Top 10 Above the Net

After four of the top seven ranked teams in the nation collided last weekend in Los Angeles for four big matches, we have a reshuffle in this week's Top 10. Stanford swept previously undefeated USC and UCLA on the road, while those host schools each split the weekend and Cal went winless. That leaves just two unbeatens in the nation, and one of them survived a five-game nailbiter last night.

1. Nebraska Cornhuskers (18-0, 10-0 Big 12)
Previous Ranking:  1

Results From Last Week:  at Missouri (W, 3-0); Colorado (W, 3-0)
This Week's Matches:  at Texas (W, 3-2)

Summary:  After dismantling Texas a few weeks ago, Missouri looked like it would be a team that could give Nebraska a run for its money ,and last Wednesday was a marquee match-up for the two Big 12 schools.  However, the Cornhuskers still showed they were the Queens of the Court with a sweep of the Tigers.  Sarah Pavan led the offensive assault with a match-high 16 kills on a .467 clip and added eight digs and four blocks for good measure.  Sophomore Jordan Larson supported Pavan's efforts with her eight straight double-double of 14 kills and 14 digs.  On Saturday, Colorado visited the NU Coliseum, and like the other teams before them, the Buffaloes were no match for the home squad.  This time, three players collected double digit kills, with Larson getting 17 and Pavan and middle blocker Tracy Stalls pounding down 12 apiece.  Redshirt freshman Rachel Holloway had an excellent week, directing the Husker offense to an overall hitting percentage of 0.312 all while averaging 16.00 assists, 2.00 digs, 1.17 kills, and 0.83 blocks per game.  The Big 12 rewarded the setter for her stellar play, naming Holloway the Player of the Week by the conference.  Nebraska continues to reign supreme against its fellow conference foes, beating host Texas last night in five grueling games (27-30, 30-22, 22-30, 30-22, 15-13) in its only match this week.

2. Penn State Nittany Lions (19-0, 8-0 Big 10)
Previous Ranking:  2

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

Summary:  The duo of Nicole Fawcett and Megan Hodge have quickly established themselves as one of the top offensive left side hitters in the country despite their youthfulness.  The great thing about having two great players is that when one is down, the other will pick up the slack, which is exactly what happened this past weekend.  Against Northwestern, Hodge blasted 25 kills on a solid .321 clip, compensating for Fawcett's anemic performance at the antennas (seven kills on eight errors for a -.043 hitting percentage).  Two evenings later, the roles were reversed, with Fawcett garnering 20 kills at a stellar .521 hitting percentage, while Hodge collected 14 kills, but only hit .111 on the night.  While the outsides were hot and cold throughout the weekend, middle blocker Christa Harmotto was her usual, consistent self, averaging 3.33 kills and 2.00 blocks per game.  Roberta Holehouse has done an excellent job manning the libero position after much competition during the preseason and she has proven her worth throughout the Big 10 season.  Against the Wildcats and Fighting Illini, she averaged 6.00 digs per game.  Up next for Penn State are home matches against Michigan and Michigan State.

3. Stanford Cardinal (15-2, 6-1 Pac-10)
Previous Ranking:  6

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

Summary:  In a tough conference like the Pac-10, defending your home court isn't good enough.  Champions distinguish themselves from the pretenders by winning on the road, and Stanford made huge strides this past weekend towards becoming this year's Pac-10 champions by defeating previously undefeated USC and UCLA on back-to-back nights.  The Cardinal became the first top team in conference to win on the road and did so thanks to a great team effort.  Leading the way were outside hitters Cynthia Barboza and Kristin Richards, who combined for 70 kills against the L.A. schools.  Richards in particular has picked up her game substantially over the past few weeks and added a match-high 26 digs in the five-game thriller over the Bruins.  Middle blocker Franci Girard was the most consistent performer for John Dunning, averaging 2.88 kills and 1.13 blocks per game, while hitting at an amazing .467 clip.  Bryn Kehoe once again did an excellent job guiding her team to victory, and despite some inconsistent passing from the Cardinal backcourt, she was still able to average 14.63 assists per game while having her squad hit .300 or above on both nights.  After facing Top 10 teams California, USC, and UCLA on successive weekends, Stanford takes a breather when Oregon State and Oregon visit Maples Pavilion this Thursday and Friday.

4. UCLA Bruins (20-1, 7-1 Pac-10)
Previous Ranking:  3

Results From Last Week:  California (W, 3-0); Stanford, L, 3-2)
This Week's Matches:  at USC (Fri.)

