Noteworthy: Four undefeated programs sit atop the AVCA rankings for the second consecutive week—No. 1 Stanford, No. 2 Texas, No. 3 Washington and No. 4 Florida State. Every other team in this week’s top-10 has suffered a least one loss this season. Can anyone identify an undefeated team outside the top-10 rankings?
My Pick: Lipscomb def. Florida Gulf Coast in three
Reality: Lipscomb def. Florida Gulf Coast in four
My Pick: UCLA def. Oregon State in four
Reality: UCLA def. Oregon State in five
My Pick: Ohio def. Ball State in three
Reality: Ohio def. Ball State in four
My Pick: Ohio State def. Purdue in five
Reality: Purdue def. Ohio State in five
My Pick: North Carolina def. Duke in four
Reality: North Carolina def. Duke in three
Last Week’s Record: 4-1
Overall Record: 23-12
MARK YOUR CALENDAR:
There is an exciting match to watch every single day this week, starting with Nebraska vs. Minnesota on Wednesday and ending with Texas A&M vs. Kentucky on Sunday. Don’t miss this exciting week of volleyball!
No. 14 Nebraska @ No. 25 Minnesota
Wednesday, October 22, 7:30pm ET
TV: Big Ten Network
Nebraska and Minnesota are both struggling. Now, I realize struggling is relative. An emerging program or mid-major program probably wouldn’t include winning records and top-25 rankings in their descriptions of a struggling season. But for these two annual powerhouses, their performances are disappointing at best. The Cornhuskers and Gophers will both attempt to redefine the course of their season with a strong showing on Wednesday.
Record: 11-6 overall, 5-3 in conference
Conference: Big Ten
The Cornhuskers run a 5-1 offensive system with Mary Pollmiller (Sr., S). Three primary hitters—Kadie Rolfzen (So., OH), Alicia Ostrander ( ) and Amber Rolfzen (So., OH)—lead the offense, with Kadie being the go-to in most situations. Justine Wong-Orantes (So., L) does an ample job playing defense behind a line of weak/inexperienced blockers.
Record: 13-6 overall, 3-5 in conference
Conference: Big Ten
The Gophers run a 5-1 offensive system with Katie Schau (So., S). All five hitters contribute, mainly because no hitter is consistent enough to lead the squad on their own. Daly Santana (Jr., OH) and Sarah Wilhite (So., OH) are set a ton of balls whether or not they are producing. The Gophers’ erratic back row performance makes it tough to consistently set the remaining three hitters when they are executing. Hannah Tapp (So., MH) and Paige Tapp (So., MH) redeem the defensive effort with their 1.38 and 1.31 blocks per set, respectively.
I think this match will be a turning point. Someone has to win. If it’s Minnesota, they’ll be instilled with the confidence they’ve lacked all season. If it’s Nebraska, they’ll have learned how to rebound and respond to losses. These teams have similar struggles: neither plays great defense and neither terminates third contacts.
Thus, I think the controllable factors will determine the outcome of this contest. Strong serving and passing will create more in-system opportunities to involve other players and remove pressure from the pins. I anticipate a ping-pong match, but I think Nebraska is slightly better in those two categories.
My Pick: Nebraska in four
Loyola Marymount @ No. 12 BYU
Thursday, October 23, 9pm ET
Loyola Marymount has not beaten BYU since 1999. This may be their year to finally topple the West Coast frontrunner considering Loyola Marymount has spent time in the top-25 and are beating other strong programs.
Record: 17-3 overall, 5-3 in conference
Conference: West Coast
Loyola Marymount runs a 5-1 offensive system with veteran Hannah Tedrow (Jr., S). She’s led her team to a .289 hitting efficiency this season. Caitlin DeWitt (Sr., OH), Sarah Sponcil (Fr., OH) and Litara Keil (Jr., OH) are consistently terminal weapons and lead all scorers. Loyola Marymount is a strong blocking and serving team. Keil leads all players in those categories as well.
Record: 16-3 overall, 7-1 in conference
Conference: West Coast
Camry Willardson (Jr., S) runs the Cougars’ 5-1 offensive system. BYU is a very strong blocking team. Amy Boswell (So., MH), Jennifer Hamson (Sr., OPP) and Whitney Young (So., MH) are chalking up over 1.32 blocks per set. Hamson also leads all scorers along with Alexa Gray (Jr., OH). The Cougars’ back row performance isn’t at the level of their net play, but it hasn’t gotten them into too much trouble this season.
I think BYU will have their hands full with the balanced Loyola Marymount offense. Two reasons. First, Loyola Marymount has lots of players capable of putting the ball away. Despite being blocking savants, BYU isn’t used to that many weapons firing at once. It can confuse responsibilities and cause all sorts of problems. Two, Loyola Marymount is also a strong blocking team, so they are used to facing sizable blocks and finding ways to score every day in practice. If Loyola Marymount uses their tough serve to knock BYU into predictable offensive patterns, they’ll be in good position to post the upset. Problem is, that will be tough in the Cougars’ home gym given the altitude.
My Pick: BYU in five
No. 18 Arizona State @ No. 11 Oregon
Friday, October 24, 7pm ET
TV: Pac-12 Networks
These Pac-12 programs are two of teams in the AVCA top-25 ranking. They currently hold third place (Oregon) and sixth place (Arizona State) in the conference.
