Tuesday, September 4, 2012
Nebraska starts season at No. 1
By Mechelle Voepel
We're two weekends into the season, and we've already had some "clash of the titans"-type matches to give us an idea of what we may see at the Final Four in Louisville. But that December event is a long ways off; right now, teams are still breaking in their freshmen and figuring out which veterans really grew their games/leadership skills the most during the offseason.
The American Volleyball Coaches Association Top 25 poll comes out each Monday during the season. Here every Tuesday, we'll give our take on the 10 hottest teams heading into this week's matches:
1. Nebraska (5-0)
The Huskers have done what they're supposed to do so far: sweep four opponents and win a 3-2 battle against their toughest foe, defending champ UCLA. Nebraska hosts a tournament this Thursday-Saturday that includes former Big 12 foe Oklahoma.
2. Penn State (5-0)
The Nittany Lions went through their version of rebuilding last year, which still meant reaching the NCAA Sweet 16. Young stars of 2011, such as setter Micha Hancock, have grown up. Penn State got wins this past weekend over visiting Stanford and Texas, the latter a sweep.
3. Southern Cal (6-0)
The Trojans lost senior hitter Alex Jupiter off last year's Final Four team, but so far Samantha Bricio is filling in nicely. The 6-foot-2 freshman from Guadalajara, Mexico, already has been Pac-12 freshman of the week twice. But USC has faced just one ranked team, Northern Iowa.
4. Florida State (6-0)
In 2011, the Seminoles became the first ACC team to make the Final Four. They are still riding that high so far this season, including victories on opening weekend against Tennessee and Iowa State. They face Miami at 7:30 p.m. ET on Friday (ESPNU).
5. Washington (6-0)
It's been all sweeps thus far for the Huskies, the most impressive over then-No. 7 Purdue on Aug. 31. Krista Vansant was named Pac-12 offensive player of the week for Washington, which is host to Seattle and Long Beach State this week.
6. UCLA (3-1)
Meanwhile, the Pac-12 defensive player of the week honor went to the Bruins' Karsta Lowe, a sophomore hitter who had a combined nine blocks in two victories this past weekend. Up next: a trip to Honolulu, culminating with a matchup versus Hawaii on Sunday. The Bruins and Rainbow Wahine are Nos. 3 and 6, respectively, in this week's AVCA poll.
7. Texas (5-1)
After five 3-0 victories, including a welcome of West Virginia to Big 12 volleyball on Aug. 29, the Longhorns had the tables turned Saturday when they were swept at Penn State. Texas is host to 6-0 Minnesota for two matches this Thursday and Friday, both televised on the Longhorn Network.
8. Hawaii (5-1)
The Rainbow Wahine knocked off one Pac-12 perennial power, Stanford, on opening weekend. But this past Sunday, visiting Cal upset Hawaii 3-2. And this came after Cal had lost three matches in a row to San Diego State, Baylor and San Francisco. Hawaii won't leave home this season until Sept. 19, when it travels for three Big West matches in California.
9. Dayton (6-0)
The Flyers are currently enjoying their best AVCA ranking in history (10th). Dayton, a unanimous pick in the preseason coaches' poll to win the Atlantic-10 title again, already has victories this season against Illinois, national runner-up last year, and Pepperdine.
10. Oregon (6-0)
The Ducks are now 6-0 and ranked No. 13 in the AVCA poll, and they haven't played a home match yet. Their opener in Eugene, Ore., is Wednesday against UC Santa Barbara. So far, Oregon has played all its matches at tournaments in Ohio, which included victories over ranked teams Ohio State and Kentucky.
• Yes, 3-2 Stanford is not on the list this week after losses to Penn State and Hawaii, but that's just a function of tough scheduling. With so much young talent, the Cardinal appears in great shape for the near and long-term future.
• Despite having losing records at 2-3, Iowa State (No. 18) and Illinois (No. 20) are still in the AVCA rankings. The programs faced off twice this past weekend at Illinois; the Illini swept the first match Friday, but the Cyclones took the second 3-2 Saturday. Iowa State starts a six-match home stand Wednesday that includes in-state rivals Northern Iowa and Iowa, and former Big 12 competitor Nebraska.
• BYU is on the move. The Cougars, who upset ranked teams Colorado State and Tennessee on Saturday, are 6-0 and moved into the AVCA poll at No. 21.