Penn State and Nebraska are programs volleyball fans are always talking about at the beginning and end of the season, but this weekend, there will be lots of mid-season chatter around this budding Big Ten rivalry when the No. 1 Nittany Lions visit the No. 4 Huskers on Sunday.
The Nittany Lions have gone through league play unscathed and have lost just one match — to Oregon State — this season. The Huskers’ only Big Ten setback was in the conference-opening match against Penn State in State College, Pa.
“I feel like we could be 10-0 in the conference right now,” Nebraska head coach John Cook said. “At Penn State, we had our chances. I like how we’ve played in the first half [of the Big Ten season]. The question is if we can do it in the second half. Last year, we fell short there, so this is part of our unfinished business.”
|Big Ten Titles||14||1|
|Kills Per Set||14.69||14.37|
|Blocks Per Set||2.99||2.92|
The match will undoubtedly have Big Ten title implications, and most likely impact NCAA tournament seeding down the road.
The squads are two of the best hitting teams in the nation, so fans should get ready for some big swings. The Huskers rank third in the nation with a .309 hitting percentage, while the Nittany Lions follow closely at .305. And PSU ranks fifth in kills per set with 14.69 while Nebraska is 15th in the nation with 14.37.
With the Pac-12 arguably the premiere conference in Division I women’s volleyball, Nebraska and Penn State have stood out in a sea of West Coast schools for quite a while. Since 1999, the two programs are the only non-Pac-12 schools to claime an NCAA title.
The Huskers have won three national championships – 1995, 2000, 2006 — while the Nittany Lions have captured five trophies, including four consecutive between 2007-10. PSU also won in 1999.
Last year, Nebraska moved from the Big 12, where it thrived, to the Big Ten, where the Huskers won the league title in their first campaign as a member of the conference. Leading up to Nebraska’s 2011 conference championship, Penn State had won the Big Ten for eight consecutive years.
The squads split last year’s contests, each winning on their respective home court. Before Nebraska joined the Big Ten, the teams had last met in the 2008 NCAA semifinals, which Penn State won in five sets. Nebraska leads the all-time series, that started in 1981, by a 12-8 margin.
On Sunday, Nebraska fans will be doing all they can to keep home court advantage in the Huskers’ favor. Nebraska boasts a loyal volleyball fan base, and has sold out the NU Coliseum for 173 consecutive matches – the longest sellout streak across all of NCAA women’s athletics. Nebraska is 164-9 during the streak, and plans for two more sellouts this weekend.
Penn State (21-1) swept Iowa on Wednesday night, while Nebraska (17-2) will host Ohio State on Friday before welcoming the Nittany Lions on Sunday at 3 p.m. ET in a match broadcast live on the Big Ten Network.
• The No. 2 UCLA women’s soccer team is the lone Division I team without a loss on its record, but the Bruins will have a battle on their hands this weekend as they host No. 10 California on Friday and No. 1 Stanford on Sunday.
The weekend will have major implications in the Pac-12 title race. Stanford heads into play with an 8-0-0 mark, while UCLA trails with a 7-0-1 record and Cal is third in the league standings at 7-1-0.
UCLA has posted 10 shutouts in 16 games this season, and leads the nation with a 0.36 goals against average. However, the Bears and Cardinal boast two of the top scoring offenses in the nation. Cal ranks 12th with 2.47 goals per game, while Stanford is fifth with 2.81 goals per game.
• If you didn’t have quite enough Notre Dame-Marquette men’s soccer on Wednesday night (the Irish won 3-1), don’t worry — the two teams will meet again on Saturday in Milwaukee at 8 p.m. ET.
|MARQUETTE vs. NOTRE DAME|
The No. 7 Irish handed the No. 3 Golden Eagles their second loss of the season on Wednesday, scoring three goals, the most Marquette has allowed this season.
Senior forward Ryan Finley netted two goals in the contest for his fifth multiple-goal game of the season, and has been a huge spark for the Irish offense in recent games. He has tallied 10 goals in his last six contests.
Marquette goalkeeper Charlie Lyon entered the week with an .857 save percentage, a 0.585 goals against average and nine shutouts, but will be challenged again on Saturday by Notre Dame’s offensive, which is averaging 4.4 goals in its last five Big East games.
“It’s an unbelievable league [the Big East],” Notre Dame head coach Bobby Clark said. “There are four teams from the Blue Division in the top 10 in the country and they’re all fighting for spots one, two, three and four [in the division]. It’s going to go right down to the line and anything could happen. I think all four teams could win the league and all four teams could possibly end up being fourth. You don’t get any more exciting than that and it’s going to be a huge game up in Milwaukee on Saturday night.”
• Heidelberg moved up to No. 14 in the latest AFCA Division III Top 25 Poll after improving to 7-0 for the first time since 1972. This weekend, the Student Princes will see if they can muster a victory – or at least a few points – against the dominant defense of No. 1 Mount Union on Saturday.
On paper, Heidelberg looks like it could put a dent in the Purple Raiders’ dominance. The Student Princes are scoring 42.0 points per game and racking up 506.1 yards per contest – ranking 11th and 10th, respectively, in the nation. Sophomore running back Cartel Brooks is third in the country with 156.4 rushing yards per game, while Heidelberg’s defense is holding teams to 8.14 points per game – second in the nation behind Mount Union. The Purple Raiders have posted six consecutive shutouts and are allowing just 1.0 point per game through seven contests.
• No. 12 Missouri Western and No. 15 Emporia State will make for an interesting Division II Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletic Association football matchup on Thursday. ESU has started the season 8-0 for the first time since 1988.
