Big Ten Volleyball Midseason Report

Iowa City Owl Sports
The Big Ten Volleyball season is now past its halfway point and it’s safe to say that the conference may be the best in the nation. Six teams are ranked in the current Coaches’ Poll (Nebraska, Illinois, Penn State, Purdue, Michigan State and Michigan). No conference has more teams in the rankings. Statistically the teams of the B1G rank towards the top in several major categories amongst the nation’s squads.

Michigan State ranks third in the nation in hitting percentage. The Buckeyes rank fifth in both assists per set and kills per set. Penn State has the eleventh highest percentage of aces per set in the country and the Boilermakers are fifteenth in blocks per set. Naturally, these great numbers are due to some stellar play by individuals in the conference. These ladies treat the game of volleyball like I do putting down a JJ Gargantuan. It’s all too easy.

The Nittany Lions’ freshman phenom Micha Hancock leads the conference and is second in the nation in service aces per set. Junior Mia Tabberson of Minnesota not only ranks first in the B1G in assists per set, but her average is good for fifth in the country. Purdue’s senior stateswoman Tiffany Fisher is tops in the conference and sixth in the nation for hitting percentage. Fisher’s junior teammate Ariel Turner paces the B1G and falls in at seventh in the land as far as kills per set go. Last but certainly not least on the list of B1G standout performers is Penn State Sophomore Katie Slay, who is 17th in the nation in blocks per set while leading the conference.

These numbers and the talent associated with them lead one to believe that the Big Ten should get a high number of teams into the field of 64 seeking a national championship at season’s end. While that is true, there is still a lot of volleyball left to be played before December. The various teams are only halfway through their conference schedules, with some B1G games yet to be played. The outcomes of these games will be the difference between seeding in the tournament for some, making the tournament or not for some, and for others a chance to play the spoiler. With the conference being as loaded as it is it’s a pretty good bet that whoever wins it will earn a one seed in the tournament, perhaps the top overall. What is important to know is who is in running for the conference title, along with the highlights of their remaining schedule:

  • Nebraska’s (17-1, 10-0) only loss this season came to Colorado State on September 2nd. Since that time the Huskers have been playing unbelievable volleyball. The Huskers have road dates with Penn State and Purdue and home games against Michigan State and Minnesota in their remaining schedule.
  • Illinois (20-1, 9-1) looks to finish strong despite their hopes of a perfect season being destroyed by Nebraska last Saturday. The Illini have Minnesota and Penn State at home, as well as travel games at Purdue, Ohio State and Michigan State left on their docket.
  • Penn State (15-5, 8-2) is having a down year by the standards of the program’s history, but still one that a lot of teams would envy. The Nittany Lions big dates yet to be played are: Nebraska, at Illinois, at Minnesota, Purdue, at Ohio State and at Michigan State.
  • Purdue (18-3, 7-3) has fallen to the three teams above them in the standings already this season but has a good shot at having a solid second half of the season with their talented roster. The Boilermakers docket includes rematches with those three teams plus road games at Michigan State and at Ohio State.
  • Michigan State (16-6, 5-5) has done much better in non-conference play than Big Ten play. Their remaining schedule provides them an opportunity to either rise to the top or be weeded out. Fortunately for the Spartans, three of their five big games are in East Lansing. Featured games are at Nebraska, Illinois, Penn State, and Purdue and at Minnesota.
  • Ohio State (15-8, 5-5) sits in a position similar to the Spartans. How they play during their next ten games will decide whether they are playing in December or sitting on campus watching. The Buckeyes have Penn State and Purdue at home and a game at Illinois on their remaining schedule.
This season may prove to be forgettable for the Hawkeyes as a team. Iowa is 1-9 in conference play so far this year, currently suffering a five match losing streak since their lone win over Indiana on October 7th. Unfortunately for the Hawkeyes, the remaining schedule does not get any easier. Road dates at Ohio State, Purdue and Illinois accompany home matches against Michigan State, Minnesota and Nebraska. During this season though, there have been some bright spots for Iowa.

One of those is sophomore setter Nikki Dailey, who appropriately wears number one on her jersey. Dailey has followed up a strong freshman season with an even better sophomore campaign. She has accounted for 771 (87%) of the team’s 887 assists and leads the team with 26 service aces on the season. One of the constants for the Hawkeyes has been that if they have scored, Nikki Dailey had a hand in it. Other team leaders are freshman Alex Lovell with 205 kills, sophomore Bethany Yeager with 359 digs and senior Mallory Husz with 65 blocks.

One of the possible explanations for the challenges the Hawkeyes have experienced this year is also a reason to be optimistic for future seasons. The 16-woman roster has just one junior and only three seniors. A simple math computation with that information will tell you that ¾ of the Iowa roster is underclassmen. The experience being gathered during this season will prove invaluable and will hopefully lead to expanded success in the years to come for Iowa. In the meantime, these ladies are playing their hearts out and could use all the support Iowa City can offer. I encourage everyone to spend part of an evening in Carver Hawkeye Arena. Compared to the movie theatre or a dinner out, it’s quite economical.

Select volleyball matches down the stretch from the conference as a whole can be viewed on the Big Ten Network. When the national tournament begins, hopefully full of Big Ten teams, those games will also be available on ESPNU and ESPN3. Amongst your busy schedule, take in a collegiate volleyball game. It will be worth your while.
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