The Big Ten has evolved into one of volleyball’s best conferences, boasting six of the top 11 teams. With a conference this deep and nationally represented by the best, it is only right to provide power rankings of the teams ahead of conference play. Here’s how each team stacks up right now.
It’s no surprise that the team that began the preseason ranked No. 1 sits atop these rankings to start conference play. The Huskers’ only loss came against a Stanford team that is not only ranked No. 5 in the nation, but one that has won five straight over Nebraska — the Huskers’ last win coming in 2008.
The strength of the Nebraska team comes from its depth of players, both in the front and back rows, who boast their own personal accomplishments and experience. Prior to the season, the Huskers lost redshirt senior middle blocker Kayla Caffey, who transferred to Texas, along with middle blocker Lauren Stivrins and outside hitter Lexi Sun, who both graduated in the spring. They wasted no time reloading, however. The Huskers secured one of the nation’s top 2022 recruiting classes, even adding senior middle blocker Kaitlyn Hord, a Penn State transfer, to their squad.
In just the first nine matches of the season, Nebraska has adopted a 6-2 offensive scheme and enjoyed major production from sophomore outside hitter Whitney Lauenstein, who leads her team with 108 kills, an average of 12 per match. Paired with senior outside hitter Madi Kubik — a member of the 2021 NCAA Championship All-Tournament team — this tandem of powerful pin hitters has caused trouble for opponents on the opposite side of the net, as the two average a clip of .301 with 209 combined kills.
Ahead of a schedule filled with high-powered offenses and efficient defenses, Nebraska will get numerous opportunities to prove itself, starting with Michigan State.
2. Minnesota (5-3)
The Golden Gophers are led by redshirt sophomore outside hitter Taylor Landfair, the no. 1 recruit of the 2020 class. Landfair leads the team with 135 kills, just 29 shy of double the next highest Gopher, sophomore outside hitter Jenna Wenaas with 82. Landfair has dominated in games against ranked opponents, recording a career best of 28 kills against Oregon, with double-digit kills ranging from 14 to 16 against Stanford, Florida, Baylor and Texas. All five teams are in the top-25, four are in the top-15.
Minnesota has faced heavyweight opponents in its non conference schedule with all but two of its opponents being ranked, and sit at an even 3-3 versus ranked opponents. The Golden Gophers entered the season ranked No. 5 in the preseason poll, and rightfully so. They return significant production, such as senior libero CC McGraw whose 1,619 digs rank fifth all-time in Minnesota volleyball history.
Minnesota will get another shot at a top-15 team, this time from in-conference opponent Purdue in West Lafayette, Indiana.
3. Ohio State (4-4)
The Buckeyes’ record does not reflect the ability and skill level of the team. Their first six matches were against top-25 opponents. They dropped three consecutive matches but responded with three straight top-10 wins, going 9-2 in sets against Louisville, BYU and Georgia Tech.
After posting a 15-5 record in Big Ten play last season, Ohio State has an opportunity to replicate that success and it has already shown an ability to compete against contenders.
Junior opposite hitter Emily Londot and senior outside hitter Adria Powell will be two of the most crucial players in Ohio State’s bid for success in conference play. Offensively and defensively, the pair lead the team in hitting percentage with clips of .251 and .382 respectively, while having 40 combined blocks.
Opposing teams will have to find creative ways to limit the impact of Londot and Powell in order to win presumably many close sets and matches in Big Ten play. The Buckeyes will travel to Iowa to face the Hawkeyes on Friday, Sept. 23 for their first conference game.
4. Wisconsin (6-2)
The Badgers entered this season as defending national champions but lost major production. Under head coach Kelly Sheffield, who is entering his 10th year at the helm, Wisconsin has solidified itself among the best programs in college volleyball. Beginning in 2019, UW made three straight Final Fours appearances, finishing runner-up in 2020 and winning it all in 2021. They’ll be hard-pressed to repeat that success in 2022.
The loss of first-team AVCA All-American middle blocker Dana Rettke was significant for the Badgers, but they’re in good hands with sophomore middle blocker/right side hitter Anna Smrek. Smrek at 6 feet 9 inches is the tallest female athlete to ever wear a Badgers uniform. That height has made it difficult for opponents to win against her at the net, especially in the 2021 NCAA tournament where she was awarded the honor of most valuable player in the championship game. After starting the year as one of the primary players on the squad, Smrek is expected to continue her early dominance with the help of senior middle blocker Danielle Hart and redshirt sophomore outside hitter Sarah Franklin.
The Badgers have a lot of experience and height at the net which will be most advantageous to their long term success this season. Their first conference test of the season will come from Northwestern, a team that has played solid enough this season to elicit 17 votes in the most recent AVCA Coaches Poll.
5. Penn State (11-0)
Under first-year head coach Katie Schumacher-Cawley, Penn State is wasting no time continuing its winning ways that were made precedent under now-retired Russ Rose.
