For many of the NCAA Division I volleyball conferences, Friday marks the start of the second half of their respective league seasons.
There are some big matches on Friday’s 112-match slate when almost all the ranked teams are in action.
Thursday was a big night for a handful of mid-majors, as both division leaders in the MAC — Northern Illinois and Miami — won to stay unbeaten in league play at 11-0 — and UNLV won again to stay atop the Mountain West.
First a look at Friday’s biggest matches:
In the Big Ten, all eight of its ranked teams are in action in a league where two teams are tied for first and three others are two games back and tied for fourth. The big one is No. 10 Penn State (17-4, 9-1) at No. 4 Wisconsin (16-3, 8-2). Wisconsin is No. 2 in the RPI, while Penn State is ranked only No. 22, so it’s a chance for a big road statement for the Nittany Lions.
No. 1 Nebraska (18-1, 9-1) plays host to No. 24 Illinois (14-7, 7-3) and No. 3 Minnesota (15-4, 7-3) is at home for Rutgers (4-19, 0-10), which has won one set in league play this season.
No. 13 Michigan (18-4, 7-3) is at Purdue (13-8, 3-7), which finally fell out of the AVCA poll this week. No. 15 Michigan State (17-5, 6-4) goes to Indiana, while Maryland (10-13, 2-9), which beat the Buckeyes in Maryland on Wednesday, returns the favor and goes to No. 19 Ohio State (14-9, 4-7). And Northwestern (8-14, 1-9) goes to Iowa (15-7, 5-5).
The big one in the Pac-12 — which had three teams tied for second — features No. 18 Washington State (17-5, 7-3) at No. No. 17 Stanford (13-6, 7-3).
League leader No. 7 Washington (18-3, 8-3) plays host to Cal (8-12, 2-8).
No. 12 UCLA (16-4, 7-3) entertains Colorado (12-8. 4-6), Arizona (13-9, 5-5) goes to No. 20 Oregon (14-5, 7-3), No. 21 Utah (15-6, 6-4) goes to No. 24 USC (14-7, 6-4) and in the only match not involving ranked teams, Arizona State (8-14, 1-9) goes to Oregon State (8-13, 1-9).
The ACC has a full slate, starting with No. 8 North Carolina (18-2, 10-0) at Virginia Tech (8-13, 3-7) and No. 11 Florida State (16-3, 2-8) at Louisville.
Notre Dame (18-4, 9-1) plays host to Miami (9-13, 3-7), while Georgia Tech (18-5, 9-2) goes for its ninth win in a row when it plays host to Virginia (4-17, 1-9). Also, Wake Forest is at Syracuse, NC State is at Pittsburgh and Duke goes to Boston College.
There are three SEC matches on tap, including No. 9 Florida playing host to Ole Miss. Tennessee is at Alabama and LSU goes to South Carolina.
The Big 12 has the night off, but Saturday No. 2 Texas plays at No. 6 Kansas.
No. 14 Hawai’i (14-5, 7-1) is back on the mainland when it goes to UC Riverside, while league-leader Long Beach State 14-7, 8-0) is home for UC Irvine.
The two ranked West Coast Conference teams are at BYU on Friday. No. 5 San Diego goes to No. 16 BYU. USD swept the Cougars in San Diego earlier this season.
No. 23 Western Kentucky tries to keep its stranglehold on Conference USA when the Lady Toppers (22-2, 9-0) go to Marshall.
It’s a busy, busy night for the mid-majors, including Dayton (23-1, 9-0) entertaining Saint Louis (12-2, 7-2) and the nation’s kills leader in Danielle Rygelski in a key Atlantic 10 matchup.
Wichita State, ranked 32 in the RPI, has a Missouri Valley match with Northern Iowa and Marquette, 35 RPI, goes to Villanova.
MAC-tion: NIU, Miami keep dominating
NIU lost the first but bounced back for a 19-25, 26-24, 25-19, 25-20 victory at Western Michigan. Coach Ray Gooden’s team, he pointed out, is simply keeping pace with the top team in the other division, Miami. That’s because Miami won its 18th consecutive match, which tied the school record, by beating visiting Bowling Green.
NIU is 19-4, 11-0, atop the West Division. Miami’s record is identical and the Red Hawks sit atop the East Division.
Mary Grace Kelly led NIU with 23 kills, tying her career best, while hitting a career-high .564. She also had 11 digs. Jenna Radtke added 10 kills.
“Every place in our league, their home court is very difficult and her at Western Michigan it is no different,” NIU coach Ray Gooden said. “It’s always been a big challenge for us because they bring a lot of energy and there’s a great atmosphere so for us to battle through, especially in that first set, and then to rally through the next three was big for us.”
Miami sophomore setter Mackenzie Zielinski had 18 assists and a team-high 19 digs. Junior libero Maeve McDonald had 18 digs. Sophomore outside hitter Stela Kukoc led with 10 kills and Maris Below had eight.
UNLV gets its 20th
The Rebels beat visiting San Jose State, which was coming off a big victory over Colorado State. The 25-20, 26-24, 25-13 victory left UNLV 20-3 and 9-2, tied with Boise State at the top of the Mountain West.
Boise State won at Nevada 32-30, 25-22, 25-22 and is 18-6, 9-2. Both UNLV and Boise are a half game ahead of Colorado State (14-7, 8-2) and a game up on Wyoming (15-9, 7-3).
CSU was off on Thursday, while Wyoming beat Utah State 20-25, 25-14, 25-20, 25-23.
UNLV, 28th in the RPI, got 13 kills from Alyssa Wing, who hit .600. Bree Hammel had 11 kills and four blocks, one solo.
“Our defense set the pace tonight with solid blocking and really good digs,” UNLV coach Cindy Fredrick said. “The hitting was solid with few errors. Alyssa’s kills were so strong tonight and Alexis (Patterson) was very active offensively, as well. It was a good, overall team performance tonight.”
Boise State, 37th in the RPI, got 19 kills from Sierra Nobley, who hit .415. Kaitlyn Oliver had 12 kills and hit .524.
“I thought this was an overall good team victory, everyone contributed to this win tonight,” Boise coach Shawn Garus said. “Nevada is a really good team, they beat us earlier in Boise, so we knew it was going to be tough tonight. Both teams played hard and for us to get this sweep down here speaks volumes to how hard we worked in practice this week and how far we’ve come this season, improving each week. I can’t say enough about how proud I am of this team tonight. Now we have to turn our focus to San Diego State on Saturday.”
Also Thursday Northern Arizona lost for only the second time in league play as it got swept at Sacramento State 25-15, 25-18, 25-19. It dropped the Lumberjacks, who still maintain first in the North, to 19-5 overall, 9-2 in the Big Sky. Sacramento State is 14-11, 8-3.
Also in the Big Sky, Idaho put an end to Idaho State’s seven-match win streak.