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Brett Amadon | Excelle Sports | September 28, 2017

College volleyball: 6 games to watch in a big weekend of conference showdowns

  Molly Lohman and the Gophers have a huge Big Ten showdown with Nebraska on Friday.

The first weekend of conference season brought with it fireworks. Michigan State put the country on notice after going on the road and delivering Wisconsin its first loss of the season and ending Minnesota’s 40-match home win streak. As a result, Florida is the new top-ranked team in the country, the first time the Gators have been No. 1 since 2010.

MORE: AVCA rankings | Reaction

Here are six games to watch this weekend as the second week of conference play gets underway:

No. 3 Minnesota (12-1, 1-1 Big Ten) at No. 8 Nebraska (9-3, 2-0 Big Ten)

Friday 6:00 p.m. ET

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The Golden Gophers began Big Ten play with a solid win over No. 23 Michigan before being stunned by the Spartans in straight sets Sunday. Minnesota scored only 34 kills while hitting .208 percent, well off their season averages of 14.2 kills per set and .297 attack percentage. Freshman opposite Stephanie Samedy continues to impress, and will need another big showing when the Golden Gophers travel to Lincoln, Neb., to face a red-hot Cornhuskers team.

Nebraska flexed its muscles last weekend, sweeping then No. 2 Penn State (the first time the Nittany Lions were swept at home since 2003) before sweeping Rutgers as well. The Cornhuskers have played great volleyball since beginning the season 0-2, and senior outside hitter Annika Albrecht took home the Sports Imports/AVCA Player of the Week award after averaging 5.17 kills (including a career-high 19 against Penn State), 1.67 digs and a .400 hitting percentage.

Note: The teams split the two meetings last year, with each team winning at home in five sets.

No. 6 Washington (12-1, 2-0 Pac-12) at No. 13 UCLA (8-3, 1-1 Pac-12)

Friday 10:00 p.m. ET 

Washington got a battle this past weekend, as they were forced to climb out of an 0-2 hole to beat Arizona State in five-sets. The Huskies are a senior-laden team, so they’ve had the experience to escape the upset bid, but getting off to such a start at UCLA wouldn’t be ideal. The senior trio of Carly DeHoog, Courtney Schwan and Crissy Jones each registered double digit kills against the Sun Devils, while senior setter Bailey Tanner had 45 assists, which made her only the fifth Husky to surpass the 3,000 career assist mark.

UCLA suffered a setback against rival No. 20 USC, but recovered to take down No. 12 Oregon in four sets. After dropping the first set against the Ducks, the Bruins were able to assume control midway through the second set. As a team, they hit .308 percent, and freshman Mac May took home another award as she was named the Pac-12 Freshman of the Week. It was the second time May has won the award and she leads the Bruins with 3.2 kills per set and 11 service aces.

Note: UCLA won both matches against Oregon last season.

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Ohio State (9-4, 2-0 Big Ten) at No. 23 Michigan (10-4, 0-2 Big Ten)/No. 16 Michigan State (9-2, 2-0 Big Ten)

Friday/Saturday 8:00 p.m. ET

The Buckeyes are back on the road this weekend, as they take their four-match winning streak to that state up north. Ohio State is coming off a victory at No. 19 Purdue that saw two Buckeyes post career numbers. Luisa Schirmer and Madison Smeathers combined for 41 kills against the Boilermakers, with Schirmer totaling a career-high 25, as Smeathers added a career-high 16 for herself. There will be extra motivation this Friday when they take on the archrival Wolverines on the Big Ten Network.

Michigan is coming off a weekend that saw them drop games to Minnesota and Wisconsin on the road. But they return home where a win over Ohio State would be big for momentum, as the Wolverines are still searching for a signature win on the season. Look for Carly Skjodt to get back on track this weekend as the junior outside hitter, who leads the team in kills per set, registered only seven while hitting .036 percent against the Badgers.

Michigan State had arguably the most impressive weekend thus far in the season. Road wins against Wisconsin and Minnesota helped propel Sparty to No. 16 after previously being unranked. The Spartans were firing on all cylinders offensively, tallying 63 and 55 kills against Wisconsin and Minnesota respectively. The Spartans currently sit second in the Big Ten in service aces (1.69 per set) and third in blocks (2.9 per set).

Note: The Wolverines took both matches from Ohio State last season. Michigan State split with OSU, with each team picking up a sweep at home.

No. 9 BYU (14-1, 3-0 WCC) at No. 17 San Diego (10-3, 3-0 WCC)

Saturday 3 p.m. ET

BYU continued to roll in the WCC, taking down Pepperdine in four sets Tuesday in a mid-week showdown. The Cougars defense has been suffocating this season, and they currently sit ninth in the nation in blocks per set (3.02) and allow opponents to hit just .168 percent. Offensively, Veronica Jones-Perry will lead the way for BYU, as the junior outside hitter has put up 20 or more kills in five matches this season.

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The Toreros earned a sweep over Loyola Marymount Tuesday night. Since losing to then No. 18 Utah, San Diego has only dropped one set in six matches. On Saturday, the Toreros will counter a stingy Cougars defense with a nationally ranked offense of their own. USD is currently seventh in the country in assists per set (13.84) and kills per set (14.72), and rank in the top 20 in hitting percentage as well (.273).

Note: BYU has won four of the last five matches in the series, although the teams split last season.

No. 12 Oregon (8-2, 1-1 Pac-12) at Colorado (10-3, 0-2 Pac-12)

Saturday 9:00 p.m. ET

The Ducks collected a sweep against rival Oregon State last weekend before dropping a four-set match to aforementioned UCLA. With a road-trip to Utah on Friday, Oregon’s game Saturday looms even larger as the Ducks want to stay in early contention for a Pac-12 title chase. The key will be to get Lindsey Vander Weide and the offense going, as Oregon ranks in the top 10 in the country in both kills per set (14.77) and hitting percentage (.302).

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For Colorado, they will want to put behind them a tough five-set loss to Stanford. The Buffs had a nice non-conference record, but will need to beat the likes of Oregon if they want to make any noise come later in the season. Alexa Smith continues to be heartbeat of Colorado, leading the team in kills while second on the team in digs.

Note: Oregon won both meetings with Colorado last season.

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