (14-1, 3-1 Pac-10)
Previous Ranking:  6

Results From Last Week:  Arizona State (W, 3-1); Arizona (W, 3-1)
This Week's Matches:  at Stanford (Fri.)

Summary:  California prepared for this Friday's Big Spike with four-game victories over Arizona State and Arizona.  Despite the loss of outstanding freshman Hana Cutura, who was out resting a sore right foot, the Golden Bears were able to adjust and leave the weekend sporting two more wins.  Freshman Cat Dailey filled in admirably for Cutura on the leftside, hammering down 4.25 kills per game including a game-high 19 kill-performance against Arizona State.  Middle blocker Ellen Orchard patrolled the middle with great intensity and posted 2.13 blocks per game over the weekend to lead the Golden Bears on defense, while libero Jillian Davis was stabilizing the back row.

8. Florida Gators (12-2, 5-1 SEC)
Previous Ranking:  10

Results From Last Week:  at Kentucky (W, 3-2); Tennessee (W, 3-0)
This Week's Matches:  at Mississippi State (Fri.); at Mississippi (Sun.)

Summary:  Libero Elyse Cusack made her return to the court a triumphant one, making her presence known in the back court with her solid passing and incredible defensive skills.  Her weekend average of 3.38 digs per game was well below her season average, but she did enough for her team to earn SEC Freshman Player of the Week honors in victories against Kentucky and Tennessee.  While Cusack was the defensive sparkplug for the Gators, junior opposite Amber McCray was the offensive one, pounding down 4.62 kills per game at a .456 clip.  Next up on Florida's SEC chopping block are road games with Mississippi State and Mississippi.

9. Purdue Boilermakers (13-2, 3-1 Big 10)
Previous Ranking:  11

Results From Last Week:  Ohio State (W, 3-2); Penn State (L, 3-0)
This Week's Matches:  at Indiana (Wed.); at Iowa (Sat.)

Summary:  Getting swept by the No. 2 team in the country isn't anything to be ashamed about, especially when it features a boatload of All-Americans and two of the top freshmen in the nation.  Purdue got blown out of the water by Penn State in the first game, dropping it 30-12, but put up quite a fight in the following two games, falling 31-29 and 30-27.  Danita Merlau provided much of the offensive punch for the Boilermakers, with a team-leading 16 kills.  The prior evening, Merlau once again was the catalyst on offense, putting away 23 kills in a thrilling five-game victory over visiting Ohio State.  Middle blocker Stephanie Lynch provided plenty of help, with 15 kills, eight blocks, and a .429 hitting percentage, while outside hitter Samantha Mader put away 18 balls in the winning effort.  Road games against Indiana and Iowa are up next for Purdue.

10. Texas Longhorns (10-4, 5-2 Big 12)
Previous Ranking:  8

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

Summary:  After dropping a five-game match to host Oklahoma last Wednesday, Texas returned home on Saturday to find themselves in a battle against Kansas State.  The Longhorns were in danger of losing their third straight match, dropping the first two games.  Luckily, Jerritt Elliott's troops were able to rally for a miraculous comeback, punctuated with a 15-10 Game Five victory.  Four players in Burnt Orange reached double digits in kills, with Ashley Engle and Leticia Armstrong combining for 35 kills, followed by Dariam Acevedo and Lauren Paolini with 15 apiece.  Acevedo and Paolini led the defensive effort, with 22 digs and seven blocks.  Tuesday night went a bit smoother for Texas, blitzing Iowa State.  Engle had a great all-around effort, with 16 kills, 13 digs, and five blocks, while setter Michelle Moriarty dished out 41 assists.  Baylor will be the next team in line with hopes of catching Texas on an off-night, with a date in Austin on Friday.

11. Wisconsin Badgers (12-2, 4-0 Big 10)
Previous Ranking:  13

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

12. Santa Clara Broncos (11-3, 1-1 WCC)
Previous Ranking:  9

Results From Last Week:  at Saint Mary's (L, 3-2); at San Francisco (W, 3-1)
This Week's Matches:  Loyola (Thu.); Pepperdine (Sat.)

13. Utah Utes (12-2, 5-0 MWC)
Previous Ranking:  NR

Results From Last Week:  at BYU (W, 3-1)
This Week's Matches:  New Mexico (Fri.); Texas Christian (Sat.)

14. BYU Cougars (12-2, 4-1 MWC)
Previous Ranking:  12

Results From Last Week:  Utah (L, 3-1)
This Week's Matches:  Texas Christian (Fri.); New Mexico (Sat.)

15. LSU Tigers (14-1, 6-0 SEC)
Previous Ranking:  NR

Results From Last Week:  Ole Miss (W, 3-0); Mississippi State (W, 3-0)
This Week's Matches:  at Arkansas (Wed.); at Alabama (Sun.)

Dropped Out:  Ohio State (14); Tennessee (15)

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