Top 10 Above the Net

After a surprise Penn State loss last night, we have a shuffle that reveals four Pac-10 teams in the top five national rankings. College women's volleyball is sizzling on the Left Coast currently, and the temperature will rise when the #3 Bruins and #5 Trojans both visit #2 Stanford at Maples Pavilion in the next 48 hours.

1. Nebraska Cornhuskers (23-0, 15-0 Big 12)
Previous Ranking:  1

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

Summary:  Nebraska continued to steamroll through the Big 12, discarding Texas Tech and Oklahoma in straight games.  Sarah Pavan was her usual dominant self on the right side, averaging 4.83 kills and 1.33 blocks per game, while her left-side counterpart Jordan Larson was effective in all rotations, recording 4.50 kills and 3.5 digs per game.  While Tracy Stalls and Kori Cooper do not have the gaudy offensive numbers of Pavan and Larson, the duo have established themselves as a top-notch blocking tandem and proved it once again this weekend, together averaging 1.42 blocks per game.  Setter-turned-libero Dani Busboom had a great weekend in the back row, proving that she'll play any position to earn time out on the court; she recorded 5.00 digs per game to lead all Huskers.  Nebraska survived a surprisingly tough Iowa State squad Wednesday night with a four-game victory and could receive a challenge when it visits Colorado, the fourth-place team in the Big 12.

2. Stanford Cardinal (20-2, 11-1, Pac-10)
Previous Ranking:  2

Results From Last Week:  at California (W, 3-1)
This Week's Matches:  USC (Fri.); UCLA (Sat.)

Summary:  The three-headed monster that is Stanford struck again, taking out Bay Area and conference rival California in four games.  The trio of Cynthia Barboza, Kristin Richards, and Foluke Akinradewo accounted for 76% of the Cardinal offense against the Golden Bears.  Berkeley could have posed a psychological problem for Barboza, as it was in Haas that she tore her ACL, but the super sophomore proved what a tough competitor she was by shredding the defense for a match-high 17 kills at a .310 clip, adding nine digs, three blocks, and three aces in the winning effort.  Richards continued her strong play as of late, tallying a double-double of 16 kills and 13 digs, while Akinradewo posted 14 kills and five blocks.  Senior Nji Nnamani has been relegated to back row duties as of late, giving up her front-row rotation to either sophomore Erin Waller or freshman Janet Okogbaa.  She has embraced her defensive role with enthusiasm and it showed against Cal, as she picked up 13 digs in the four-game victory.  This weekend provides a difficult challenge to Stanford, as USC and UCLA invade Maples Pavilion in hopes of toppling down the 2004 NCAA Champions from the top of the Pac-10 perch.  If the Cardinal can come out unscathed, a Pac-10 title, along with a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament is a very high possibility.

3. UCLA Bruins (24-2, 11-2 Pac-10)
Previous Ranking:  3

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

Summary:  It has been since 1999 that a middle blocker won the AVCA National Player of the Year (Penn State's Lauren Cacciamani was the co-winner with Stanford's Kerri Walsh), but Nana Meriwether is certainly making a case to end that drought with her efficient hitting and dominating defense.  In a four-game triumph over Arizona State, she collected 20 kills on a .581 clip to go with 11 blocks, the fifth time this season she has had double digits in blocks.  Against Arizona, she had 12 kills at a .588 hitting percentage to go with her six blocks.  With her performances this past weekend, Meriwether now has hit over .500 in 12 matches.  She was also named the Pac-10 Player of the Week for the third time this season, making her a frontrunner for Pac-10 Player of the Year, along with Stanford's Cynthia Barboza and Washington's Christal Morrison and Courtney Thompson.  Kaitlin Sather, Katie Carter, and Becky Mehring teamed up for 34 kills in the win over the Sun Devils to complement Meriwether on offense, while Sather helped mind the net with six blocks of her own.  Against the Wildcats, Sather had another good match with 11 kills, six digs, and five blocks.  Nellie Spicer dished out 38 assists while guiding the Bruins to a .330 clip.  After dropping a five-game heartbreaker to Stanford earlier in the conference season, UCLA looks to exact revenge when it travels to Palo Alto for a grudge match of the ages.  But first up is California, who is hungry for its first victory over a Top-10 opponent this season.

4. Washington Huskies (21-3, 11-2 Pac-10)
Previous Ranking:  5

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

Summary:  Washington put on an offensive clinic against hapless Oregon State, with four players collecting at least 10 or more kills.  Outside hitter Stevie Mussie recorded a double-double of 15 kills and 13 digs, while Alesha Deesing controlled the middle with 11 kills and three blocks.  Outside hitter Christal Morrison and opposite Janine Sandell chipped in 10 kills apiece.  Playmaker Courtney Thompson had 50 assists and led her team to a .323 hitting percentage, to go along with eight digs and three blocks.  Jessica Swarbrick also had a solid match, tallying nine kills on a .421 clip and a match-leading five blocks.  The following night, Mussie continued her strong play and helped power the Huskies to a nail-biting five-game victory over the host Ducks with 27 kills.  Morrison wasn't too far behind, with 21 kills of her own, while Swarbrick added 17 kills out of the middle to give the Washington a strong presence across the net.  Defense helped the Huskies secure the victory, with libero Tamari Miyashiro producing a career-high 36 digs and Mussie and Morrison with 17 and 14 digs, respectively.  Deesing contributed to the defensive effort up at the net with 11 stuffs to lead all players.  An in-state meeting with Washington State on Friday should not be pose too much of a problem to Washington, even if the match is on the road; look for the Huskies to chalk up another "W" by the end of the night.

