1. Nebraska Cornhuskers (24-1, 16-1 Big 12)
Previous Ranking: 1
Summary: Texas. Missouri. These were the opponents that posed the biggest threat to Nebraska's conference dominance. But Colorado? Who would have other thought the fourth-place team in the Big 12 would knock off the last undefeated team in the nation? Playing on the road in front of a large and hostile crowd, the Cornhuskers outhit, outblocked, and outdugged the Buffaloes, but still came up just short, dropping a 15-12 decision in the fifth game. Sarah Pavan led her team with 17 kills on the night and added eight blocks and 10 digs, but hit an uncharacteristic .163. Middle blocker Tracy Stalls was the most effective attacker for John Cook, downing a career-high 16 kills on a .357 hitting percentage and also tied her personal best of 12 blocks. Jordan Larson rounded out the players who had double-digit figures in kills, notching 13 in the losing effort. She also had 17 digs, six blocks, and two aces to round out her stat line. In Nebraska's early week win over Iowa State, Pavan played much better, producing 24 kills on a .321 clip to go with eight digs. Kori Cooper had a great match in the middle, tallying 12 kills on a .429 hitting percentage while shutting down five Cyclone attacks. Rachel Holloway had a good all-around game, dishing out 57 assists, digging 11 balls, and accumulated four stuffs in the four-game victory while setting her team to a respectable .237 clip. With only a handful of matches left on the schedule, Nebraska got back on the winning track with a sweep of Texas A&M Wednesday night and continues against Baylor on Saturday.
2. Washington Huskies (22-3, 12-2 Pac-10)
Previous Ranking: 4
Summary: Thanks to Stanford's loss to USC last Friday, Washington is now tied at the top of the Pac-10 with its victory over in-state rival Washington State. Three Huskies had double digit kills, led by outside hitters Stevie Mussie and Christal Morrison with 16 apiece. Middle blocker Alesha Deesing put down 10 balls on 18 swings with no errors for a .556 clip. Janine Sandell, a transfer from UC Santa Barbara and the 2005 Big West Player of the Year, chipped in nine kills and three blocks in the winning effort. Washington's defense was very effective in the sweep, limiting Washington State to a .035 hitting percentage. Deesing was a monster up front, stuffing seven attacks, while Morrison and libero Tamari Miyashiro accounted for a match-leading 15 digs each. Courtney Thompson continues to state her case as a candidate for Pac-10 Player of the Year, dishing out 44 assists and guiding her squad to a .331 hitting percentage. She now has a total of 6,132 career assists, putting her 12th on the all-time NCAA career assists list. With the regular season winding down, Washington hosts the Arizona schools this weekend before a huge showdown with Stanford the following Friday.
3. Stanford Cardinal (21-3, 12-2 Pac-10)
Previous Ranking: 2
Summary: The shocking part wasn't that Stanford had lost to USC last Friday, but rather it was in the manner that it occurred. The Cardinal were swept on its home court for the first time since the 2003 season, and the Trojans manhandled the home team that shocked everyone – the players, the coaches, and the fans. The play from outside hitters Cynthia Barboza and Kristin Richards was not up to their usual standards and it showed, as both players failed to hit above .000 on the night. Middle blocker Foluke Akinradewo led the Cardinal offense with 15 kills at a .433 clip. The following day, it was learned that Akinradewo would be held out of the UCLA match due to an injury; with the way Stanford had played the previous night, things were looking grim. However, the mark of champions is how they respond to adversity, and even without one of their leading offensive threats, the Cardinal were able to pull together and take a crucial match away from the visiting Bruins. Erin Waller and Lizzie Suiter, who played in place of Akinradewo, were the outbursts of energy that brought the home team to life. Waller provided the offensive sizzle, grounding UCLA for 13 kills, while Suiter helped control UCLA's All-American Nana Meriwether with great blocking, finishing with a team-high six stuffs. It was a true team effort, from the leadership skills displayed by Bryn Kehoe to the outstanding passing of Barboza and Richards, to the quick attacks by Franci Girard, to the awe-inspiring defense of Nji Nnamani and Jessica Fishburn. The team bounced back from Friday's loss and in a big way. And what's more, Stanford fans have even more reason to celebrate after Saturday's gutsy win over UCLA: head coach John Dunning received a National Letter of Intent from Alix Klineman, a 6-5 wunderkind who is generally being called the best recruit to come out of high school. Ever. However, before Stanford fans get ahead of themselves and start dreaming of future national championships staring Klineman, there is still this season to be played, and the next leg of it will be in the Pacific Northwest this weekend, with Oregon and Oregon State on deck.
