No team in the country is playing at higher level right now than ninth-ranked Penn State.
The Nittany Lions won their 15th match in a row on Wednesday. Their sweep of visiting Ohio State 25-21, 25-20, 25-17 left Penn State 17-3 overall and all alone atop the Big Ten standings at 9-0, while the No. 19 Buckeyes dropped to 13-8, 3-6 after their fourth loss in five matches.
The other ranked teams in action Wednesday all won, including No. 2 Texas, No. 11 Michigan State, No. 12 Florida State, No. 16 Michigan and No. 18 Washington State.
First a look ahead to Thursday, where the schedule includes No. 5 San Diego, the top-ranked team in the VolleyballMag.com Mid-Major Poll, entertaining Loyola Marymount, 14th in the VBM Poll. The first time the two West Coast Conference teams played, on September 27 at LMU, the Toreros rallied from an 0-2 deficit to win in five. USD (17-2, 8-0), currently in a 10-match win streak, has won five in a row since then.
The other ranked team in the WCC, No. 16 BYU (4 in VBM), plays host to Pepperdine. Santa Clara, No. 20 in the VBM Poll, goes to Pacific.
In the only Big 12 match on Thursday, No. 6 Kansas plays host to West Virginia.
The Big Ten has the night off, but Friday all eyes will be on Lincoln as No. 4 Wisconsin goes to top-ranked Nebraska. Also, No. 3 Minnesota goes to Iowa, No. 22 Illinois is at home for Indiana, and No. 24 Purdue goes to Northwestern.
The Big Ten “is the strongest it’s ever been,” Penn State coach Russ Rose said.
The Pac-12 is quiet Thursday, but Friday’s matches include No. 14 Stanford at No. 15 UCLA. Also, Oregon State is at Colorado, No. 18 Washington State is at Arizona, Cal goes to No. 25 USC, No. 23 Oregon plays at Utah and No. 7 Washington is at Arizona State.
The ACC and SEC also have Thursday off.
Among the hotter mid-majors in action Thursday, Colorado State, the 10th-ranked team in the VBM poll, goes to San Jose State. VBM No. 19 UNLV is at Air Force, New Mexico State goes to Utah Valley, Texas A&M Corpus Christi plays at New Orleans, and Northeastern goes to James Madison.
Nittany Lions rolling
Penn State outblocked Ohio State 11-4 in a match that served as Penn State’s annual “Dig Pink” match. Thanks to the fans’ contributions and bids at the team’s silent auction, the contingent managed to raise over $4,000 to the Side-Out Foundation, a support and advocacy organization that unites volleyball players and coaches to work toward the common goal of furthering breast cancer awareness, education and patient services.
Redshirt freshman Tori Gorrell had six blocks while adding five kills and hit .500. Junior Haleigh Washington had 10 kills, hit . 769 and had three blocks. Junior Simone Lee added 12 kills, three blocks and had three digs.
“I think we’re playing better as a team,” said Rose, in his 38th year at Penn State. “Different match-ups, different players being asked to do different things and I think it’s been a pretty good team effort.”
Ohio State got 15 kills from senior Taylor Sandbothe, who hit .429. Valeria Leon had nine digs and tied Sacey Gordon (2001-04) for the all-time program lead with 1,575 digs.
Michigan State swept hapless Rutgers 25-15, 25-13, 26-16 to improve to 17-3, 6-3. Chloe Reinig and Holly Toliver had 10 kills apiece to lead the Spartans. Their team hit a season-high .463 as Rutgers dropped to 4-18, 0-9.
“We’ve enjoyed a lot of success here at home, and tonight was a continuation of that. We hit well, and were able to get a lot of our bench in to get some experience,” MSU coach Cathy George said, “which will really make us deeper and better in the long run. We now get to spend the rest of the week on preparing for a big match at Ohio State on Saturday, and they will certainly have that match circled on their calendars after losing to us here at Jenison earlier this year.”