5. USC Trojans (21-3, 10-3 Pac-10)
Previous Ranking:  6

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

Summary:  In front of a nationally-televised audience, Asia Kaczor blasted her way through the vaunted Arizona block for 21 kills at a .347 clip to lead USC to the four-game victory.  Jessica Gysin and Diane Copenhagen proved again how strong the left side is for Southern California, as the duo teamed up for 31 kills and 21 digs.  Freshman Taylor Carico had a productive night, posting 56 assists, 11 digs, five kills, and two aces to help in the winning effort.  The following night against Arizona State, Kaczor again demonstrated what an offensive weapon she can be on the right side, ripping the Sun Devil defense apart for 23 kills at a .541 rate.  Copenhagen also had a field day against the home team, hitting .314 and compiling 13 kills.  Carico displayed her impressive all-around game after filling up the stat sheet with 47 assists, 10 digs, eight kills, and five blocks.  And oh yeah, she did her job by directing the Trojan offense to a .379 clip.  Katelyn Bishop had a solid night in the middle for head coach Mick Haley, totaling seven kills and six blocks.  Awaiting Southern California this weekend is one of the most difficult road trips of the year: first a visit to Pac-10 front-runner Stanford followed by a rumble with a hungry California squad.

6. Penn State Nittany Lions (24-2, 13-2 Big 10)
Previous Ranking:  4

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

Summary:  Youth is starting to catch up with Penn State, evidenced first by its road loss to Wisconsin two weeks ago and now another loss on an opponent's home court, this time courtesy of Ohio State.  Having freshmen stars Megan Hodge and Alisha Glass has given Russ Rose a combination of power and athletics at the outside hitter and setter positions, but inexperience is beginning to show its cracks.  However, no one would have been able to tell how shaky things are in Happy Valley based on last week's results, with Penn State easily handling Purdue and Indiana in straight-game victories.  Against the Boilermakers, at least six players recorded six or more kills, with Christa Harmotto, Megan Hodge, and Cassy Salyer leading the way with eight kills apiece.  While a balanced offense will lead a team to victory, so will solid defense.  The Nittany Lions put up a wall against their conference foe, tallying 14.0 total team blocks.  Melissa Walbridge and Harmotto were the top blockers of the night, with seven and six blocks, respectively.  In the easy win over the Hoosiers, Nicole Fawcett and Hodge were virtually unstoppable at the antennas, combining for 32 kills at a .528 clip.  Glass was solid in all facets of the game, dishing out 40 assists, powering five kills, swatting away five attacks, and digging up four balls.  Roberta Holehouse had a spectacular outing in the back row, colleting 18 digs to lead all players, as the Nittany Lions outdug the Hoosiers 51-35.  After Wednesday's shocking loss to Ohio State, Penn State will try to regroup at home on Saturday against Iowa.

7. Wisconsin Badgers (19-5, 11-3 Big 10)
Previous Ranking:  7

Results From Last Week:  Michigan (W, 3-0); Michigan State (W, 3-1)
This Week's Matches:  Northwestern (Fri.); Illinois (Sat.)

Summary:  After sweeping the Michigan schools, Wisconsin has firmly planted itself in second position behind Penn State in the Big 10 race.  Outside hitter Maria Carlini had no problems with the Wolverines' block, putting down 13 attacks at a .344 rate to lead her squad to the three-game sweep.  Freshman phenom Brittany Dolgner and middle blocker Audra Jeffers added nine kills each in the winning effort.  Jocelyn Wack had an impressive performance in the back row, tallying a match-high 17 digs.  The following night against the Spartans, Jackie Simpson directed the Badger offense to the tune of a .362 hitting percentage, with five players garnering double digit kills.  Dolgner was the leading attacker, putting down 16 balls, followed by Taylor Reinke's 14 blasts out of the middle.  Carlini and middle Amy Bladow combined for 23 kills in the winning cause, and Jeffers rounded out the top scorers with 10 kills.  Reinke took the reins on the defensive effort, blocking six attacks, while Carlini had four stuffs.  Wisconsin hopes to keep pace with Penn State with two more victories this weekend, this time coming against Northwestern and Illinois.

8. Florida Gators (22-2, 15-1 SEC)
Previous Ranking:  8

Results From Last Week:  at LSU (W, 3-1); at Arkansas (W, 3-1)
This Week's Matches:  Mississippi (W, 3-0); Mississippi State (Sun.)

