s-vballrankings

Big Ten volleyball conference play is finally underway, and in just a weekend’s worth of games, the league continued to solidify itself as volleyball’s deepest conference. 

The opening weekend featured upsets, thrillers and displays of high level volleyball unrivaled by other conferences. Heading into week two of conference play, here’s where each of the 14 teams rank in the Big Ten. 

1. Nebraska (10-1) Previous Rank: 1

Entering week two of conference play, the Huskers retain their spot atop the rankings. No. 3 Nebraska, a team rife with depth, displayed it with wins over Michigan State and now-No. 6 Ohio State. 

The Achilles’ heel for Nebraska has been the white line parallel to the net. At the service line, the Huskers have proven shaky and inconsistent at times. In seven of their 11 matches this season, the Huskers have accumulated double-digit service errors. In their last four consecutive matches, they recorded 14, 11, 10 and a season-high of 15 against Ohio State. 

A new problem, however, has arisen for Nebraska – setting. With the absence of senior setter Nicklin Hames as a result of injury, the Huskers are utilizing sophomore setter Anni Evans and freshman setter Kennedi Orr. In their match against Ohio State, sets were oftentimes sporadic and greatly affected the ability of Nebraska’s pin hitters, who frequently opted for tips and softly sent the ball over.

Despite these blemishes, the Huskers have proven their ability to win even when not playing up to their potential. As conference play progresses, the road to another conference title will not get any easier. They will have to make their “ugly” wins few and far between, correct service line play and attempt to boost the confidence of their young setters.

2. Purdue (11-1) Previous Rank: 6

The Boilermakers had the most movement, jumping four spots in these power rankings. Freshman outside hitter Eva Hudson is having a phenomenal rookie season. After 12 matches, Hudson ranks eighth in the nation in kills per set, averaging 4.85 – the only freshman ranked in the top 50 of the category. In Purdue’s sweep of top-10 Minnesota, Hudson recorded a season high 21 kills with a clip of .364. The freshman is the x-factor for a talented squad that is causing ripples in the Big Ten and was elevated to No. 5 nationally in the AVCA poll, jumping six spots from the previous poll. 

Three Boilermakers received honors in the weekly Big Ten awards. Hudson was awarded freshman of the week and co-player of the week, sophomore defensive specialist/outside hitter Ali Hornung was awarded defensive player of the week and senior setter Grace Balensiefer was awarded setter of the week. 

The Boilermakers, who finished fourth in the Big Ten in 2021, are positioning themselves as one of the most dominant teams in the conference and country. On a five-game winning streak, they’re heating up at just the right time, and the sweep of Minnesota can only further ignite the flames. 

3. Minnesota (6-4) Previous Rank: 2

Minnesota opened conference play with one win and one loss. The Golden Gophers were swept by Purdue and responded with a sweep of their own against top-10 Wisconsin. The two matches told the story of two very different Minnesota teams. Against Purdue, the Golden Gophers struggled hitting only .198. Against UW, they managed a clip of .356, hitting above .400 in each of their last two sets. 

Redshirt sophomore outside hitter Taylor Landfair was the team’s leader in kills in both matches, with 17 in each. While her role on the team is important, Landfair can’t carry the weight of the team alone. As the Golden Gophers move forward in conference play, having more members step up in their roles will be critical for their long-term success. 

Minnesota has displayed the necessary resiliency for performing at high levels in a deep conference. If the Golden Gophers can continue to bounce back as they have in just two games, a shot at a conference title is well within reach.

4. Ohio State (5-5) Previous Rank: 3

The Buckeyes have proven their rightful spot among the best in the Big Ten. Against Nebraska, Ohio State performed well defensively, holding Nebraska to a clip of .140, the Huskers’ second-lowest of the season. The Buckeyes recorded 18 more kills, assists and digs than the Huskers, but ultimately fell short 13-15 in the fifth set.

Despite a 5-5 record, Ohio State has proven its ability to compete with some of the best in the nation. In a quest for a conference title, the Buckeyes will have to outlast their opponents and close out the contested matches that they have found themselves in. 

5. Wisconsin (7-3) Previous Rank: 4

The Badgers come off of a 3-0 defeat at the hands of Minnesota. Prior to the matchup, UW had won six straight matches against the Golden Gophers dating back to 2019, with an 18-4 advantage in sets played. Three of those victories were sweeps. 

Sophomore middle blocker/right side hitter Anna Smrek, in two matches this week, had clips of .125 and .455 against Northwestern and Minnesota respectively. Smrek, sophomore outside hitters Julia Orzol and Sarah Franklin are integral pieces of the Badgers’ young but seasoned collective of pin hitters. 

The season is still early for UW, and its only losses came from solid ranked opponents, so there should be no thought of waving the white flag anytime soon. A continued reliance on their tall, dominant front row will be necessary for the Badgers, a team capable of replicating last season’s success.

