Power Rankings: Mizzou unstoppable
Can anything stop Missouri on the way to a perfect regular season? Well, traditional SEC power Florida wasn't able to do it.
The Tigers got a statement victory Friday in Gainesville, Fla., sweeping the Gators and moving closer to clinching the Southeastern Conference title. The Tigers didn't have any letdown two days later at South Carolina, also sweeping the Gamecocks.
That put Missouri at 31-0 overall and 15-0 in the SEC, giving them a two-match lead over the second-place Gators. Missouri won the first match between the two 3-1 on Oct. 20 in Columbia.
Paced by seniors Lisa Henning and Molly Kreklow, the Tigers seem to be getting stronger as the season goes along. They moved up three spots to No. 4 in the American Volleyball Coaches Association poll, where they are now sitting ahead of the likes of six-time NCAA champion Stanford (No. 5) and former Big Eight/Big 12 nemesis Nebraska (No. 6).
No SEC team has won an NCAA volleyball title, although Florida has been to the NCAA final four seven times. The Gators have been the traditional power of the league but this season have not been able to top Missouri.
So what remains for the Tigers? They host Mississippi State on Friday; the Bulldogs are next-to-last in the SEC at 2-12. So save for a monumental stumble, the Tigers will take their unbeaten record to No. 16 Kentucky on Sunday. The Wildcats are third in the SEC at 12-3.
Missouri's final regular-season match is Nov. 27 at home against Arkansas, which is 7-8 in the SEC. So, yes, the Wildcats would appear to be the biggest obstacle left for Mizzou before the NCAA tournament.
Here is this week's top 10 in the espnW power rankings:
1. Texas (19-2)
Stop if you've heard this before ... OK, actually don't stop. Please keep reading about the Longhorns' continued domination of the Big 12 at 12-0. They swept Texas Tech on Saturday, and junior Khat Bell was named the league's defensive player of the week. About the only thing that could be bugging Texas is, perhaps, a little restlessness. The Longhorns have played just three matches since Oct. 31. They have four left in the regular season, starting Thursday with West Virginia.
2. Penn State (24-2)
Uh, weren't matches at Wisconsin and Minnesota supposed to constitute a tough road trip? Apparently not for Big Ten leader Penn State, which swept both ranked teams last weekend. The Nittany Lions have won 15 matches in a row. Against the Gophers, junior setter Micha Hancock recorded her 235th service ace, which ties her for Penn State's career high. This week, Penn State is host to Northwestern and Illinois.
3. Washington (23-1)
Paced by a combined 35 kills from junior star Krista Vansant, Washington remained atop the Pac-12 at 15-1 after victories against USC and UCLA last weekend. But can the Huskies maintain their perch against the second-place team in the Pac-12, Stanford? Washington travels to Palo Alto on Wednesday then will play at Cal on Friday.
4. Missouri (31-0)
Lisa Henning had 17 kills in the Tigers' win at Florida, and the match was perfectly directed by setter Molly Kreklow. That combo has been dynamic for Mizzou. As coach Wayne Kreklow -- who is Molly's uncle -- said, "I couldn't be more proud of what this team has accomplished so far, and I am really happy for Molly and Lisa. Those two in particular have put so much into this program."
5. Nebraska (21-4)
The Huskers kept pace in second place in the Big Ten behind Penn State. Nebraska moved to 14-2 in the league with victories at home against Michigan State -- which beat the Huskers in East Lansing earlier this season -- and Michigan. This week, Nebraska has a chance to avenge its other Big Ten loss, as the Huskers travel to Purdue. They will also take on Indiana.
6. Stanford (20-5)
The Cardinal beat Oregon and Oregon State last week. Now can Stanford move closer to a first-place tie in the Pac-12? The Cardinal will try on Wednesday, as Washington visits Stanford. The Huskies are 15-1 in league play, the Cardinal 14-3. Stanford will be host to Washington State this week, too.
7. USC (22-5)
The Trojans appear to have made the mistake of letting a tough loss beat them twice. After falling at Washington on Friday -- a second disappointing defeat this season at the hands of the Huskies -- the Trojans were stunned by Washington State 3-2 on Sunday. It was just the fourth Pac-12 win this season for the Cougars, who had last defeated USC in 2009. It's a bad loss for the Trojans' NCAA tournament résumé. This week, USC will try to regroup at home against Arizona and Arizona State; the Trojans lost to the Wildcats on Oct. 20 in Tucson.
8. Florida (24-3)
The Gators were disappointed to fall to Missouri, but they regrouped for a sweep of Alabama on Sunday. Florida will face last-place Tennessee -- which is 1-13 in SEC play -- at 5:30 p.m. ET Wednesday on ESPNU.
9. Colorado State (25-0)
The Rams stayed perfect, beating New Mexico and Air Force to clinch the Mountain West Conference title. It was their fifth consecutive league championship and guaranteed Colorado State an NCAA tournament bid for the 19th straight year. This week, Colorado State goes on the road against San Jose State and Fresno State.
10. San Diego (23-3)
The Toreros swept Portland and Gonzaga to remain in a first-place tie with BYU in the West Coast Conference at 15-2. BYU beat San Diego on Sept. 20; the rematch in San Diego is on Saturday. It is the regular-season finale for both teams.
Next five: Hawaii, Minnesota, Duke, Wisconsin, Kentucky
• The battle for second place in the Big 12 pits Iowa State (10-2 in the league) versus Kansas (10-3). The teams meet Wednesday in Ames, Iowa. The Cyclones won their matchup 3-2 in Lawrence, Kan., on Oct. 23.
• Hawaii had last week off from matches. This weekend, the Rainbow Wahine are host to two of the three Big West Conference teams to beat them this season: UC Davis and Cal State Northridge. The Matadors lead the WCC at 12-2, with UCSB at 10-2 and Hawaii 9-3.
• Illinois moved into fourth place alone in the Big Ten at 10-6 with victories last week against Indiana and Purdue. Among their remaining four matches, though, the Illini still have a trip to Penn State on Saturday.