Summary:  Despite her freshman status, Elyse Cusack has elevated herself as one of the top liberos in the Southeastern Conference, and this week the AVCA has taken notice to her outstanding abilities, making sure that no one will soon forget her name.  After averaging 8.88 digs per game this past weekend in victories over LSU and Arkansas, the American Volleyball Coaches Association named the Florida native as the National Player of the Week, becoming only the second libero or defensive specialist to earn such an award in the 14-year history.  Cusack broke the Florida single-match record for digs after recording 46 digs in a 3-1 triumph over LSU, demolishing the old record of 34 set by Lyra Vance set back in 1987.  She followed up her great performance with a 25-dig performance in a four-game win against Arkansas.  With a season average of 5.66 digs per game, Cusack is on pace to break Rachel Engel's single season dig per game average of 5.12 by the time December rolls around.  While Cusack was the defensive dandy for the Gators, Amber McCray was their offensive star, leading the team in kills and hitting percentage on both occasions.  Against the Tigers, the redshirt junior slammed down 19 balls at a .340 clip and followed that up with 20 kills on a .543 hitting percentage against the Razorbacks.

9. Texas Longhorns (18-5, 13-3 Big 12)
Previous Ranking:  9

Results From Last Week:  Kansas (W, 3-0); at Baylor (W, 3-1)
This Week's Matches:  Texas A&M (W, 3-0); Missouri (Sat.)

Summary:  The freshmen movement continues, and this time, it's Ashley Engle's turn to receive some recognition.  A 6-3 right side hitter, Engle has been a leader for the Longhorns since Day One, and after leading her squad to two victories this past week, the Big 12 recognized her as the Player of the Week, one of many more honors to come in her collegiate career.  In a three-game sweep of Kansas, Engle had a solid all-around game with 13 digs, eight kills, five blocks, and two aces, though it was her offensive explosion against Baylor that caught the attention of the conference.  On just 48 swings, Engle pounded down a career-high 27 kills at a .396 rate, to go along with a match-high 17 digs.  For the week, the Southern Californian transplant averaged 5.00 kills and 4.29 digs per game to earn her first Big 12 honor.  In the match with the Jayhawks, Michelle Moriarty set four players into double digits in kills, led by Destinee Hooker with 15, followed by Jenn Christian, Lauren Paolini, and Jennifer Todd with 10 apiece.  Against the Bears, Engle got adequate support from Hooker and Todd, who combined for 26 kills in the winning effort.  After downing Texas A&M in three games Wednesday night, Texas will host Missouri in Gregory Gym on Saturday night.

10. Utah Utes (22-2, 13-0 MWC)
Previous Ranking:  10

Results From Last Week:  at TCU (W, 3-1); at New Mexico (W, 3-1)
This Week's Matches:  Wyoming (Thu.)

Summary:  Airial Salvo is a big-time player who is providing Utah with the necessary offensive firepower to make some noise on the national level.  She chipped in 15 kills against Texas Christian in a four-game triumph, while adding a career-high 20 kills against New Mexico the following night.  Against the Lobos, she hit .514 while adding 10 digs and four blocks to her credit.  Just a sophomore, Salvo is a serious candidate for the Mountain West Player of the Year with averages of 4.18 kills, 3.46 digs, 0.75 blocks, and 0.45 aces per game.  Salvo has been a huge reason why Utah is running the table in conference, though she's had plenty of help.  Against the Horned Frogs, outside hitter Whitney Webb had 19 kills on a .424 clip, while middle Emillie Toone clogged up the net with six blocks.  In a tough match on the road at The Pit, the Utes had their hands full against the Lobos, but Sydney Anderson did a great job distributing the ball throughout the night, getting the team to hit .356 with four players collecting at least 10 kills throughout the match.  While Toone and Webb put up a great defensive effort with six blocks apiece, it was Lori Baird who was "The Wall," assisting on nine stuffs while also putting down 13 kills in the victory.  The last time Utah faced Wyoming, the Utes were lucky to escape with a narrow five-game victory, but on Thursday, the Cowgirls visit Salt Lake City, and the home team figures to have no trouble this time around.

11. California Golden Bears (17-6, 6-6 Pac-10)
Previous Ranking:  11

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

12. Minnesota Golden Gophers (17-7, 11-3 Big 10)
Previous Ranking:  12

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

13. San Diego Toreros (20-5, 10-1 WCC)
Previous Ranking:  14

Results From Last Week:  at Loyola Marymount (W, 3-2); at Pepperdine (L, 3-1)
This Week's Matches:  Gonzaga (Thu.); Portland (Sat.)

14. Purdue Boilermakers (19-6, 9-5 Big 10)
Previous Ranking:  13

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

15. Oklahoma Sooners (20-5, 11-3 Big 12)
Previous Ranking:  NR

Results From Last Week:  Texas Christian (W, 3-0); at Nebraska (L, 3-0)
This Week's Matches:  Texas Tech (W, 3-1); Kansas State (Sat.)

Dropped Out:  BYU (15)

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