6. Michigan (11-1) Previous Rank: 9

The Wolverines are an undisputed sleeper. In their sweep of Penn State, they held the then-No. 9 Nittany Lions to under 20 points in each set and a final clip of .105. Junior middle blocker Jess Mruzik established herself in several areas of the match with 14 kills, one service ace, four blocks and nine digs. As a result of the performance in the opening weekend of conference play, Michigan was the first team out of the AVCA top-25.

The Wolverines have a real shot at claiming a conference title and playing well into the postseason. With leaders like Mruzik, the odds are increasingly in their favor. In a conference as stacked as the Big Ten, ranked matches will be a frequent occurrence. As Michigan rides a five-match winning streak, performances like the one displayed over the weekend will not only allow it to enter the top-25, but to move into the conference title conversation. 

7. Penn State (12-1) Previous Rank: 5

Entering conference play, the Nittany Lions boasted a 12-match winning streak which included wins over top-25 Stanford and Oregon. Aside from those matches, their opponents weren’t up to par with what they’ll face in the Big Ten. 

In their first real conference test, the Nittany Lions were swept and outperformed in nearly every category by unranked Michigan. The Nittany Lions’ season-low clip of .105 was abysmal. 

One loss this early in the season should not discolor their strong start to the season. However, losses like the sweep by Michigan and complacency against lower tier conference opponents can. If Penn State seeks to stake a claim at the conference title and high postseason-seeding, they’ll need to minimize performances like last week’s. 

8. Illinois (7-5) Previous Rank: 11

The Fighting Illini had a strong start to conference play. In their first two matches, they swept Northwestern in three sets and defeated Maryland in four sets. The Fighting Illini recorded eight service aces against Northwestern and five against Maryland. Junior outside hitter Raina Terry was the top performer of both matches and remains Illinois’s go-to pin hitter. 

As the Fighting Illini climb up the conference, winning matches like these will set them on the right track toward collecting conference wins and shaking up a conference that has no clear favorite for the title winner. 

9. Northwestern (11-3) Previous Rank: 7

While hopes were initially high for the Wildcats, their first two conference matches were underwhelming. At the service line, Northwestern gave up 17 service aces and recorded only four of its own. The Wildcats looked vastly different from the team who swept top-25 Pepperdine weeks ago. 

Confidence will be key for this team with upcoming matchups against top-25 opponents looming. As the season progresses and the Big Ten’s heavyweights battle, Northwestern will be presented the opportunity to knock off vulnerable top opponents. The ability to seize said opportunity, however, will be up to the Wildcats. 

10. Maryland (9-5) Previous Rank: 8

The Terrapins came into conference play among the nation’s best in service aces and defense. In their first two conference matches, in which they tallied an 0-2 record, their performance did not reflect that national acclaim. 

Senior outside hitter Sam Csire continued to lead the way for the Terrapins on both sides of the ball, but solo performances alone will not carry the team. As Maryland competes among a crowded field of contenders, finding ways to help Csire should be a priority. 

11. Michigan State (9-4) Previous Rank: 10

The Spartans’ start to conference play was shaky, consisting of a sweep at the hands of Nebraska and a five-set loss to Rutgers. The Spartans are a young team, lacking the depth and experience of Big Ten stalwarts like Purdue, Wisconsin and Nebraska.

With such youth Michigan State can focus on laying a foundation for future success in a conference that fosters it. 

12. Indiana (8-6) Previous Rank: 12

The Hoosiers are yet another team in the Big Ten to split their first two conference games. In their first two sets against Maryland, the Hoosiers were dominant. With clips of .269 and .536, the Hoosiers were able to edge out a strong start against a solid defensive team and hold on for a 3-2 win. 

Like their counterparts toward the bottom tier of the Big Ten, climbing out of this deep hole would constitute dethroning volleyball’s best. 

13. Rutgers (7-7) Previous Rank: 14

The Scarlet Knights didn’t change perception much in also winning one of two conference matches. In a win over Michigan State in five sets, Rutgers held its opponents to a clip of .044 and out-blocked the Spartans 19-9. Freshman outside hitter Taylor Humphrey recorded a double-double in the match with 14 kills and 11 digs. 

14. Iowa (6-7) Previous Rank: 13

Through two matches of conference play, the Hawkeyes have won just one set, a 25-19 victory over Purdue. In their losses, the fewest points scored in a set was eight in the second set of their match against Ohio State. 

First-year coach Jim Barnes finds himself consumed with attempting to rebuild a program that has struggled mightily compared to the rest of the Big Ten. The Hawkeyes finished second to last in the Big Ten in both the 2020 and 2021 seasons. Iowa’s best outlook for the season will be staging upsets over much more talented teams. 

sports@dailynebraskan.com