Top 10 Above the Net

Something has to give this weekend when the #6 and #7 teams in college volleyball from the Bay Area travel to Los Angeles against the #3 and #4 squads. Can the Cardinal or Bears upset undefeated UCLA or USC, who are tied atop the Pac-10? The latter is opening up the Trojans magnificent new home for volleyball and basketball, the Galen Center.

1. Nebraska Cornhuskers (16-0, 8-0 Big 12)
Previous Ranking:  1

Results From Last Week:  at Kansas State (W, 3-0); Texas A&M (W, 3-0)
This Week's Matches:  at Missouri (W, 3-0); Colorado (Sat.)

Summary:  Sophomore outside hitter Jordan Larson earned her second Big 12 Player of the Week of her young career this past week, powering Nebraska past conference foes Kansas State and Texas A&M.  Against the Wildcats, the 6-1 left side produced a match-high 20 kills on a .400 clip to go along with 10 digs and two blocks, while she had 15 digs and 11 kills in a sweep against the Aggies.  Rachel Holloway ran a smooth offense the past week, guiding the Cornhuskers to an overall hitting percentage of .314 while posting 14.00 assists per game.  Sarah Pavan was her usual dominant self, averaging 5.00 kills and 1.5 blocks per game, while setter-turned-libero Dani Busboom was solid on defense all weekend, putting a respectable 5.33 digs per game.  Nebraska put on a defensive clinic against Kansas State, with five players registering double digit digs, led by Busboom (19), Rachel Schwartz (14), Holloway (11).  In total, the Huskers had an incredible 72 digs during the match.  After sweeping Missouri on Wednesday night on the road, Nebraska is one step closer to taking the Big 12 title, with Colorado on deck this Saturday.

2. Penn State Nittany Lions (17-0, 6-0 Big 10)
Previous Ranking:  2

Results From Last Week:  Minnesota (W, 3-1); Wisconsin (W, 3-0)
This Week's Matches:  at Northwestern (Fri.); at Illinois (Sun.)

Summary:  Minnesota gave Penn State its first real challenge of the Big 10 season, taking a game off of the reigning conference champions, but thanks to the efforts of Megan Hodge, the Nittany Lions were able to put away the Golden Gophers in four games.  The freshman outside hitter from North Carolina accounted for 20 kills, a career-high 18 digs and three aces to lead the way in Happy Valley, though sophomores Nicole Fawcett and Christa Harmotto combined for 27 kills in the winning cause.  Harmotto and fellow middle blocker Melissa Walbridge headed up the defensive plans with six blocks apiece.  Penn State had a much easier time with visiting Wisconsin, burying the Badgers in a rather easy three-game sweep thanks to great blocking all around.  Harmotto led the way with a career-tying 13 stuffs, followed by Fawcett and setter Alisha Glass with six and five blocks, respectively.  Fawcett, Harmotto, and Hodge were once again the top performers on offense, combining for 40 kills on the night.  Thanks to the huge wall put up by the host team, the Badgers were only able to hit a measly .189 for the match, while Glass constantly found the hot hand all night long, handing out 44 assists and guiding her squad to a .336 clip.  Penn State ventures into the state of Illinois to continue its quest for an undefeated Big 10 season with matches against Northwestern and Illinois this weekend.

3. UCLA Bruins (19-0, 6-0 Pac-10)
Previous Ranking:  3

Results From Last Week:  Arizona (W, 3-1); Arizona State (W, 3-0)
This Week's Matches:  Cal (Thu.); Stanford (Fri.)

Summary:  UCLA had trouble with visiting Arizona, which is a bit troubling considering all the losses to graduation and injuries Dave Rubio & Co. have suffered, but thanks to the reliable outside hitter/middle blocker combination of Ali Dailey and Nana Meriwether, the Bruins pulled through in four games.  Dailey and Meriwether each had a team-leading 14 kills, while middle blocker Rachell Johnson chipped in nine kills.  The Blue and Gold had a difficult time overcoming Arizona's block, hitting only .120 as a team and getting stuffed 20 times, though they were able to display some great defense of their own in the back court, led by Colby Lyman's 17 digs on the night.  The following night against Arizona State was easier on the eyes offensively speaking, with setter Nellie Spicer leading the team to a .353 hitting percentage in the three-game sweep.  Dailey was the leading attacker once again, this time with 12 kills, followed by Meriwether and Lyman with nine apiece.  Meriwether and Lyman also paced Banachowski's troops in blocks and digs, notching eight and 14, respectively.  Sole possession of first place is in jeopardy for UCLA this weekend, as it hosts the formidable Bay Area duo.  First up is California on Thursday night, with Stanford looming in the distance on Friday evening.

