It’s taken a couple months, but as we head into the middle of October the volleyball hierarchy has started to firm up. The top five teams in the country in the latest AVCA Coaches Poll are the same five teams as last week, just with Penn State ahead of Stanford rather than vice versa. Undefeated Florida, of course, retained its spot atop the mountain.
With a strong Nebraska squad and Texas rounding out the Top 5, and Minnesota right behind at No. 6, the best teams in the country have been established.
Outside of the Top 5, the big news is the continued climb of Michigan State. The Spartans, 12-3 on the season with plenty of quality wins, have climbed from the sea of unranked teams all the way to No. 10 this week, their highest ranking of the season. The Spartans took a loss against No. 4 Nebraska last week, but they kept marching, returning to form in their very next match with a win over then-No. 7 Wisconsin.
Cathy George’s team, led by seven seniors, has been resilient and consistent this year, and the Spartans are deserving of a Top 10 ranking. The question now is what they’ll do with this ranking, A matchup with No. 2 Penn State is next up.
Another team to keep an eye on, and another reaching its best ranking of the season, is No. 7 BYU. The Cougars have quietly gone 17-1, the second-best record in the AVCA Top 25 behind undefeated Florida.
BYU’s sole loss on the season is a bit of a head scratcher, a five-set defeat at the hands of Baylor in early September at the Outrigger Resorts Volleyball Challenge. Baylor just joined the AVCA Top 25 this week, at No. 25; when the two teams met in September, the Bears were receiving votes.
Still, one loss in 18 matches is a real-deal record, and BYU’s ranking reflects the way this team is playing. The rest of its West Coast Conference schedule seems favorable, and if the Cougars continue to win while the Top 6 trip over sturdy conferences, BYU could conceivably climb even higher.
On the other end of the spectrum, a big-name team falling out of the Top 10 this week is No. 11 Wisconsin. The Badgers stumbled last week, losing two big tests to No. 6 Minnesota and then-No. 14 Michigan State. Those are two very good teams, but the Badgers have now lost three matches in a row and four of their last six. The rankings reflect their slide.
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Part of it is understandable: the Big Ten is a conference teeming with talented teams, even more so with Michigan State making unexpected waves this season. Still, if the Badgers want to return to the Top 10, they’ll have to start turning things around, and no time would be better than their next matchup, a showdown (at home) with No. 4 Nebraska. If they can avenge their early October loss, Wisconsin will be right back in it
Who were the biggest risers and fallers of the week? Michigan State, climbing four spots, and No. 13 Utah, who leapt over Washington and Oregon in the rankings after taking down then-No. 9 Washington.
The largest falls of the week came from now-No. 14 Washington, thanks to that loss against Utah, and No. 17 Creighton. The Bluejays were felled by unranked Marquette, which is never good for your rank when teams like Utah and Purdue are having good weeks.
How about the changing of the guard at the bottom of the poll? Michigan and Colorado both exited the Top 25 after down weeks, while Cal Poly and Baylor entered the fray at Nos. 24 and 25.
With the latest batch of rankings set, let’s look at just a few of the best games to come this week:
- No. 15 Oregon at No. 14 Washington
- No. 4 Nebraska at No. 11 Wisconsin
- No. 5 Texas at No. 9 Kansas
- No. 3 Stanford at No. 12 UCLA
- No. 10 Michigan State at No. 2 Penn State