Nebraska at Penn State tops busy slate after big night in the Mountain West, Big Sky

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Mallory Moran (13) leads the celebration as the Texas A&M Corpus Christi Islanders clinch the Southland Conference title Thursday night/TAMUCC photo

This is a big weekend in NCAA volleyball.

Many of the mid-major seasons are close to wrapping up, with conference tournaments and the NCAA Tournament bids that go to the winners looming large. Everyone wants to finish strong and jockey for position.

Speaking of jockeying for position, that’s happening all over the power-five conferences, with seeding, hosting and RPIs all at stake.

It follows a light Thursday where the big match of the night was Colorado State’s thrilling five-set victory over visiting UNLV. Since Boise State won at Utah State, it left the Broncos 11-2 and a half game ahead of Colorado State (10-2) and game up on UNLV (10-3).

The two ranked West Coast Conference teams both won, No. 7 San Diego sweeping St. Mary’s and No. 14 BYU doing the same to Pacific.

In the only power-five match of the night, Texas A&M beat Alabama.

First, a look at Friday’s slate:

Start with the Big Ten, where No. 1 Nebraska (20-1, 11-1) goes to No. 11 Penn State (17-6, 9-3) in what you know will be quite a battle. Penn State is coming off a tough road trip in which it lost in back-to-back nights at Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Also in the league, Illinois (14-9, 7-5), which fell out of the rankings, goes to No. 17 Michigan (18-6, 7-5), Northwestern (8-16, 1-11) plays at No. 16 Michigan State (19-5, 8-4) and Iowa (17-7, 7-5) goes to Rutgers (4-21, 0-12).

The Pac-12 has everyone in action, starting with No. 20 Oregon (15-6, 8-4) at No. 8 Washington (19-3, 9-3) in the only match with two ranked teams. No. 13 Stanford (14-6, 8-4) goes to Colorado (12-10, 4-8) , No. 9 UCLA (18-4, 9-3) is at Arizona (15-10, 7-5), No. 25 USC (15-9, 7-6) goes to Arizona State (9-15, 2-10), Cal (9-13, 3-9) is at No. 19 Utah (16-7, 7-5) and Oregon State (9-14, 2-10) plays at No. 23 Washington State (17-7, 7-5).

Everyone in the ACC is in action, including No. 12 North Carolina (19-3, 11-1) at Miami (11-13, 5-7) and No. 10 Florida State (18-3, 11-1) at home against NC State (14-10, 7-5). Duke (16-6, 10-2) and getting healthy, plays host to Louisville (7-15, 2-10). Georgia Tech (19-5, 10-2) entertains Virginia Tech (8-15, 3-9), while the other team in the chase, Notre Dame (18-6, 9-3),  goes to Wake Forest (9-14, 5-7).

Also, Syracuse (6-17, 5-8) is at Virginia (5-19, 2-10) and Pittsburgh (17-7, 8-4), coming off that big upset of North Carolina and trying to stay in the NCAA mix, goes to Clemson (6-18, 1-11). Pitt is No. 30 in the RPI.

One of the SEC’s two ranked teams, No. 18 Kentucky (17-5, 10-1), plays at Auburn (13-11, 7-4). Missouri (19-4, 10-1) tries to keep pace with Kentucky and league-leader No 6 Florida (21-2, 11-1) when it goes to Tennessee (15-8, 5-5). Ole Miss (13-10, 2-8) plays at LSU (7-15, 2-9) and South Carolina (15-7, 3-7) goes to Mississippi State (12-13, 4-7).

There is only one match in the Big 12 as Iowa State (13-9, 5-5) goes to Texas Tech (10-16, 0-11).

There’s a big one in Honolulu when No. 15 Hawai’i (16-5, 9-1 Big West) plays host to Long Beach State (16-8, 10-1) in a win-or-else situation for the visitors. Long Beach, left out of last year’s NCAA field, is currently ranked No. 55 in the RPI, so clearly the 49ers have to win at Hawai’i and win the Big West to get a bid.

No. 21 Western Kentucky (24-2, 11-0 Conference USA)  plays host to Rice (17-9, 2-9).