Record: 14-6 overall, 4-4 in conference
The Sun Devils run a 5-1 offense with Blanca Arellano (Jr., S). Macey Gardner (Jr., OH) has emerged as Arizona State’s top hitter, but BreElle Bailey (So., OH), McKenzie Willey (So., OH) and are still set frequently and contribute a solid chunk of offense production. Mercedes Binns (Jr., MB ) has started to score more on offense in recent games, a nice complement to her existing defensive contributions—she leads all blockers.
Record: 15-3 overall, 5-3 in conference
Ashey (Sr., S) and Maggie Scott (Fr., S) continue to share setting duties in the Ducks’ 6-2 offensive system. Side note: Oregon is one of the only top programs running a 6-2. It is working well for them—the squad is collectively hitting .285. A balanced offense, lots of players see attempts each match. Liz Brenner (Sr., OH) and Martenne Bettendorf (Jr., OH) lead the charge. Amanda Benson (So., L) continues to compensate for the Ducks’ weak blocking, which is slowly improving as the season progresses.
I think Arizona State will push Oregon—they have arms that can score points and decent defense—but I don’t think they will win. My reason is this: Arizona State and Oregon are very similar teams in terms of strengths and weaknesses (i.e. they are balanced on offense with one or two key hitters, they don’t block great and they play decent back row defense). Thus, they win matches in very similar ways (i.e. they win rallies and stay low error). They play very similar games. The problem for Arizona State is that Oregon plays the game better. The Ducks are a little bit more volleyball savvy and a little bit more physical. That’ll be the difference in this match.
My Pick: Oregon in four
My Pick: Oregon in four
Louisville @ Pittsburgh
Sunday, October 26
These two programs are worthy noting. Pittsburgh is drawing national attention and receiving votes in the AVCA poll, while Louisville is consistently competing with top programs (they beat Minnesota and hung with Florida State and Kentucky).
Record: 13-7 overall, 5-3 in conference
Katie George (Jr., S) sets the Cardinals’ 5-1 offensive system, and loves using the crafty arms of Maya McClendon (So., OH) and Janelle Jenkins (So., OH/MH). The duo combines for almost half of the team’s kills. Newcomer Tess Clark (Fr., MH/OPP) is mainly on the court for blocking purposes—she leads all players with 1.13 blocks per set—but she’s proven to be an efficient hitting option when used and has added a nice dimension to the offense. Roxanne McVey (Jr., L) paces the Cardinals’ average-to-good (not great) back row performance.
Record: 17-2 overall, 5-1 in conference
Pittsburgh runs a 6-2 offensive system with setters Lindsey Zitzke (Sr., S) and Jenna Jacobson (Jr., S). They’ve led their squad to a .257 hitting efficiency this season and send most balls toward Jessica Wynn (Sr., OH) and Maria Genitsaridi (So., OH). Wynn and Genitsaridi spin all six rotations, adding consistency to the court and stabilizing the 6-2 offense. Pittsburgh relies on back row play—namely Delaney Clesen (Sr., L)—to pace their defensive efforts.
I think this match will be worth watching for a couple reasons. First, Pittsburgh has started to receive national attention. Head Coach Dan Fisher and his staff have done a nice job revamping the program, and the Panthers have started to receive national attention. Louisville is a program that’s been on the radar if not topping charts the past few seasons. Both teams have some arms. Consistency and third-contact termination and low-error decisions will be the key to winning this match. Pittsburgh has the edge in that realm as far as I’m concerned.
My Pick: Pittsburgh in four
No. 16 Kentucky @ No. 24 Texas A&M
Sunday, October 26, 12pm ET
TV: SEC Network
This is the second meeting of the season for these SEC foes. Thinking that this might be the year for Texas A&M to finally defeat Kentucky, I analyzed this matchup last time around. My prediction was wrong, but I was right about Texas A&M having a shot at victory this season. I know. I know. Kentucky swept A&M in straight sets. But the scores were really competitive. The final two frames were decided at 28-26 and 30-28.
Record: 17-3 overall, 7-1 in conference
Morgan Bergren (Jr., S) leads the Wildcats 5-1 offensive system and runs an outside-heavy offense featuring Shelby Workman (Jr., OH), Anni Thomasson (So., OH) and Lauren O’Conner (Sr., OH). Kentucky’s defense is steadily improving over the course of the season—Thomasson and Workman continue to stay in all six rotations, and their defensive production nicely compliments that of back row specialist Jackie Napper (Sr., L).
Record: 9-3 overall, 1-0 in conference
Texas A&M runs a 5-1 offensive system with Stephanie Aiple (Fr., S). She took sole position of the role earlier this season and has led the Aggies to a respectable .251 hitting efficiency. A weak defensive team, Texas A&M is forced to set most balls to the pins—specifically Angela Lowak (Jr., OH). This is unfortunate, because their best performers are actually their middles, Jazzmin Babers (So., MH) and Shelby Sullivan (Jr., MH). In addition to providing consistent and efficient offensive production, Babers and Sullivan also contribute strong blocking.
Last time around, Kentucky did a great job siding out against Texas A&M. They stayed disciplined with their passing and created opportunities to take terminal swings. The Wildcats also stayed low-error in rallies and did a great job of staying patient until they could take a terminal swing. Finally, they served Texas A&M off the court. The Aggies were aced nine times. That’s significant, especially in a match that was decided by extra points in two of three sets. Texas A&M kept the match close behind standout performances from both middles along with Lowak, who hit an uncharacteristic .476. Strong defense allowed for this to happen. If Texas A&M wants to squeak out a win this week, they’ll need to do a better job of containing Kentucky’s serve and block for points…along with doing all the things they did well the first time around. It’s possible, but probably not likely. I’d be floored if this was decided in straight sets again.
My Pick: Kentucky in five