4. USC Trojans (23-3, 12-3 Pac-10)
Previous Ranking: 5
Results From Last Week: at Stanford (W, 3-0); at California (W, 3-0)
This Week's Matches: at UCLA (Fri.)
Summary: Almost considered an afterthought for a top seed in the NCAA Tournament, USC put themselves back into the thick of things with a sweep of the Bay Area schools this past weekend. Asia Kaczor played out of her mind and was an offensive beast, getting it done in the back row and front row. For the week, she averaged an astounding 8.17 kills per game, hitting .415 against two of the top teams in the country. Against Stanford, Kaczor was unstoppable with her attacks, collecting 26 kills on a .500 clip, and her dazzling display of offense opened up the net for the rest of her teammates. Outside hitter Diane Copenhagen took advantage of all the attention towards Kaczor; she had 14 kills on a .306 clip. Setter Taylor Carico, who is a good candidate for Pac-10 Freshman of the Year, dished out 49 assists and propelled the Trojans to a .315 hitting percentage. Debora Seilhamer was simply amazing in the back row, digging everything the Cardinal threw at her and made so many momentum changing plays. She finished with 18 digs and was one of the reasons why USC had its way with Stanford. The following night against California, Kaczor was again the main threat up at the net, posting 23 kills, while Copenhagen had 12. Jessica Gysin had 10 kills to round out all players who had double-digit kills. Seilhamer followed up her impressive performance at Stanford with another terrific outing against California, posting 21 digs in the victory. USC hopes to maintain its momentum, having won its last five matches rather convincingly, this Friday as it travels to Westwood to face UCLA in the ultimate grudge match pitting two cross-town rivals.
5. UCLA Bruins (25-3, 12-3 Pac-10)
Previous Ranking: 4
Results From Last Week: at California (W, 3-1); at Stanford (L, 3-1)
This Week's Matches: USC (Fri.)
Summary: First place was there for the taking, but UCLA let it slip through its hands despite a valiant effort from All-American and future National Team member Nana Meriwether. After overcoming a spirited California squad in four games on Friday night, UCLA overtook Stanford for first place and had a chance to further distance in the Pac-10 race with a victory in Palo Alto. Unfortunately for Andy Banachowski's crew, they were not able to take advantage of Cardinal injuries and suffered a four-game loss, relegating them to a tie for third place with USC. Meriwether was the star once again for the Bruins, as her athleticism and timely blocking ruled the court on both nights. She led her squad in kills on both nights, pounding down 18 against the Golden Bears and 17 against the Cardinal. While she "only" put up five blocks on the first leg of the Bay Area road trip, she played out of her mind the following night, rejecting 13 Cardinal attacks. Against Cal, Meriwether had plenty of help on the outsides, as Ali Daley and Katie Carter combined for 28 kills. Libero Jordan Smith and defensive specialist Jade Machado were vital in the back row, digging up 15 and 13 balls, respectively. The following night on The Farm, it was middle blocker Rachel Johnson who helped Meriwether on offense, putting down 12 balls out of the middle. The main problem in the loss to Stanford was the fact that there was no production from the outside; no one from the main core of hitters – Carter, Daley, Colby Lyman, Becky Mehring, and Kaitlin Sather – hit above .053 on the night. That stat alone will usually spell disaster for any team, no matter how talented. With the regular season ending and talk about No. 1 seeds beginning, UCLA needs to beat USC this Friday to still be in consideration for a coveted top spot.
