NCAA volleyball: Big matches on tap; AVCA Poll; more MN, Stanford, Penn St.; POWs; stats

What a big week ahead in NCAA women’s volleyball as the pre-conference season comes to a close.

For those planning their volleyball TV-watching week, it’s a bonanza: 

— Tuesday there’s No. 9 Stanford at No. 2 Nebraska on the Big Ten Network.

— Wednesday, we got a big bonus for the college game when No. 3 Louisville at No. 13 Kentucky was moved from ESPNU to ESPN. As UK coach Craig Skinner said in a Tweet, “Thank you ESPN for helping take our sport to the next level. This is a big deal for women’s sports and volleyball.”

— On Friday, No. 4 Wisconsin plays host to No. 16 Florida in Madison’s Kohl Center on the Big Ten Network. Wisconsin is hoping for the biggest regular-season crowd ever.

And those are just the showcase matches. On Thursday, No. 15 BYU plays Utah and No. 22 Pepperdine is at No. 6 Minnesota. On Sunday, No. 5 Ohio State plays at No. 12 Pittsburgh and Nebraska goes to Kentucky.

It’s gonna be a heck of a week.

AVCA POLL: Texas (6-0) remained No. 1. The Longhorns play host to Houston and High Point this week. High Point’s Dylan Maberry, who is from Magnolia, Texas, was the Big South player of the week after getting 38 kills and hitting .402 in three victories last week.

Nebraska stayed No. 2. 

And then things got shuffled. 

Louisville is up a spot and back at No. 3. Wisconsin moved up two spots to No. 4 and Ohio State is up three notches to No. 5. Minnesota dropped three spots to No. 6, Georgia Tech dropped two spots to No. 7, and surging San Diego is up five spots to No. 8 (USD coach Jen Petrie was on our Monday NCAA volleyball conversation).

Stanford lost to Penn State and beat Minnesota and moved up two spots to No. 9 Purdue lost a spot and is No. 10. Penn State made a big jump after beating Oregon and Stanford and is up nine notches to No 11.

Pittsburgh, BYU and Washington all dropped five spots while Marquette moved up four.

UCLA dropped out and Arkansas is in at No. 24.

Click here for the complete AVCA Division I Coaches Poll.

UNBEATENS: We’re down to 10 teams. Boston College and Towson are 10-0; Jacksonville State and Valparaiso are 9-0; Auburn and Penn State are 8-0; Nebraska is 7-0; Texas is 6-0; UCF is 5-0; and Hampton is 3-0.

SPEAKING OF MINNESOTA: The Gophers (4-2) have seen a little bit of everything. They opened with victories over Baylor and TCU and then lost at top-ranked Texas in four. After beating visiting Florida in four, they were home last weekend for Oregon and Stanford. Minnesota beat Oregon in a tough four behind 28 kills from Taylor Landfair, who also had five blocks, an ace and nine digs. 

But the next night the Gophers ran into a Stanford buzzsaw. Stanford, coming off a five-set loss to Penn State, the surprise of the weekend, won in four and did a good job of keeping the Minnesota in check. Landfair got 15 more kills but hit .107, and her teammates had 24 ills total as Minnesota hit .102.

“This is why we play (these tournaments),” Minnesota coach Hugh McCutcheon said. “We know we have to work through some stuff. Winning is great, obviously, but it can mask a lot of problems. And I don’t think you know your true self until you get into trouble. And how are going to respond to that?”

Melani Shaffmast, the junior setter, was fabulous against Stanford with four kills in seven errorless tries, 31 assists, four aces, six digs and two blocks, one solo. She’s been setting a variety of options as McCutcheon subs and tinkers with his lineup.

“As much as losing is unpleasant, and none of us like it, it’s an occupational hazard and it comes with the job,” McCutcheon said. “We give Stanford all the credit, they played great, and I don’t think we were terrible, we were just streaky and I think there were some opportunities for us to get better from this. They’re hard lessons, but let’s learn them in September instead of December.”

So Texas swept Stanford and beat Minnesota in four and Stanford beat Minnesota.

“I thought tonight Stanford served probably tougher than Texas did, but Texas has a lot more weapons and their first contact is pretty clean,” McCutcheon said.

“Their littles are good, they hustle on the defensive end, they’re a heck of a team. I think we caught Stanford on a heck of a day.”

SPEAKING OF STANFORD: The last time the Cardinal traveled to Minnesota was last December when Stanford beat Iowa State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament but then got swept by Minnesota.

So beating the Gophers mattered, Stanford junior outside Caitie Baird said. 

“Hopefully we carry this on the rest of the season,” Baird said.