Summary:  Even with the loss to Stanford, UCLA is off to its best start in recent memories, sporting a 20-1 record after seven weeks of action.  Against Cal, it was seniors Katie Carter and Nana Meriwether who had the most impact, teaming up for 23 kills and providing setter Nellie Spicer with an effective outside-middle combination.  The Bruins block was also in full effect against the Golden Bears with 14.5 blocks in only three games; Rachell Johnson was the leading blocker, posting eight blocks, while Meriwether and Colby Lyman had five apiece.  Against Stanford, however, UCLA's block was less effective and had to rely on Spicer's accurate sets to keep them in the match.  She had a match-high 68 assists and set four players into double digit kills, with Carter and Meriwether leading the way again for the home team with 19 and 17 kills, respectively.  Johnson and Kaitlin Sather combined for 26 kills in the losing effort.  Libero Jordan Smith had an outstanding weekend in the back row, averaging 5.13 digs in eight games of action.  UCLA finishes off the first half of Pac-10 play on Friday night with a highly anticipated match across town at rival USC.

5. USC Trojans (18-1, 7-1 Pac-10)
Previous Ranking:  4

Results From Last Week:  Stanford (L, 3-0); California (W, 3-1)
This Week's Matches:  UCLA (Fri.)

Summary:  Stanford may have snapped USC's 17-match winning streak, but the signs were readily available to suggest that the Trojans were ripe for a loss.  Five-set victories against Arizona State and Oregon State indicated that Southern California was not as mighty as their record would suggest, despite a home victory over defending national champion Washington.  Stanford ruined the grand opening of the Galen Center, handing the home team a loss in straight sets, including a come-from-behind 30-28 Game 3 victory after USC led 26-20.  Asia Kaczor led the way with 15 kills, hitting a respectable .294, though outside hitter Jessica Gysin, a Los Gatos native who spurned Palo Alto in favor of the glitz and glamour of Los Angeles, only registered two kills on five errors for a disastrous -.125 clip.  USC bounced back against California, handing the visitors a 3-1 loss behind 24 kills from Kaczor and 19 kills from Diane Copenhagen.  Gysin and libero extraordinaire Debora Seilhamer each had a team-high 14 digs, while middle blockers Bethany Johansen and Kelli Tennant, along with setter Taylor Carico, all had four blocks apiece.  Coming up next for USC is a final on-campus volleyball match in the Lyon Center (the new Galen Center has a scheduling conflict) on Friday night for another important in-conference battle, this time against UCLA.

6. Washington Huskies (15-3, 5-2 Pac-10)
Previous Ranking:  5

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

Summary:  Against a team that is only 1-6 in conference, Washington sure had its hands full against in-state rival Washington State.  Despite the three-game sweep, the match was much closer than anyone would have expected.  Behind 18 kills from Christal Morrison, the Huskies banished the Cougars 32-30, 30-28, and 34-32.  Supporting Morrison were outside hitter Stevie Mussie and middle blocker Alesha Dessing with 13 and 12 kills, respectively, though none of the Washington's top three kill leaders registered a hitting percentage above .300 on the night, which was very unusual.  Senior setter Courtney Thompson dished out an astonishing 55 assists in only three games and she also added eight digs and two blocks in the winning effort.  Washington is hoping to work out the kinks in its game before the start of the second half of the Pac-10, and will begin with the Arizona schools this weekend.

7. Florida Gators (16-2, 9-1 SEC)
Previous Ranking:  8

Results From Last Week:  Arkansas (W, 3-0); LSU (W, 3-0)
This Week's Matches:  South Carolina (Fri.); Georgia (Sun.)

Summary:  Elyse Cusack may only be a freshman and may only play in the back row, but she is becoming one of Florida's top players in a hurry.  After a stellar weekend digging bombs from Arkansas and LSU, she was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Week for the second time in her short career and her third weekly conference award after being named the SEC Freshman of the Week in early October.  For the weekend, she averaged 6.33 digs per game to help the Gators move into first place in the SEC after digging up 15 attacks in a sweep against Arkansas and producing 23 digs in a relatively easy victory over LSU.  Cusack, averaging 5.22 digs per game, has already broken the record for the most digs by a freshman libero/defensive specialist and is currently on pace to break former Gator Rachel Engel's conference mark of digs per game in a single season, with the 5.12 record set in 2005.  While Cusack provided the defensive highlights for Mary Wise & Co., it was right side hitter Amber McCray who brought the heat at the net, torching the Razorbacks and Tigers for 11 and 14 kills, respectively.  Middle blockers Kristina Johnson and Kelsey Bowers dominated Arkansas, as they both combined for 25 kills at a .579 hitting percentage.  Florida will try to avenge its only conference loss of the season when it hosts South Carolina this Friday, paying special attention to outside hitter Shonda Cole, with a meeting with Georgia to follow on Sunday.

