Power Rankings: Unbeaten Rams roaring
It's been a special season thus far for Colorado State, and the Rams show no signs of letting up.
At 23-0, they are one of two undefeated teams left in Division I women's volleyball; the other is 29-0 Missouri. The Tigers face Southeastern Conference rival Florida on the road Friday, a tough test for Missouri. If the Tigers can't get past the Gators, that will leave Colorado State alone in perfection.
But the Rams have already had the perfect night, when they swept Nevada at home Saturday in Fort Collins to give coach Tom Hilbert his 600th career victory.
Hilbert is in his 30th year as a coach, his 17th at Colorado State. A native of Norman, Okla., he went to college at Oklahoma and started his coaching career as an assistant with the Sooners.
He was head coach at Idaho from 1989 to 1996 before taking over at Colorado State. The Rams have made the NCAA tournament in his 16 previous seasons and are a lock to do so this year as well.
Colorado State is No. 10 in this week's American Volleyball Coaches Association poll and leads the Mountain West Conference at 14-0. The Rams will host the league's second-place team -- 10-4 New Mexico -- on Thursday and should draw a big crowd to Moby Arena.
Marlee Reynolds, a redshirt junior, leads the Rams in kills this season with 254. Not far behind is sophomore Adrianna Culbert (238), and redshirt junior Kelsey Snider has 204.
Snider and redshirt senior Samantha Peters are from the Denver area. Peters started her career at Santa Clara but came back home to Colorado after one year. Peters has had an exceptional final season, with 192 kills and a team-high 114 blocks.
Starting with New Mexico, the Rams have six more regular-season matches, four of them at home. Will going undefeated give Colorado State a chance to host the early rounds of the NCAA tournament? Well, it may be the only way. The Rams probably need to move up a little more in the RPI, where they are currently No. 19.
If the Rams are able to host in the NCAA tournament, it will be the first time since 2009.
Now, here is this week's top 10 in the espnW power rankings:
1. Texas (18-2)
The Longhorns are in control of the Big 12 at 11-0. They defeated Kansas 3-1 Saturday, and junior Haley Eckerman was named Big 12 offensive player of the week after her season-high 25 kills against the Jayhawks, along with 13 digs. This is just the fourth weekly individual league honor this season for the Longhorns. But every week, they've been the Big 12's best team.
2. Penn State (22-2)
As expected, the Nittany Lions swept Purdue and Indiana last weekend. Senior Katie Slay was the Big Ten's defensive player of the week after her total of 15 kills and 10 blocks in those matches. How tough is it to face Penn State at home? Purdue knows only too well; the Boilermakers haven't won at Rec Hall since 1982. The Nittany Lions have now won 13 matches in a row this season but have to travel to Wisconsin and Minnesota this weekend.
3. Washington (21-1)
Washington remains atop the Pac-12 at 13-1. The Huskies beat Arizona State and Arizona last weekend on the road, which is not an easy thing to do. But this week is a big showdown: The Huskies face USC in Seattle on Friday. It's a battle between the Pac-12's top two teams, with the Trojans at 12-2 in the league. Before that, on Wednesday, the Huskies host UCLA, which has struggled to a 4-10 league record.
4. USC (22-3)
Last week, the Trojans swept Oregon and Oregon State at home. This week they travel to the Pacific Northwest and have a chance to avenge their loss to Washington, which came Oct. 27 in Los Angeles. To do that, the Trojans would have to hand the Huskies their first defeat at home this season.
5. Missouri (29-0)
The Tigers won on the road at Auburn and Alabama, they lead the SEC at 13-0 and they'll put their perfect record to the test at Florida, which is No. 5 in the AVCA poll. The Tigers are No. 7 and beat the Gators 3-1 on Oct. 20 in Columbia, Mo.
6. Florida (22-2)
After a week off, the Gators host South Carolina on Wednesday, which will be televised by ESPNU at 6 p.m. ET. Then it's the showdown with Mizzou on Friday. That's one of the biggest matches of this week in college volleyball, and one that could have significant impact on both teams' NCAA seeding.
7. Nebraska (19-4)
Last week was really big for the Huskers, defeating tough foes Wisconsin and Minnesota on the road, the latter in five sets. That kept Nebraska a game behind Big Ten-leading Penn State at 12-2, and two games ahead of the third-place Gophers. Kelsey Robinson had a combined 44 kills and 23 digs and was named Big Ten player of the week. Nebraska is home this weekend against Michigan State -- which handed the Huskers one of their league losses on Oct. 12 in East Lansing -- and Michigan.
8. Stanford (18-5)
The road trip to the "mountain" schools went well, as the Cardinal swept Colorado and Utah last weekend. The Cardinal are in third place in the Pac-12 at 11-3, but Stanford will need to stay sharp this week with trips to Oregon and Oregon State. The Cardinal swept those schools at Stanford in late October, but those squads are more dangerous in their own gyms.
9. Colorado State (23-0)
What might hurt the Rams somewhat in NCAA seeding is a pretty pedestrian nonconference schedule. However, they do have victories against UC Santa Barbara and Texas A&M.
10. San Diego (21-3)
Wins over Santa Clara and San Francisco, combined with BYU's loss to Santa Clara, puts the Toreros in a tie for first with BYU in the West Coast Conference at 13-2. The Cougars beat San Diego on Sept. 20; the rematch in San Diego is Nov. 23. San Diego's Chloe Ferrari was named WCC player of the week for the third time this season.
Next five: Hawaii, Minnesota, Duke, Wisconsin, Michigan State
• Illinois beat Michigan and Michigan State and contributed more to the Big Ten's logjam in fourth place. The Illini, Spartans and Wisconsin are all 8-6 in the league, trailing Penn State, Nebraska and Minnesota. Purdue is seventh at 7-7, and Michigan and Northwestern are tied at 6-8. And all nine are NCAA tournament-worthy teams.
• Longtime Pepperdine coach Nina Matthies will be on the sideline for her final indoor home match Saturday in Malibu, Calif. She's been with the Waves for 31 seasons and will finish her career as Pepperdine's indoor coach this year. However, she's definitely not retiring. She will focus instead on coaching the Waves' sand volleyball program in that emerging sport. It doesn't yet have an NCAA-sanctioned tournament, but the AVCA has sponsored a national championship the past two seasons. Pepperdine won the sand title in 2012 and was runner-up last year. Matthies, by the way, was a star player for UCLA in the 1970s.
• Payback time? Hawaii avenged a loss earlier this season to UC Santa Barbara by beating the Gauchos on Saturday in a five-set thriller on the road. The Rainbow Wahine also defeated Cal Poly on Friday. Now they are back in Honolulu, where they have a lot of time to practice. They don't play again until Nov. 22 and 23, when they host the other two West Coast Conference teams to beat them this season: UC Davis and Cal State Northridge. The Matadors currently lead the WCC at 11-1, with UCSB at 8-2 and Hawaii 9-3. Northridge and UCSB face off Saturday.