The Nittany Lions’ season began against opponents that lacked the strength they’ll see in Big Ten play. However, when challenged, the Nittany Lions secured back-to-back top-25 wins over Stanford and Oregon in five-set battles. Penn State’s 11-0 record is the best in the country, and with the polished wins against the Cardinal and Ducks, the Nittany Lions will seek to build on their momentum going into conference play.
With a balanced attack as evidenced by a team clip of .263, while holding opponents to .145 and out-blocking them 124 to 64.5, the Nittany Lions are rising among the best in the nation. They’ll look to stay undefeated upon hosting Indiana on Friday, Sept. 23.
6. Purdue (9-1)
Freshman outside hitter Eva Hudson is quickly establishing herself on an upper-tier Boilermakers’ squad. Hudson is making her presence felt both offensively and defensively with 165 kills, a clip of .323, 12 service aces and 20 total blocks with 61 digs.
In Purdue’s only loss, to now-No. 2 Louisville, Hudson recorded 17 kills. If the freshman’s success on the court continues, Purdue will be a team to watch out for in conference play. In a big match against Minnesota, the Boilermakers will open the season at home and have a chance to set their own tone for Big Ten play.
7. Northwestern (11-1)
The Wildcats will have a chance to further prove their potential once conference play begins. They split their two ranked matches 1-1 thus far with a sloppy performance against Washington, losing in four sets, but responding with a convincing sweep of a talented Pepperdine team.
The 2021 iteration of this squad went 7-13 in Big Ten play. But in his seventh year at the helm, head coach Shane Davis was able to bring in the seventh-ranked recruiting class, and has seen significant improvement this year to already notch 11 wins this early in the season after finishing 12-19 last season.
Northwestern will commence Big Ten play in Madison, Wisconsin, and will have the chance to showcase their improving squad against one of the national elite programs.
8. Maryland (9-3)
The Terrapins are among the nation’s best in service aces, blocking and opponent hitting percentage. Maryland’s 96 aces in 44 sets, which averages to 2.18 per set, is eighth-best in the nation, but comes with 89 service errors for an average of 2.02 per set. As the Terps prepare for a higher level of competition, it will be necessary to minimize the number of errors at the service line.
Freshman outside hitter Layla Ivey and senior outside hitter Sam Csire will be expected to continue their roles as strong pin hitters for the Terps on offense. Maryland’s first chance at a conference opponent will be a road game as it faces Illinois.
9. Michigan (9-1)
Upperclassmen have told the story of Michigan’s start to the season. Senior middle blocker Jess Robinson, junior outside hitter Jess Mruzik and junior opposite/outside hitter Kendall Murray are their team’s top scorers and will likely be difference-makers in what could be close, contested upcoming matches against several ranked in-conference opponents.
Of their first three in-conference opponents, two are top-10 teams: Penn State and Ohio State – traveling on the road for Penn State and hosting Ohio State. Robinson, Mruzik, and Murray will get the opportunity to continue to lead their team and set up potential upsets that can push the Wolverines into the top-25.
10. Michigan State (9-2)
The Spartans haven’t had the opportunity to face off against any ranked opponents, but they have played Duke and North Carolina – two decent teams in the Atlantic Coast Conference – losing both matches.
With its first Big Ten match coming against Nebraska on the road, Michigan State will rely heavily on freshman outside hitter Maradith O’Gorman and sophomore outside hitter Aliyah Moore, who both lead the team in kills. Junior libero Nalani Iosia, whose 168 digs are the most on the team, will also be an important factor of the Spartans’ defense. The Spartans are a team of mostly underclassmen, so as they progress in Big Ten play, their lack of significant in-conference experience may become a factor against their opponents.
11. Illinois (5-5)
The Illini’s season began in fairly rocky fashion with losses to two top-25 teams, but they were able to rebound and string together several wins.
In its most recent match, a five-set loss to top-25 Marquette, Illinois hit at a clip of .241 to Marquette’s .225. Junior outside hitter Raina Terry recorded 15 kills, three service aces, and three blocks with a clip of .175. Senior middle blocker Kennedy Collins also recorded 15 kills and a clip of .480.
The Illini will face Maryland, a great defensive team at the net, and get an opportunity to secure their first conference win of the season.
12. Indiana (7-5)
The Hoosiers will have a tough first conference match as they travel to face Penn State, a top-10 team. Sophomore outside hitter Mady Saris leads the team with 155 kills on 417 swings and a clip of .206. Indiana is hitting at a clip better than its opponents thus far with .240 to .183.
13. Iowa (6-5)
Like Rutgers, the Hawkeyes finished at the near-bottom of the Big Ten. Under new head coach Jim Barnes, Iowa seeks to produce more success on the court, and with six wins, which matches last season’s total, they seem to have gotten a head start on doing so. The Hawkeyes may have a much better opportunity at securing some conference wins than last season when they won only four matches. Iowa’s first shot at that elusive conference victory will come as they host top-10 Ohio State.
14. Rutgers (6-6)
Last season, Rutgers did not win a single conference game in its 19 matches in the Big Ten. The Scarlet Knights have struggled early in their first 12 matches of the season. But they’ll hope to string together more conference wins than last year in a deep conference.