8. Texas Longhorns (12-5, 7-3 Big 12)
Previous Ranking:  10

Results From Last Week:  at Texas A&M (W, 3-1)
This Week's Matches:  Nebraska (L, 3-2); Oklahoma (Sat.)

Summary:  Texas displayed great depth in all positions in a four-game victory over in-state and conference foe Texas A&M this past week, with five players garnering double digit kills.  In addition, three of those players hit above .400 on the night, headed up by freshman stud Destinee Hooker's 18 kills on a .417 clip.  Middle blockers Jennifer Todd (.435) and Leticia Armstrong (.409) also contributed 12 and 11 kills, respectively.  Dariam Acevedo and Ashley Engle rounded out the kill leaders for the Longhorns with a combined 26 kills.  Engle registered her fifth straight double-double by adding 11 digs to her stat line.  On the defensive end of the court, libero Alyson Jennings put up a team-high 13 digs, while Armstrong put the clamps up at the net with a match-high five stuffs.  Ever since its shocking loss to Oklahoma, Texas has been slowly climbing back into the conference racem though a five-game heartbreak to No. 1 Nebraska Wednesday night effectively ended any hopes at a Big 12 championship.

9. California Golden Bears (14-4, 3-4 Pac-10)
Previous Ranking:  7

Results From Last Week:  at UCLA (L, 3-0); at USC (L, 3-1)
This Week's Matches:  Oregon (Thu.); Oregon State (Fri.)

Summary:  It wasn't the weekend that head coach Rich Feller was looking for, but in the end, facing teams like UCLA and USC on the road will only make his team stronger come December.  Against the Bruins, sophomore Morgan Beck had a breakout game, posting 16 kills on two errors for match-leading .467 hitting percentage, providing many highlights in the three-game loss.  Angie Pressey, who leads the Golden Bears with 4.53 kills per game, managed to only collect eight kills on an anemic .056 clip.  Libero Jillian Davis was superb in defeat, posting a match-high 22 digs.  The following night on Southern California's home floor, freshman Hana Cutura led four players into double digit kills with 15, followed closely by Ellen Orchard (14), Pressey (12), and Beck (11), though the result was still another loss - this time in four games.  Cal was competitive throughout the match thanks to a dominating block, registering 21 stuffs throughout the evening compared to only nine for the home team.  Orchard had a match-high nine blocks, followed by middle blocker Natalie Smart and Beck with seven and six blocks, respectively.  California will return home to regroup against the Oregon schools this weekend before heading back out on the road to Arizona the following week to open up the second half of Pac-10 play.

10. Utah Utes (17-2, 8-0 MWC)
Previous Ranking:  11

Results From Last Week:  Utah Valley State (W, 3-0); Wyoming (W, 3-2)
This Week's Matches:  San Diego State (Fri.); UNLV (Sun.)

Summary:  Utah survived a scare last Saturday, downing a Wyoming squad that sports a 2-6 conference record in five games.  Five Utes registered double-digit kills, led by outside hitter Kate Robison with 17, followed closely by Whitney Webb (16) and Airial Salvo (14).  Middle blockers Emillie Toone and Lori Baird also contributed 11 kills each.  Toone and Baird were also spectacular on the defensive end, picking up 14 and 13 blocks, respectively, in the Mountain West Conference thriller.  Overall, the Utes outblocked the Cowgirls by a wide margin, 27 to 12 blocks, in addition to outdigging them as well, 108 to 87 digs.  Webb was a huge defensive presence in the backcourt with 26 digs to lead all players, and coupled with her outstanding 12-kills, nine-blocks, and eight-digs performance in a three-game triumph over Utah Valley State, she was named the Mountain West Conference Player of the Week.  Utah has distinguished itself as the team to beat in the MWC, with solid attackers and defenders in all rotations.  With home matches against San Diego State and UNLV coming up this weekend, Utah will look to solidify its placement not only in the conference, but on the national scene as well.

11. Wisconsin Badgers
Previous Ranking:  13

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

12. Purdue Boilermakers
Previous Ranking:  9

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

13. BYU Cougars
Previous Ranking:  12

Results From Last Week:  New Mexico (W, 3-1); at Wyoming (W, 3-2)
This Week's Matches:  UNLV (Fri.); San Diego State (Sat.)

14. San Diego Toreros
Previous Ranking:  14

Results From Last Week:  at Portland (W, 3-0); at Gonzaga (W, 3-0)
This Week's Matches:  Santa Clara (Sat.)

15. Santa Clara Broncos
Previous Ranking:  15

Results From Last Week:  at Gonzaga (W, 3-2); at Portland (W, 3-0)
This Week's Matches:  at San Diego (Sat.)

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