4. USC Trojans (17-0, 6-0 Pac-10)
Previous Ranking:  4

Results From Last Week:  Arizona State (W, 3-2); Arizona (W, 3-0)
This Week's Matches:  Stanford (Thu.); Cal (Fri.)

Summary:  A new era for USC will take place this Thursday, as the brand-new Galen Center will be unveiled for the first time.  The Trojans team will need all the support they can get, considering that Stanford will be coming to town that night to play.  If they play like they did against Arizona State, Southern Cal will be in for a disappointing homecoming.  It took the Trojans five games to beat the host Sun Devils, one of the worst teams in the Pac-10, and the outside hitters once again carried the team.  Asia Kaczor led the way with 27 kills, followed by high school teammates Diane Copenhagen and Jessica Gysin, teaming up for 33 kills.  Libero Debora Seilhamer became USC's all-time leader in digs after she dug 28 attacks, giving her a career total of 1,729 digs, which also ranks her third in the Pac-10 behind former stars Chrissie Zartman (UCLA) and Candace Lee (Washington).  The following evening against Arizona wasn't much better, despite the three-game sweep, as freshman quarterback Taylor Carico was only able to help her team to an anemic .197 clip, with none of the major offensive threats hitting over .200 for the night.  Copenhagen did manage a good all-around effort with 17 kills, six digs, and five blocks.  After the highly-anticipated Stanford match, USC will then get the unenviable task of facing California the following night.

5. Washington Huskies (13-3, 3-2 Pac-10)
Previous Ranking:  5

Results From Last Week:  Oregon (W, 3-1); Oregon State (W, 3-0)
This Week's Matches:  Washington State (Fri.)

Summary:  Entering the season, all talk was focused on the leadership of senior setter Courtney Thompson and junior outside hitter Christal Morrison.  Washington has proven that the team is more than just a two-trick pony, with multiple players stepping up their games throughout the season.  Against Oregon State, middle blocker Alesha Deesing pounded 14 kills at a .417 clip to lead the offense, while Stevie Mussie and Janine Sandell combined to for 24 kills in a four-game victory over visiting Oregon, complementing Morrison's match-high 21 kills.  Libero Tamari Miyashiro did an excellent job controlling the backcourt, averaging 6.29 digs per game.  Thompson guided the Huskies to a .378 hitting percentage after dishing out 40 assists in the sweep against Oregon State.  Friday night should be a relatively easy outing for Washington, as it faces in-state rival Washington State.

6. Stanford Cardinal (13-2, 4-1 Pac-10)
Previous Ranking:  6

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

Summary:  Behind an energized Maples crowd of 2,382, Stanford easily handled archrival California in the Big Spike with a 30-20, 30-22, and 30-21 victory.  Newly crowned Pac-10 Player of the Week Kristin Richards put forth one of her most impressive performances of her collegiate career, hitting a season-high .545 on 13 kills with no attack errors, in addition to six digs, three blocks, and one ace.  Bryn Kehoe directed the Cardinal assault by guiding her squad to an outstanding .354 clip.  Middle blocker Franci Girard continued to impress everyone with her improvement over the last year, using her athleticism to her advantage on offense, chipping in with seven kills at a .500 rate.  Foluke Akinradewo had a quiet night on offense with only four kills, but she came up big on the defensive end with a match-high seven blocks.  Overall, it was one of the best performances of the year for Stanford, and head coach John Dunning will look to build upon this match as his team travels down South this week to take on USC and UCLA.

7. California Golden Bears (14-2, 3-2 Pac-10)
Previous Ranking:  7

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

Summary:  Hana Cutura, California's freshman sensation, made her Maples Pavilion debut a forgettable one, hitting -.356 with only three kills in two games.  Still showing the effects of a foot injury that sidelined her the previous week against the Arizona schools, Cutura has the potential to be an All-American, but her play Friday night was no where near that level.  In fact, almost the entire Golden Bear squad disappointed, playing at a level that allowed Stanford to dominate the match.  The only person who showed up was outside hitter Angie Pressey, who continued her All-American campaign with 13 kills, 10 digs, and two blocks in the three-game loss.  Sophomore Morgan Beck did a nice job being a primary passer, considering her 6-3 frame and being a main target of the Stanford servers, and senior Natalie Smart had one of her best offensive performances of her collegiate career, collecting a personal-best eight kills on a .429 clip.  The Pac-10 does not get any easier for California with the ever-deadly UCLA and USC on tap on the road.

