The University of Nebraska women's volleyball squad ripped the nation's No. 1 ranking away from Illinois this week, while Stanford retained its vice grip atop the women's soccer Top 25. Each team has relied heavily on former Gatorade Player of the Year award-winners to reach its lofty perch.
Five players have started all 18 matches for the Cornhuskers this fall and four are former POYs, including 2008-09 Gatorade National Volleyball Player of the Year Gina Mancuso of Papillion-La Vista (Omaha, Neb.). The junior hitter currently leads the team with 251 kills.
Mancuso is joined in the Big Red starting lineup by fellow State POY alumni Lauren Cook (2007-08 Nebraska), Hannah Werth (2008-09 Illinois) and two-time Gatorade Colorado POY Morgan Broekhuis (2008-10). The latter two and Mancuso have amassed 653 kills for the 17-1 Huskers. Cook has set her way to 763 assists.
The only Nebraska starter without a POY trophy at home is redshirt senior middle blocker Brooke Delano, who narrowly missed out on Gatorade honors to Bellevue West (Bellevue, Neb.) teammate Gabi Ailes in 2006-07. (Ailes became an All-American at Stanford and finished as the Cardinal career digs leader). The player with the next-most starts in 2011 -- Nebraska native, middle blocker and redshirt sophomore Hayley Thramer -- played her senior prep season at Ewing the same year returning State POY Cook and eventual National POY Mancuso were starring as high school seniors.
Interestingly, there is a fifth Gatorade State Player of the Year on Nebraska's 15-player volleyball roster in 2011: Freshman Shelby Winkelmann was Missouri's State Girls Basketball POY in 2010-11 as a senior guard for Hermann.
As for 16-0-1 Stanford, five of the 11 players who have made double-digit starts this fall for the Cardinal are Gatorade POY alumni, including former National Player of the Year winners Teresa Noyola (2007-08) and Rachel Quon (2008-09). Fellow State POY winners Kristy Zurmuhlen (2007-08, New Hampshire), Alina Garciamendez (2008-09 Texas) and Chioma Ubogagu (2009-10 Texas) are also key contributors for Stanford, combining for 51 starts and 3,523 minutes.
Noyola leads the team in assists with 10, while Obogagu is second in scoring with eight goals and nine assists.
Three other players to log at least 14 starts for the Cardinal this fall are California natives who fell short of POY honors in one of the nation's most competitive states: senior Camille Levin was edged by Noyola as a high school senior in 2007-08, junior Mariah Nogueira finished behind Santa Clara junior starter Lauren Matheson in 2008-09 and redshirt freshman Kendall Romine took a back seat to UCLA freshman Abby Dahlkemper, who earned POY honors as a high school junior in 2009-10.
The remaining three Stanford players with double-digit starts this season did not play high school soccer.