The #4 ranked, 10-1 Penn State Nittany Lions look to take on reigning Big Ten champion Nebraska tonight at Rec Hall in the first game of conference play for the women's volleyball team. What can we expect from this matchup? A lot of tough, drawn out points, as both teams look to improve upon disappointing finishes to the 2011 season and a tough loss to a lower ranked team to start out 2012.
The Cornhuskers come to town as the preseason pick to win the Big Ten, and are ranked #3 (8-1), fresh off of a loss to then-#25 Iowa State (5-4) in four sets on Saturday night in their first road match of the season, which Nebraska went into with the top ranking in the nation. Earlier in the season, the Huskers knocked off then-#1 UCLA, a team that has climbed its way back to #1 since the loss the first week of the season.
One-time Wisconsin Badgers womens volleyball coach John Cook is in his twelfth year at the helm in Lincoln, where he was named AVCA coach of the year in 2000. Nebraska has one of the most storied programs in womens volleyball, having won three national championships (in 1995, 2000, and 2006) and boasting the most AVCA first and second team All Americans of any program in the NCAA (71).
The Huskers came into the Big Ten last year having won their previous conferences a total of 31 times (they were a twelve-time Big Twelve champ, and a nineteen-time champion in the Big Eight), and took advantage of an otherwise down year for the Nittany Lions, winning the conference crown outright.
Senior setter Lauren Cook (daughter of the head coach), a co-captain, helps lead the team, and was named Big Ten co-player of the week last week; she, along with seniors Hannah Werth and Gina Mancuso (a first team All-American last year) were all named to the preseason All-Big Ten team. Mancuso leads the Huskers in kills with 112 on the season, with Werth not far behind at 104.
Another player to watch out for tonight is freshman Maghan Haggerty, who had initially signed her letter of intent with Wisconsin last year and comes in as a two-time Big Ten Freshman of the week so far this season.
The Nittany Lions come into tonight's match after winning three straight at home in the Penn State classic, a solid rebound from their five-set loss to Oregon State the week before. So far this season, junior Ariel Scott leads PSU with 183 kills, with junior Deja McClendon not far behind at 114. Fellow junior Katie Slay leads the team in hitting percentage, tallying a stellar .462 percentage in ten matches.
Look out for sophomore Micha Hancock's booming serve; she looks to break more university records and add on to her 23 service aces so far this year. Freshman Megan Courtney has also been key in significant time in non-conference play this year,.
This matchup kicks off the Nittany Lions' conference schedule; after the opener, they'll stay at home, taking on Iowa on Saturday before starting a four-match stint on the road. Nebraska will stay in State College for practice on Thursday before traveling to Columbus on Friday to take on the #21 Ohio State Buckeyes.
Tonight's match will be broadcast live on the Big Ten network at 8 pm.
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