Missouri Western quarterback Travis Partridge leads the league and is ninth in the nation with a 162.33 pass efficiency rating. He has thrown 21 touchdown passes and rushed six times for scores this year. The Hornets will try to combat Partridge’s prowess with the nation’s second-ranked pass defense efficiency as they look to snap the Griffons’ seven-game winning streak in the series.
• Another game to keep your eye on in Division II football will be in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Eastern Division when No. 10 Shippensburg hosts No. 4 Bloomsburg on Saturday. The game will decide the PSAC Eastern Division title and give the winner a berth in the league championship contest on Nov. 10. Both squads enter the game with 8-0 records.
Shippensburg is churning out 565.63 yards of total offense per game to lead the nation, including a Division II-leading 413 yards passing per game and a second-ranked scoring offense (52.13 ppg). The Huskies do not follow far behind in terms of offensive production. They are fourth in the nation in total offensive (502.63 ypg) and third in rushing offense (333.63 ypg).
Shippensburg leads the series 42-32-1, but Bloomsburg has won five of the last six meetings between the two squads.
• Cal State Stanislaus vaulted to No. 8 in the latest NSCAA Division II women’s soccer poll with two solid road wins to finish its regular season road schedule with a perfect 9-0 mark. The Warriors have already clinched a berth in the California Collegiate Athletic Association Tournament, and trail Sonoma State by just one point heading into the final weekend of action. The Warriors will host Chico State on Friday before clashing with first-place Sonoma State on Sunday.
• The No. 1 Minnesota State-Mankato women’s soccer team will be seeking the program’s first Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference regular-season title when the Mavericks host second-place Winona State on Friday. The Mavericks are 13-0 in league action, and have won 12 consecutive games – one shy of the school record.
• No. 3 Syracuse and No. 4 Connecticut will face off in a Big East Conference field hockey showdown on Saturday with the league title on the line as well as the No. 1 seed in the Big East Tournament. Both teams are 5-0 in conference play, and have each lost just one match all season. Syracuse will host the contest looking to defend a 35-game home winning streak that dates back to 2009. The match-up sets up to be a defensive battle – Syracuse leads the nation with a 0.81 goals against average, while Connecticut closely follows at 0.93.
• Both No. 1 teams in the USTFCCCA Division I polls will be vying for their fifth consecutive league championship on Saturday. Oklahoma State, the top men’s team, travels to Texas to compete in the Big 12 Cross Country Championships, while Florida State, the No. 1 women’s cross country squad, heads to Virginia Tech for the Atlantic Coast Conference Championships.
• After wrapping up its seventh consecuitve North Coast Athletic Conference title, the No. 3 Wittenberg women’s volleyball squad will head to the Emory National Invitational where the Tigers will face the host No. 6 Eagles. Wittenburg is riding a six-match winning streak entering the weekend, while Emory is coming off a trio of victories at last week’s Wid Guisler Invitational at Juniata College.
• Wisconsin freshman soccer player McKenna Meuer is what you might call a legacy, but she is definitely making her own mark for the Badgers. Both of her sisters – Molly (2001-04) and Katy (2004-07) – played soccer for the Badgers, and her brother Keegan is currently a member of UW’s men’s hockey team. But the McKenna’s family tree at Wisconsin branches out even further than her three siblings. Her father, Kelly Meuer, played soccer at UW from 1976-79, and on her mother’s side of the family her grandfather, Conrad Andringa, swam at Wisconsin from 1956-58. Meuer also had two uncles, Jeff (1980-83) and Rob (1988-91) Andringa (her mother’s brothers) who played hockey at UW.
Meuer has contributed four goals (three game-winners) and one assist for the Badgers, who enter the weekend on a five-match winning streak. UW will close out the regular season at Iowa on Saturday, hoping to improve its fourth-place position in the Big Ten standings.
• Chapman women’s soccer player Val Sobol is not only the Panthers’ leading scorer with nine goals and 23 points, but the junior forward from Forsyth, Ill., is also an avid skydiver, specifically wing suit flying.
Sobol competes in acrobatic wing suit flying, and last summer she flew to Hungary for her first international competition in the sport. She has more than 250 skydiving jumps to her credit, and Chapman head coach Courtney Calderton has promised to jump with her if she reaches 40 career goals. She currently has 24 goals in her career.
Chapman has now won seven of its last eight matches as the Panthers vie for berth in the SCIAC Tournament in their first year as a member of the conference.
• Dayton senior forward Colleen Williams needs just two assists to become only the 20th player in NCAA women’s soccer history to make the 50-60 club. Williams enters the weekend with 56 career goals and 58 career assists. The Flyers will host Richmond and VCU on Friday and Sunday as Williams goes for the milestone.
• Eastern Illinois junior wide receiver Erik Lora was added to the Walter Payton Award watch list this week, one of just 20 candidates in the running for the FCS Player of the Year award.
Lora leads the nation in both receptions (83) and receiving yards (1,129), and has posted seven consecutive 100-yard receiving games, including two 200-yard days this season. He is an integral part of a Panther offense that is ranked second in the nation in total offense and scoring offense, and that ranks fifth in passing offense. Lora has five games with double-digit receptions this season, and has already broken the single-season school record for receptions that was in the books since 1984.
Lora’s receiving talents will be on display in an Ohio Valley Conference showdown between the top two teams in the league when EIU travels to No. 18 Eastern Kentucky. EKU is 4-1 in conference play, while EIU follows at 3-1. The game will be televised nationally on FOX College Sports Atlantic.
Follow Amy Farnum on Twitter: @NCAA_Amy