Nebraska braces for one-of-a-kind Big Ten weekend, and congestion rules in the Pac-12
A big weekend of Big Ten volleyball awaits in Lincoln, Nebraska; Kentucky gets on a roll in the SEC; and the Pac-12 is full of juice. Sink your teeth into these storylines.
Cornhuskers return to familiar perch
Another week, another new No. 1.
Or more appropriately, we have an old No. 1. Defending national champion Nebraska (16-1) returned to the top spot in this week's American Volleyball Coaches Association poll.
For the third straight week, the No. 1 spot has rotated. Nebraska was on top through the first six polls until being bounced by Ohio State in Lincoln, giving way to Minnesota to take over on Oct. 3.
The Golden Gophers fell to Penn State in their first week as No. 1, making way last week for Wisconsin to ascend to the top spot for the first time in program history.
But yikes! Minnesota swept the Badgers before a sold-out home crowd in Madison, and Nebraska redeemed itself with a 3-1 defeat of the Buckeyes, so here we go again -- the Cornhuskers are back at No. 1.
Guess who's coming to Big Red country this weekend? No. 4 Wisconsin (15-2) is in Lincoln on Friday night and No. 3 Minnesota (14-3) is there on Sunday afternoon. That's all three teams that have been ranked No. 1 this season.
If that's not enough drama, flash back to a year ago almost to the day, and the Cornhuskers lost in Lincoln 3-1 to both Wisconsin and Minnesota.
But you remember what happened next. Nebraska never lost again, winning the 2015 national championship.
Also notable, the Cornhuskers snapped a string of three straight losses to Ohio State on Friday to win the program's 12th straight road match. Kadie Rolfzen, who was named Big Ten player of the week, tied her career high with 21 kills with just two errors, hitting .413 and adding 11 digs. Ohio State (13-7) remained at 19 in the poll.
No. 11 Michigan State (16-4) upset Minnesota in East Lansing, 3-2, behind Alyssa Garvelink's first career double-double, 18 kills and 10 blocks. The Spartans dropped the first set 25-12 but won the second and third and survived the fifth, 15-13. Setter Rachel Minarick finished one assist shy of her career best with 54.
Huskies atop Pac-12, but it's a mess from there
Eight games into the Pac-12, it's a jumble at the top.
No. 7 Washington (16-2, 6-2) doesn't have to look hard to find its closest pursuers in the conference race -- all seven of them.
That's right, seven teams are within a game of the first-place Huskies, who nosed in front by sweeping Colorado on Sunday for their fifth straight victory.
Utah, Washington State, Arizona, UCLA, USC, Oregon and Stanford all check in with 5-3 records. As for which team has the momentum, well, that depends on which day you ask.
For example, Washington State shot out to a 5-0 conference mark, only to drop its next three over an eight-day span. Oregon was 5-1 before consecutive home losses to USC and UCLA. And Arizona turned heads by knocking off ranked USC, UCLA and Stanford, all on the road, only to stumble in five Sunday at California (8-10, 2-6).
A lot of coaches tout the competitiveness of their league by insisting anyone can beat anyone.
That's not just rhetoric in the Pac-12. Stay tuned as the teams continue sorting things out. Among the featured matches this weekend: Oregon at Utah and Stanford at UCLA.
Kentucky makes it a dozen with weekend sweep
Twelve straight victories, including 10 sweeps. How about those Kentucky Wildcats, who are ranked 21st?
The surging Wildcats (15-4, 8-0) made it a dozen straight wins Sunday by shutting out Ole Miss behind 55 kills, a program record for three sets in the 25-point rally scoring era.
With the victory, the Wildcats stayed perfect in the SEC, one-half game ahead of Missouri (16-3, 7-0). On Sunday, the Tigers maintained their unbeaten conference mark by rallying from two sets down to oust Alabama.
Coming from behind hasn't been necessary for Kentucky, which hasn't lost since a 3-1 setback to Marquette on Sept. 9. Only Mississippi State and South Carolina have taken as much as a set from the Wildcats since. And the highlight of their winning streak was a 3-0 blanking of then-No. 5 Florida in Gainesville.
Despite this run of success, Kentucky coach Craig Skinner seems intent on focusing not on what his Wildcats have done but on how much more they can do.
"We need to continue to get better blocking behind the setter and terminating out of the back row," Skinner said. "I think it's there, and we've had rhythm with it as the season has gone on. We just need to continue to trust it and go with it and keep running it because it can happen."
The Wildcats will look to make it 13 in a row on Friday when they host South Carolina. Then on Sunday, Kentucky will visit Missouri in a potential battle of conference unbeatens.
Oral Roberts' Milos a star in any league
Check the NCAA leaders and you'll find the name Laura Milos multiple times.
The Oral Roberts outside hitter, a junior who hails from Croatia, leads the nation in aces per set (0.80) and ranks second in attacks per set and fourth in points. She plays all six rotations, and though Milos stands only 5-foot-10, coach Sheera Sirola promises her star would thrive in any conference.
"She can do anything," Sirola said. "She'll find something to score off. Even her tipping is phenomenal. She makes it so it will go right down your neck, and there's no way you can pick it up."
Credit Bowling Green coach Danijela Tomic for the assist in Oral Roberts landing a player of Milos' caliber.
Tomic didn't need a setter at Bowling Green three years ago, so she turned Sirola on to Croatian Lucija Bojanjac. Sirola, a fellow Croat, immediately liked what she saw of Bojanjac on a recruiting trip back to her home country. As always, she dropped in on a club team in her hometown, Porec, and spotted Milos.
Much to Sirola's delight, Milos told her she and Bojanjac had been pals since childhood and had played together on the junior national team and would relish being college teammates at Oral Roberts.
"I knew Laura was a special player," Sirola said. "But in Europe, if you're not 6-2 or above, people don't look at you."
Milos, whose nickname is Lucky, weathered a trying freshman year at Oral Roberts that included a root canal infection, homesickness, food poisoning and a lack of English skills, but she stuck it out to be named the Summit League freshman of the year.
Five times Sirola was the league's player of the week last season, though not Summit League player of the year, which continues to eat at Sirola, who said, "Maybe the coaches in the conference were not looking at the right thing."
Milos' achievements continue this year. She was named Summit League athlete of the month on Oct. 7 after leading the nation in kills per set, aces per sets and points per set in addition to have a triple-double over Central Arkansas. Her season also includes a 35-kill, 25-dig outing against Stephen F. Austin.
Portland records program first
Portland had never beaten a team ranked as high as 11th until last Thursday, when the Pilots stunned then-No. 11 Brigham Young in front of a program-high 1,113 fans.
Reghan Pukis helped orchestrate the biggest win in program history with a career-high 27 kills while Hannah Troutman added 22 kills and 22 digs.
But the momentum didn't carry over to Saturday's match. Although the Pilots beat San Diego a year ago, their first-ever win over a ranked opponent, the No. 5 Toreros swept the Pilots to extend their Division I-best winning streak to 16.