8. Florida Gators (14-2, 7-1 SEC)
Previous Ranking:  8

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

Summary:  It was business as usual for Florida in the SEC this past weekend, as it had an easy time with road games at Mississippi State and Mississippi.  Against the Bulldogs, it was a collective team effort that pushed the Gators to victory, as six players recorded at least six kills in the match, highlighted by middle blocker Kelsey Bowers and outside hitter Kisya Killingsworth with 12 and 10 kills, respectively.  All-American candidate Angie McGinnis was able to set at least four players above the .300 mark, with Bowers once again leading the way with an impressive .625 clip.  Middle blocker Kristina Johnson was a force at the net, accounting for five blocks, while libero Elyse Cusack continued her impressive first-year campaign with a team-leading 13 digs.  Against the Rebels, senior Stefanie Douglas had a breakthrough performance with a career-high 13 kills on an unheard of .750 hitting percentage.  McGinnis notched a great all-around performance with 10 kills on a .643 clip to go along with her 39 assists, five digs, three blocks, and one ace.  For the match, the Gators were able to hit .385 while holding the host team to a .212 rate.  After taking on Arkansas this Friday, Florida faces a stiff challenge in LSU this coming Sunday.

9. Purdue Boilermakers (15-2, 5-1 Big 10)
Previous Ranking:  9

Results From Last Week:  at Indiana (W, 3-0); at Iowa (W, 3-2)
This Week's Matches:  at Wisconsin (Fri.); at Minnesota (Sat.)

Summary:  Purdue's sophomore class is one of the reasons for its success this season, and after weekend away victories over Indiana and Iowa, two members of the Class of 2008 were honored by the conference.  Outside hitter Danita Merlau and defensive specialist Kelli Miller earned the Big 10 Player of the Week and Defensive Player of the Week honors, respectively.  For Merlau, she exploded last weekend to the tune of 5.75 kills per game, including a 29-kill effort on a .320 clip against the Hawkeyes to go along with 13 digs, four aces, and three blocks.  While Miller had a relatively quite night against Indiana with just nine digs, she was everywhere on the court against Iowa, racking up 32 digs, the second time in her career that she has surpassed the 30-dig mark.  A difficult road test awaits Purdue, as they have to travel again this weekend, this time facing perennial conference powers Wisconsin and Minnesota.

10. Texas Longhorns (11-4, 6-2 Big 12)
Previous Ranking:  10

Results From Last Week:  at Iowa State (W, 3-0); Baylor (W, 3-2)
This Week's Matches:  at Texas A&M (Fri.)

Summary:  The Jekyll & Hyde team of the collegiate arena showed once again it can't make up its mind as to its identity.  Texas had an easy time against a solid Iowa State squad and was never threatened throughout the match.  Freshman stud Ashley Engle had another outstanding performance, capping off the night with 16 kills on a .387 clip, and added 13 kills and five blocks for good measure.  Outside hitter Dariam Acevedo notched a double-double against the Cyclones, going for 11 kills and 10 digs while hitting .391 on the night.  However, against the scrappy Bears, the Longhorns struggled mightily and were pushed to five games by a team that is just 2-5 in the Big 12.  Once again, Engle and Acevedo were the saviors of the night for Jerritt Elliott & Co., combining for 46 kills in the thriller.  Acevedo was particularly effective in the final frame, compiling four kills and one block to give her squad the 15-10 clincher.  Outside hitter Destinee Hooker was also a major factor in the triumph over Baylor, putting down 21 balls to go along with her seven blocks, while setter Michelle Moriarty contributed 75 assists and 17 digs.  Texas will next get pushed by in-state rival Texas A&M in a key match-up in the Big 12 this Friday.

11. Utah Utes (16-2, 7-0 MWC)
Previous Ranking:  13

Results From Last Week:  New Mexico (W, 3-0); TCU (W, 3-0)
This Week's Matches:  Utah Valley State (W, 3-0); Wyoming (Sat.)

12. BYU Cougars (15-2, 6-1 MWC)
Previous Ranking:  14

Results From Last Week:  Texas Christian (W, 3-2); New Mexico (W, 3-1)
This Week's Matches:  Wyoming (Thu.); UNLV (Fri.)

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

Results From Last Week:  at Ohio State (L, 3-2); at Penn State (L, 3-0)
This Week's Matches:  Purdue (Fri.); Indiana (Sun.)

14. San Diego Toreros (14-4, 4-0 WCC)
Previous Ranking:  NR

Results From Last Week:  Pepperdine (W, 3-1); Loyola Marymount (W, 3-1)
This Week's Matches:  at Portland (Thu.); at Gonzaga (Sat.)

15. Santa Clara Broncos (12-4, 2-2 WCC)
Previous Ranking:  12

Results From Last Week:  Loyola Marymount (L, 3-0); Pepperdine (W, 3-0)
This Week's Matches:  at Gonzaga (Thu.); at Portland (Sat.)

Dropped Out:  LSU (15)

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