Baird had 17 kills but hit .082 against Penn State. Against Minnesota, she had 12 kills, hit .250, and had two aces.

“It felt good to come back here to this crowd. It felt good to get redemption,” Baird said.

Stanford opened with wins at Lipscomb, Tennessee State and Florida before coming home and getting swept by Texas. After playing at Nebraska, the Cardinal is home for Louisville.

So it’s been baptism by fire for freshman outside hitter Elia Rubin, who bounced back hitting negative .114 with seven kills against Penn State to getting 12 kills against Minnesota while hitting .286 to go with an assist, an ace, three blocks and 11 digs.

“It was really cool to see her turn it around,” Stanford coach Kevin Hambly said.

“She is the competitive backbone here,” Baird said. “She won’t let anything drop, she goes after it, and she won’t give up, which is awesome.”

Rubin was the national high school player of the year in 2021.

“It’s been a huge step,” Rubin said. “It’s crazy how different this level is compared to what I’ve been used. In high school I was able to get away with some stuff I’m not able to at the college level. There’s been a big learning curve, but slowly and surely, I’m putting in the work in practice and like in practice this morning and in tonight’s game (against Minnesota) it’s paying off.”

AND SPEAKING OF PENN STATE: The Nittany Lions are 8-0 and hadn’t played the competition they beat last weekend. This weekend they’re home for Howard, Albany and Coastal Carolina with an excellent shot at being 11-0 heading into the Big Ten season.

By the way, in the B1G coaches preseason poll, Wisconsin was picked No. 1, Nebraska No. 2, followed by Minnesota, Ohio State and Penn State. Through three weekends at least, that’s held form.

None of those other teams, however, have a first-year coach managing, in essence, a completely new roster, which is why Penn State was so surprising in Minneapolis.

“It was fun and I’m just glad for the fight we had and the focus,” Penn State coach Kaitie Schumacher-Cawley said. “We’re not getting high or low when we’re earning points or not earning points. I’m happy for them.”

POWs: In the Big 12 (we had it wrong earlier), the offensive POW is Eleanor Holthaus of Iowa State, the defensive honoree is UCLA’s Zoe Fleck, and the top rookie is Baylor’s Averi Carlson …

Stanford’s Kendall Kip was the Pac-12 offensive player of the week after averaging 4.11 kills and hitting .304 in Minnesota. The Pac-12 defensive honor went to Oregon State sophomore setter Izzi Szulczewski and Rubin was the top freshman …

In the Big Ten, there were co-players of the week, Ohio State’s Emily Londot and Penn State’s Kashauna Williams. The defensive honor went to Penn State’s Allie Holland and the top setter was Ohio State’s Mac Podraza. The freshman award went to Wisconsion libero Gülce Güçtekin …

The SEC POW was Tennessee senior right side Morgahn Fingall, also the AVCA national player of the week, and the defensive player is South Carolina junior middle Ellie Ruprich. The top setter was Tennessee senior Natalie Hayward and the freshman was Texas &M right side Logan Lednicky …

The ACC players of the week is Georgia Tech senior outside Julia Bergmann and the top freshman was Florida State’s Audrey Rothman …

Also, Brianna Ford of UT Arlington was the WAC POW after averaging 4.23 kills and 3.15 digs … Kaitlyn Flynn of Eastern Illinois was the Ohio Valley offensive POW after getting 63 kills in three matches. Southeast Missouri libero Tara Beilsmith got the defensive honor after averaging 7.42 digs … Georgetown’s Mary Grace Goyena was the Big East offensive POW after averaging 4.67 kills … Nia McCardell, Rice’s junior libero, is the Conference USA defensive POW for the third week in a row. She averaged 6.2 digs/set.

NATIONAL STAT LEADERS: Hitting percentage — Jess Robinson, Michigan, .539; kills per set — Julia Bergmann, Georgia Tech, 5.54; assists per set — Saige Ka’aha’aina-Torres, Texas, 11.65; digs per set — Hope Matschner, Iona, 6.23; blocks per set — Danielle Hart, Wisconsin, 1.93.

MORE MINNESOTA/MATURI: Stanford beat Minnesota before an announced crowd of 4,706 in Maturi Pavillion.

“I’m used to big crowds but this is a whole different level,” Stanford’s Rubin admitted.

For our first time there, it was nothing but impressive. Great enthusiasm extremely knowledgeable, loud, enthusiastic and considerate fans, and a pep band with game.

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Penn State setter Seleisa Elisaia goes for the ball as Oregon’s Brooke Nuneviller looks on/Ethan Fine, Big Ten Network