6. Penn State Nittany Lions (25-2, 14-2 Big 10)
Previous Ranking: 6
Summary: Penn State lost for only the second time this season, dropping a match to host Ohio State in surprising fashion by going down in three games. Freshman Megan Hodge paced the team with 19 kills, but it was not enough to help her team overcome a poor hitting performance, as setter Alisha Glass was only able to set her team to a dismal .161 percentage. Outside hitter Nicole Fawcett was the only other player to have kills in double figures, finishing with 11, but her hitting percentage was only .135 in the loss. Blocking is usually such a strength for the Nittany Lions, but they were only able to accumulate 7.5 blocks against the Buckeyes, with middle blocker Christa Harmotto leading the way with five. Passing was a major problem for Glass, and she had to hoist a majority of the sets to the antennas, making it easy for Ohio State's blockers to camp out. Penn State returned to its dominant ways against Iowa, shredding the defense for an incredible .451 hitting percentage, as Glass dished out 44 assists. Nicole Fawcett had a much improved performance against the Hawkeyes, hitting .579 and collecting 14 kills. Opposite Cassy Salyer also had 14 kills, but she had an even higher hitting percentage at .650 in the winning cause. Melissa Walbridge terrorized the opponents up at the net with seven blocks, while Fawcett was second in line with five. Penn State will need to find its identity before the postseason begins and the team will do some soul searching in the Great Lakes State, where they will face Michigan and Michigan State this weekend.
7. Florida Gators (24-2, 17-1 SEC)
Previous Ranking: 8
Summary: At this rate, sophomore Kelsey Bowers could end up as the best blocker Mary Wise has ever recruited. After averaging 2.50 blocks per game in sweeps of Mississippi and Mississippi State, the Florida native earned her third SEC Defensive Player of the Week honor of the season, tying libero Elyse Cusack for the most on the team. Against the Rebels, she had five blocks to go with five kills, hitting at an efficient .455 clip. Outside hitter Stefanie Douglas was the leading blocker on the night, collecting six, and she complemented her strong defense with 10 kills. Outside hitter Marcie Hampton had a match-high 18 kills, while Kisya Killingsworth had 11 in the victory. Bowers' defensive intensity kicked up a notch in an easy win over the Rebels, with 10 blocks. She also had nine kills on 15 attempts with no errors for a match-high .600 hitting percentage. This time it was Killingsworth's turn to lead the offense, as she recorded a match-high 12 kills. With the win over Mississippi State, Florida captured a share of its 16th consecutive SEC regular season title. The 16 conference crowns by the volleyball team ties the Arkansas men's cross country team for the most SEC conference championships in conference history in any sport. Mary Wise can lead her team to an outright SEC title with victories over Tennessee and Kentucky this weekend.
8. Texas Longhorns (20-5, 15-3 Big 12)
Previous Ranking: 9
Results From Last Week: Texas A&M (W, 3-0); Missouri (W, 3-1)
This Week's Matches: at Kansas State (W, 3-1); Iowa State (Sat.)
Summary: Losing All-American middle blocker Brandy Magee in the opening minutes of the 2006 season was bad enough; head coach Jerritt Elliott learned last week that his other returning All-American netminder, Leticia Armstrong, was retiring due to a chronic hip injury. Adding to the growing list of ailments, outside hitter Dariam Acevedo has suffered a hip injury, limiting her effectiveness in the front row. Despite all of the maladies the ‘Horns have encountered lately, Texas won two conference matches to hold onto second place in the Big 12, defeating Texas A&M in straight games while beating Missouri in four. Against the Aggies, it was the freshmen duo of Ashley Engle and Destinee Hooker who terrorized the visitors in the sweep, collecting 13 and 12 kills, respectively. Defensively, Lauren Paolini, who has played a number of roles this season but has been fully entrenched in the middle blocker spot due to Armstrong's injury, tied Jen Christian and Engle with a team-high three blocks, while libero Alyson Jennings had 13 digs to pace the back-row defense. After the Longhorns dropped the first game to the Tigers, it was Engle who rose to the occasion to once again guide her squad to victory, hammering down 24 kills at a blistering .447 clip to lead her team to victory. Engle also added 19 digs and four blocks to her game totals. Jennifer Todd complemented Engle in the middle, powering home 16 kills, while also contributing two blocks in the winning effort. Texas prepares for a long-awaited rematch against top-ranked Nebraska in two weeks with a victory over host Kansas State Wednesday night, followed with a date with Iowa State on Saturday.
