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Women's Volleyball and the Best Conference in the Nation

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Cari Greene/BSD

When the Big Ten announced that Nebraska was joining the conference effective the 2011 school year, most of us were excited about football. But, coming off the heels of four consecutive NCAA Championships and eight consecutive Big Ten Championships, I was more worried about their championship-caliber women’s volleyball program.

Of course, my fears were founded that first year, when the Lady Huskers won the Big Ten and the most underwhelming Nittany Lion women’s volleyball team in years lost in the third round of the NCAA tournament. After rebounding nicely in 2012, losing only three matches all season, the first obstacle to a sixth national title for the Nittany Lions will be the gauntlet of the best women’s volleyball conference in the nation.

Coming into 2013 having the most conference and national championships by far, Penn State is the overwhelming preseason favorite to win the Big Ten title (voted on by the conference coaches) and ranks second in the nation in the preseason Coaches poll; unlike in past years, though, there’s a lot of depth in the conference that could prove to be a challenge.

The second team in the B1G ranked in the top ten, Minnesota (1 Big Ten title—2002) comes it at number six, led by US Women’s Volleyball coach Hugh McCutcheon. The Gophers somewhat unexpectedly tied the Huskers for second in 2012, and is picked to finish second in the conference. Michigan (no Big Ten titles) comes in right after the Gophers, preseason ranked seventh, and made it to their school’s only final four NCAA appearance in 2012, losing to eventual national champion Texas. The Wolverines are picked to finish third in the conference.

Somewhat surprisingly, Nebraska (1 Big Ten title—2011; NCAA Champs in 1995, 2000, 2006) is picked to finish fourth in the conference after tying Minnesota for second last year, and start the season ranked tenth. Outside the top ten but also ranked among the hundreds of division 1 women’s volleyball programs are Michigan State (ranked 14; 2 Big Ten titles—1995, 1996), Purdue (16; 1 Big Ten title--1985), and Ohio State (23; 3 Big Ten titles—1989, 1991, 1994); somewhat surprisingly, Illinois (4 Big Ten titles—1986, 1987, 1988, 1992) was picked to finish six in the conference by Big Ten coaches, despite not being preseason ranked—and despite not even making the NCAA tournament last year (the conference as a whole sent seven schools; Wisconsin, Indiana, Northwestern and Iowa also didn’t make the tourney).

As for how the conference schedule stacks up for the Nittany Lions, it’s pretty favorable. They only get the Huskers once, but that game’s on the road to end the season—and Lincoln is the one place in the Big Ten that Penn State hasn’t won—at least in conference, as this happened in 2008:

The conference season kicks off for the Nittany Lions at home the final weekend of September with matches against Michigan State and Michigan before hitting the road to take on the Indiana schools. The home and away weekends rotate throughout the end of the season, culminating with matches at Ohio State the day before Thanksgiving, and the aforementioned match versus the Huskers to end the season on the final day of November. Penn State looks to be one of the most televised women’s volleyball programs on the Big Ten Network, with seven matches airing live (vs Michigan, vs Minnesota, at Illinois, at Michigan, at Michigan State, at Minnesota, at Nebraska).

The road to a potential sixth title is set up quite nicely; after the conference season ends, there’s two rounds of NCAA action at campus (venues still TBD, but University Park is typically an attractive option) the first weekend in December, followed by the two rounds of regionals (Illinois and Nebraska host the likeliest locations for the Nittany Lions). The semifinals and finals of the NCAA tourney make it back to the West Coast this year, taking place in Seattle December 19-21.

As usual, keep an eye on BSD for coverage of the Nittany Lions—and open threads for the nationally televised games and tournament matchups. Bill and I will be your guides for what we hope will be a record-setting year for the team that, for many of us, is the second-favorite squad on the University Park campus.

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