As good as it was yesterday, it could be even better today when No. 1 Penn State and No. 2 Stanford face off here in State College, Pa.
Like what’s also happening in Austin, Texas, the hits just keep on coming on day two.
Stanford stifles Illinois
Friday in Happy Valley, a very young Illinois team with incredible potential took the first set, but then calm, cool and collected Stanford swept the next three for a 16-25, 27-25, 25-18, 25-21 victory. It was the first loss of the season for the sixth-ranked Illini, which was led by senior outside Jocelynn Birks, who had 16 kills and 16 digs. Junior outside Michelle Streak had 15 kills and junior middle Katie Stadick has 13 kills and four block assists.
But the story for Illinois was the youth, with a caveat.
Freshman setter Jordyn Poulter clearly is going to be one of the college game’s top-tier players. Sophomore libero Brandi Donnelly had 24 digs and Naya Crittendon had eight kills and seven block assists and brought a ton of energy to the Illinois. She is a junior opposite, but a transfer from Oregon who is only four matches in with her new team.
Stanford, meanwhile, got a career performance from 6-8 Merete Lutz, who was almost unstoppable in the middle. The sophomore had a career-high 19 kills, at least four off birthday balls when the Illini had no chance, showed more power than ever as senior setter Madi Bugg showed no hesitation in finding her big teammate, and hit .531. Lutz also had five block assists for a team that lost its All-American middle, Inky Ajanaku to a summer knee injury. What’s more, Lutz missed Stanford’s opening weekend with an injury to her right pinky finger. Friday it was taped pretty heavily, but obviously was of no concern.
Freshman libero Halland McKenna had 11 digs and redshirt sophomore Ivana Vanjak, playing just her third match as a middle blocker, hit .500 (4-0-8) and with four blocks. Senior outsides Jordan Burgess (12 kills) Brittany Howard (8) came up big when needed and the rest of the game might not have an answer for super freshman Hayley Hodson, who had 13 kills, 11 digs and five block assists. Bugg, by the way, was lethal with her lefty dump, adding five kills and a team-high 14 digs.
Nittany Lions cruise at home
Penn State, attracting a nice crowd and the huge volleyball band, made short work of No. 21 Colorado 25-19, 25-21, 25-18. It left Colorado coach Liz Kritza looking for answers from her team that has shown some serious up-and-down tendencies so far as the Buffs fell to 2-2 and prepare for Illinois today.
Outside Alexis Austin, one of only two seniors on the Colorado roster, and freshman Naghede Abu led the Buffs with eight kills apiece, but they hit .055 against Penn State.
Two-time defending NCAA-champion Penn State has a new look but had the same results. The Nittany Lions (5-0) out blocked Colorado 13-3 and young players were huge. Sophomore middle Heidi Thelen had seven block assists and senior right side Aiyana Whitney had four block assists and sophomore middle Haleigh Washington had three and a solo. And Washington was huge on offense, getting eight kills in 16 swings with no errors.
“I thought it was a competitive, but not necessarily well played match,” head coach Russ Rose said. “But you have to feel good about not playing your best and winning, and hope that you can improve.”
Every year in December, it seems, Penn State plays Stanford when it matters, but these early season match-ups sure are fun and today’s should be well worth watching on the Big Ten Network.
Texas, Florida win, play today
In Austin in another great four-team matchup, the dry question can be asked: You think Ebony Nwanebu transferring from USC to Texas will make a difference?
This is the story from the Texas side:
“No. 3 Texas Volleyball defeated No. 4 Nebraska in a five-set thriller, 3-2 (25-17, 21-25, 25-15, 23-25, 15-11) at Gregory Gym on Friday evening.
Ebony Nwanebu posted a team-high 22 kills on a .315 hitting percentage, while also recording a career-high 17 digs and no receiving errors, four blocks and two assists.”
Wow. Talk about a debut after returning to her home state.
Senior Amy Neal had 12 kills and junior Chiaka Ogbogu had eight blocks.
Nebraska junior outside Kadie Rolfzen had 15 kills and 13 digs. Senior middles Cecilia Hall and Meghan Haggerty each had 10 kills and three blocks.
Meanwhile, the other No. 4 team, Florida, swept No. 11 Oregon, 25-18, 25-19, 25-20, as senior middle middle Simone Antwi hit .867.
Oregon, which plays Nebraska today, got 12 kills from sophomore outside Taylor Agost and nine from senior outside Martenne Bettendorf.
Oregon plays Nebraska today and then Texas-Florida should get Gregory rocking.
Arizona State comes up big
The No. 15 Sun Devils won at No. 9 Colorado State 25-17, 25-21, 25-20.
Wisconsin tops North Carolina
In another matchup of ranked teams, No. 13 Wisconsin swept No. 18 North Carolina, which is finding the early season really tough. The Wisconsin recap is here.
Wisconsin plays host Louisville today, while North Carolina gets Minnesota.