9. Minnesota Golden Gophers (20-7, 14-3 Big 10)
Previous Ranking: 12
Summary: Minnesota moves up into the Top 10 for the first time this season not because Utah did anything wrong, but because Mike Hebert's troops are playing exceptionally well towards the end of the season. With a road victory over a tough Wisconsin team, Minnesota is now in sole possession of second place in the Big 10. Senior middle blocker Meredith Nelson paced the Golden Gopher offense with 17 kills at a stellar .481 clip. She was also a force on defense with a match-high seven blocks. Fellow middle Jessy Jones chipped in 15 kills and three blocks, while outside hitter Meghan Crumpston, a transfer from Arizona, produced 12 kills. Diversifying the offense was sophomore Rachel Hartmann, with 46 assists while getting her team to hit a respectable .252 on the night. Minnesota set the stage for Wednesday's important win with two victories last weekend over conference foes Illinois and Northwestern. Jones, Nelson, and Crumpston teamed up for 31 kills in the win over the Fightin Illini, with Hartmann collecting 38 assists. Against the Wildcats, defense reigned for the Golden Gophers, holding the opponent to a .008 hitting percentage. Libero Marci Peniata was stellar in the back row, recording 13 digs, while Jones put up a wall up front, turning away five attacks. Minnesota will continue to gain ground on Penn State this Saturday with Iowa visiting the Sports Pavilion.
10. Wisconsin Badgers (21-6, 13-4 Big 10)
Previous Ranking: 7
Results From Last Week: Northwestern (W, 3-2); Illinois (W, 3-1)
This Week's Matches: Minnesota (L, 3-1); Iowa (Fri.)
Summary: After playing so flawlessly against Big 10 giant Penn State just two weeks ago, Wisconsin barely survived a tussle with Northwestern last weekend and also went to four games with Illinois. Freshman phenom Brittany Dolgner is pushing Penn State's Megan Hodge for Big 10 Freshman of the Year honors, especially after her magnificent 30-kill performance against the Wildcats. She hit .356 for the match and also played great defense as well, digging 14 balls in the win. Maria Carlini and Taylor Reinke made a great outside-middle combination, teaming up for 20 kills to aide Dolgner. Libero Jocelyn Wack paced the defense with 20 digs, while Reinke had an incredible 11 blocks. Dolgner continued her excellent play against the Fighting Illini, hammering down a match-high 18 kills at a .400 clip, adding nine digs and five blocks to her stat line. Outside hitters Carlini and Audra Jeffers tallied 14 and 13 kills, respectively, with the latter putting forth a .722 hitting percentage from the antennas. Setter Jackie Simpson accumulated 50 assists while guiding the Badgers to a .366 hitting percentage, including having her team hit .500 or above in games one and four. On Wednesday night, Wisconsin dropped to third place in the Big 10 after losing at home for the first time, with Minnesota snatching a four-game victory at The Fieldhouse. The Badgers will look to get back on track on Friday against Iowa.
11. Utah Utes (23-2, 14-0 MWC)
Previous Ranking: 10
12. San Diego Toreros (22-5, 12-1 WCC)
Previous Ranking: 13
Results From Last Week: Gonzaga (W, 3-1); Portland (W, 3-0)
This Week's Matches: at Santa Clara (Sat.)
13. California Golden Bears (17-8, 6-8 Pac-10)
Previous Ranking: 11
Results From Last Week: UCLA (L, 3-0); USC (L, 3-0)
This Week's Matches: at Oregon State (Fri.); at Oregon (Sat.)
14. Oklahoma Sooners (22-5, 13-5 Big 12)
Previous Ranking: 15
Results From Last Week: Texas Tech (W, 3-1); Kansas State (W, 3-0)
This Week's Matches: at Missouri (W, 3-2); Colorado (Sat.)
15. Cal Poly Mustangs (21-5, 13-1 Big West)
Previous Ranking: NR
Results From Last Week: Cal State Northridge (W, 3-0); Pacific (W, 3-0)
This Week's Matches: at UC Davis (Sat.)
Dropped Out: Purdue (14)
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