Maryland continues to be so close but so far in the Big Ten and it happened again Wednesday, as visiting Michigan came back to win 21-25, 21-25, 25-18, 25-14, 18-16.
Ally Davis led Michigan with 16 kills and hit .400. Setter MacKenzi Welsh had a career-high 55 assists and 14 digs as her team won a five-setter for the first time this season.
The fifth set had 11 ties and six lead changes.
Freshman outside hitter Gia Milana led Maryland with a career-high with 22 kills. Sophomore libero Kelsey Wicinski had 26 digs while senior middle blocker Ashlyn MacGregor had nine blocks.
“I was really pleased with the grit that our young team showed,” Maryland coach Steve Aird said. “That’s the No. 16 team in the country – I think they proved their talent by coming back and battling to win the match. Our kids fought hard tonight. We got young a little bit at the end of the fifth set, but they’re getting great experience. I was really proud of how they fought to the end.”
Texas thumps TCU, Baylor wins
The Longhorns continued their dominance of the Big 12 with their 25-23, 25-21, 25-17 win over visiting TCU.
Texas, 15-2 and 7-0 in the league, got 13 kills from Micaya White and 10 each from Paulina Prieto Cerame and Morgan Johnson, who also had five blocks.
“This is the game they circle on the calendar. I am most pleased with my team in game three tonight—this is the first time our offense hasn’t clicked as well and our defense made up for it,” Texas coach Jerritt Elliott said. “That’s what a good team does—makes up for offense on the defensive side.”
Natalie Gower led TCU with eight kills and Regan McGuire added six and hit .462 as their team fell to 10-8, 2-6.
“The first two sets, we were really in the thick of it and I was really happy with the way we performed.,” TCU coach Jill Kramer said. “We were just talking about it in the locker room, that is some of the best volleyball we have played in quite a while. We are going in a really good direction.”
Baylor had to go five to win at Iowa State 19-25, 25-19, 26-28, 25-15, 15-6. It left the Bears 17-6, 5-2 after their fifth consecutive victory, while Iowa State dropped to 10-9, 2-5. Baylor’s Katie Staiger posted a match-high 27 kills, adding 15 digs as her team improved to 6-2 in five-setters this season.
Florida State, Washington State, Mizzou score sweeps
FSU, trying to keep pace with ACC leader North Carolina, improved to 15-3, 8-1 in the ACC, by winning at Miami 25-12, 25-15, 25-22. The Seminoles were led by Milica Kubura (12 kills), Katie Horton (nine kills, nine digs) and Melanie Keil (nine total blocks).
“I am very pleased overall with the win,” FSU coach Chris Poole said. “We did some things on the court that have been a focal point in practice. We let down a little in the third set, but still finished off the match on the road against a big rival.”
It was a short turn-around between matches but Washington State snapped a three-match losing streak and improved to 16-5, 6-3 in the Pac-12) with a 25-21, 25-18, 25-20 win over Arizona State.
Kyra Holt led with 13 kills, hitting .393, and had WSU’s lone ace in addition to four blocks. McKenna Woodford, playing before family and friends from nearby Chandler, Ariz., had seven kills and two solo blocks. Taylor Mims added six kills (.333) and led the match with seven blocks.
ASU is 8-13, 1-8.
Missouri improved to 17-3, 8-0 in the SEC as it won for the 12th time in a row, a sweep of visiting LSU 25-15, 25-19, 25-19. Alyssa Munlyn led with nine blocks and Carly Kan had 12 kills and hit .346. It sets up a big SEC battle Sunday between the Tigers and No. 21 Kentucky for the top spot in the SEC.
Let’s go Peay
Austin Peay improved to 17-7, 8-1 in the Ohio Valley Conference, with a 22-25, 23-25, 25-16, 25-22, 15-8 comeback victory at Middle Tennessee. Junior Kaitlyn Teeter had 15 kills and who had missed nearly three weeks with an injury. It was the first time Austin Peay came back from an 0-2 deficit in almost four years.