Commentary

UCLA volleyball leapfrogs to No. 1

Originally Published: October 31, 2011
By Mechelle Voepel | ESPN.com

On a weekend that saw the top-five-ranked volleyball teams in the country all lose at least once, UCLA made a pretty strong case to jump up to the top spot from No. 6 after beating Cal and Stanford on the road.

The Bruins beat No. 7 Cal 3-1 Friday and No. 3 Stanford 3-0 Saturday. Meanwhile, No. 4 USC lost to Stanford 3-0 on Friday, then bounced back to beat Cal on Saturday.

Thus, Cal -- which entered Friday as the highest-ranked Pac-12 team -- had the worst weekend, going 0-2. USC and Stanford both went 1-1, while UCLA was 2-0.

Now, UCLA and USC are tied atop the league standings at 13-2, with Cal and Stanford next at 11-4. And it will be nearly another month -- Nov. 25 -- before the L.A-area and Bay Area teams meet one another again. Back in September, UCLA beat USC, and Cal beat Stanford.

Cal's Shannon Hawari said UCLA and USC presented very different offensive styles for foes to try to effectively block. The Bears couldn't do it well enough either time facing the Bruins and Trojans.

"Mainly what I noticed the most is the speed of the offense," Hawari said. "UCLA is very fast; they run really quick sets. USC gives you a little more time to set up the block, but they're still very hard to stop."

Will at least two of the No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament come out of the Pac-12? What about the Big Ten, which has had three teams ranked No. 1 this season: Penn State, Illinois and Nebraska?

And don't forget about 24-1 Hawaii, which has its only loss to -- you guessed it -- UCLA. The Rainbow Wahine have three more regular-season matches in the Western Athletic Conference, then the WAC tournament is in Las Vegas. Hawaii was actually tripped up there last year by Utah State in the tourney final after going 16-0 in the WAC regular season.

The Pac-12 and Big Ten don't have postseason tournaments, which is just as well. The contenders do enough damage to one another in the regular season.

On Oct. 22, Nebraska gave Illinois its first loss of the season, which elevated the Huskers to No. 1. But this past weekend, Penn State avenged a Sept. 21 loss at Nebraska, beating the Huskers 3-1 in State College, Pa. lllinois also lost again, this time falling at home to Minnesota.

The Gophers are just 6-6 in league play but have five-set losses to the Illini (Sept. 23) and Nebraska (Oct. 15). Now with a win over Illinois in hand, Minnesota represents just how dangerous the middle of the pack in the Big Ten is, too.

New No. 1 in men's soccer?

Just as in volleyball, it wasn't a great weekend for No. 1 in men's soccer. Top-ranked Maryland -- its defense compromised by injury and a player out with a red card -- fell 2-1 at Clemson on Friday. For the Tigers, who are 6-8-1, it was the highlight of the season.

For the Terps, it was just their second loss of the year; they fell 2-1 at Virginia on Oct. 7. Maryland also has two ties: at Seton Hall and at North Carolina.

The Terps finish the regular season at home against Wake Forest on Thursday. The ACC tournament begins Nov. 7 at campus sites; the semifinals and finals are in Cary, N.C., on Nov. 11 and 13.

The Terps' loss should elevate No. 2 New Mexico to the top spot; the undefeated Lobos -- 13-0-2 -- are coming off a 1-0 victory over San Jose State on Sunday.

Mechelle Voepel is a columnist for ESPN.com. She can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com.

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Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.