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Michella Chester | NCAA.com | October 20, 2021

Undefeated season, Big Ten bragging rights on the line in top-10 heavy volleyball weekend

College volleyball rankings: Ohio State, Washington re-enter latest Power 10

Drum roll please ... There are some huge matchups in college volleyball in Week 9. I am talking monumental. I usually stick to just three top matches, but I could not resist also making a list of honorable mentions — because wow, were there were so many to choose from. 

But no more delaying — lets break down the top matchups to watch in Week 9 of college volleyball:

No. 3 Wisconsin vs. No. 6 Ohio State | 9 p.m. ET Friday, Oct. 22 on Big Ten Network

Wisconsin volleyball

We have two huge matchups on the Big Ten Network on Friday night. First, Penn State will take on Minnesota at 7 p.m. Eastern (and which almost made this list) and then No. 6 Ohio State will face No. 3 Wisconsin at 9 p.m. Eastern. The Badgers have a TOUGH stretch of four matches this weekend and next week, and this meeting against Ohio State is just the beginning of the madness. The Badgers have just one loss on the season when they were stunned by unranked Maryland in a five-setter. Following the loss, they swept Minnesota, beat Illinois twice, then Iowa, Michigan State and Michigan. Now they have Ohio State, Penn State, Nebraska and Purdue. That is four ranked opponents in a row and three in the top 10. 

RANKINGS: Latest Power 10 | AVCA poll breakdown

The Badgers have been looking really balanced offensively. Dana Rettke is usually at the top of the stat leader boards, Devyn Robinson contributes pretty steadily and Grace Loberg is usually contributing as well, but Julia Orzol has proven to be a huge weapon when she is on. In. the match against Minnesota she led the way offensively and they looked close to unstoppable. The Badgers rank fourth in the nation in hitting percentage with Rettke ranking third in that individual category. They are currently ranked third in the AVCA top 25, but now have four ranked opponents to answer to that could have some serious implications on the rankings. 

Ohio State just got some big redemption against Purdue, pulling off a four-set win after falling to them in five-sets earlier in the season. This team leads the nation in assists per set as Mac Podraza distributes the ball well to her balanced offense. Emily Londot and Mia Grunze lead the charge offensively, and Aricia Davis stepped up last week and won Big Ten Freshman of the Week. The Badgers have always been known as a strong blocking team, but the Buckeyes are ranked in the top 30 in the NCAA in that category. 

This should be a high energy Big Ten matchup, and the young Buckeyes team will have to face an experience Wisconsin group on the road. We will certainly see what both teams are made of. 

No. 7 Purdue at No. 9 Nebraska | 9 p.m. ET Saturday, Oct. 23 on Big Ten Network

Nebraska Volleyball

I am very excited for this one. We will have a tight matchup between Nebraska and Purdue this Saturday for some serious Big Ten and AVCA poll implications. Since Nebraska's last loss (to Louisville,) they have won eight straight matches. That includes a four-set win over Penn State and a sweep over Illinois. 

Illinois is the team that gave Purdue some serious trouble with a five-set win over the Boilermakers on Oct. 1. They got revenge with a five-set win over the Illini five days later, but still, it was close. Purdue also faced Penn State, and rallied to take them down in five-sets after falling behind. 

PREDICTIONS: 13 fun predictions for the 2021 volleyball season

So if you look at common recent opponents, Nebraska looks favorable, but the Boilermakers are ranked higher, why? Well, Purdue has also taken down Ohio State once, Washington State, and Tennessee, while Nebraska has three losses on the season. But this was before the Huskers finalized their lineup and had the grand return of All-American Lauren Stivrins. The Huskers have taken down Penn State since they established their "new look," and now they will have the chance to face No. 7 Purdue. A win here could be a big statement for Nebraska, and maybe one that says, "we're officially back." 

Purdue has been really strong all season led by Caitlin Newton and Grace Cleveland offensively, Hayley Bush at setter and Jena Otec anchoring the backcourt. In their five-set win over the Nittany Lions, Newton, Bush and Otec all posted season-high numbers. 

No. 2 Louisville vs. No. 4 Pitt | 12 p.m. ET Sunday, Oct. 24 on ACC Network

Louisville Volleyball

The last top matchup this week is perhaps my favorite of them all. We will FINALLY get to see the head-to-head matchup between Louisville and Pitt as they battle for the top of the ACC and also the entire country, considering these two teams are ranked No. 2 and No. 4. So we have a top-5 battle and an ACC-battle. 

Louisville is one of just two teams in the nation to remain undefeated. And it is not due to a weak schedule. The Cardinals have defeated FOUR ranked opponents this season, including a sweep over Purdue, a five-set victory over the reigning champions Kentucky, a sweep over Nebraska and a sweep over Georgia Tech, a team that just handed Pitt its first loss of the season. So not only are they unbeaten, but they have faced some of the toughest opponents in college volleyball. If that doesn't shout out to you that this team is legit, I don't know what does. This team is loaded with experience and talent and they have been on the rise, with most of the same players, since the upset over then No. 2 Texas in the 2019 NCAA tournament. Amaya Tillman ranks ninth nationally in blocks per set, and she and Aiko Jones joined together make for a powerful force at the net that makes this team the fifth best blocking team in the nation. Anna Stevenson and Claire Chaussee were there in 2019 and were joined by Anna DeBeer last season to round out the offense, and then they have a phenomenal setter in Tori Dilfer and a great libero in Elena Scott. This stacked team makes for a tough one to beat, but this Pitt team will be no easy task. 

BRACKET: Bracket predictions before selections

We knew the Panthers were going to be a team to be reckoned with when they made program history in last season's 2020 NCAA tournament. The Panthers ALMOST made it even further to the national semifinals before falling in five sets to Washington after giving up a 2-0 lead. They returned their core and then added some more key players this season and they have looked really strong. They were undefeated until losing to Georgia Tech in five-sets. This team has Kayla Lund and Chinaza Ndee offensively as well as Leketor Member-Meneh and Serena Gray. This team has also played an incredibly tough schedule, boasting the No. 1 RPI in the nation. You couldn't ask for more than this matchup, and it is just the first of two. 

Honorable mentions:

Friday:

  • No. 12 Minnesota vs. No. 14 Penn State, (Big Ten Network) 7 p.m. Eastern
  • No. 8 BYU vs. No. 21 San Diego, (BYUtv) 9 p.m. Eastern
  • No. 16 Oregon at No. 17 UCLA, (Pac-12 Networks) 10 p.m. Eastern

Saturday: 

No. 3 Wisconsin vs. No. 14 Penn State, (Big Ten Network) 7 p.m. Eastern

Sunday:

No. 10 Washington vs. No. 15 Stanford, (Pac-12 Networks) 3 p.m. Eastern
No. 6 Ohio State at No. 12 Minnesota, (ESPNU) 5 p.m. Eastern

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