No. 24 Dayton (24-1, 10-0 Atlantic 10) goes to Duquesne (17-9, 7-4). And No. 25 Creighton (18-6, 12-0 Big East) opens a six-match homestand against Butler (16-12, 5-7).

For a complete look at Friday’s matches — there are 104 are the schedule — you can click here to look at the overall list or break it down by conferences. We will have a complete roundup on Saturday plus the usual preview.

West Coast Conference: USD, BYU both sweep

Junior opposite Jayden Kennedy led with 14 kills as the Toreros improved to 20-3, 11-1 WCC, by routing St. Mary’s 25-15, 25-23, 25-18. Lauren Schad had 13 kills and hit .611 for USD.

BYU blasted Pacific 25-15, 25-20, 25-1 and is 21-3, 10-2. Whitney Young Howard led the Cougars with a career-high tying 12 kills while hitting .600.

Colorado State puts up the double block against UNLV's Katie Oleksak/CSU photo
Colorado State puts up the double block of Olivia Nicholson (left) and Alexandra Poletto against UNLV’s Alyssa Wing/CSU photo

Mountain West: Colorado State wins, but Boise moves into first

The Rams (16-7, 10-3) are usual looking down at the rest of the Mountain West field, but this year they’re grinding all the way. In their 20-25, 25-18, 25-21, 17-25, 15-11 win over visiting UNLV (21-4, 10-3) they got a career-high 18 kills from Kirstie Hillyer, who hit .533, and a career-high 15 more from Alexandra Poletto. Hillyer also had four block assists and a solo.

“It was a really good match for our team as competitors,” CSU coach Tom Hilbert said. “We had some good moments and some not so good moments, but we won a fifth set playing extremely well for the entire fifth set. That is something we needed and I am glad it happened and now we beat UNLV and we move on.”

Bree Hammel led UNLV with 23 kills and had 12 digs.

“I am going to start off by giving some props to Bree Hammel,“ Hilbert said, “because last time we played them, we were in the same match-up we were in the first four sets, and we did a pretty good job with her. We had no answer and it is puzzling and you think, maybe she just has momentum or whatever, but she was killing everything she touched and we should be a better blocking team than that.”

“This one stings,” UNLV coach Cindy Fredrick said. “We played a great match and really just lost it when Colorado State got to 12 in the fifth. Alexis (Patterson) had a great match offensively and setting. Bree (Hammel) and Alyssa (Wing) hit well tonight, and our three defensive specialists played good defense. We just didn’t finish the fifth set, we gave away three points at the end.”

Boise State (20-6, 11-2) meanwhile was beating Utah State 25-21, 25-10, 25-18  for its ninth win in a row to take the league lead.

“I’m excited that we won the match tonight, Utah State is a good team,” Boise State coach Shawn Garus said. “I was worried about this match coming down here, they battled us hard in Boise. We swept them in three but each set was decided by two points. It was an overall team victory tonight and its goes back to how hard we practiced, how everyone is buying in and giving their all everyday. Now we will take sometime off this weekend to rest and heal before we focus on the final stretch with four of our last five at home.”

Sierra Nobley continued to lead the Broncos. She had 14 kills, 10 digs, an assist and two blocks. Sabryn Roberts added 13 kills and had four blocks.

Big Sky: NAU, Sacramento State, UND, UNC all keep pace

Northern Arizona, which leads the South Division, improved to 21-5, 11-2 by sweeping Weber State, while Sacramento State (16-11, 10-3) stayed a game back by beating Montana State in four.

In the North, North Dakota swept Eastern Washington to improve to 20-9, 11-2, while Northern Colorado (16-9, 10-3) also stayed a game back by beating Idaho.

Also, Texas A&M Corpus Christi won the Southland conference title for the second straight season by improving to 18-7, 13-0 after sweeping McNeese State.

“It’s a really good feeling,” first-year coach Steve Greene said. “We’ve been working really hard and plugging away over the past few weeks. To go 13-0 and clinch the conference with three matches left is a testament to the resiliency of the team and their competitive fire to get the first of our three major goals.”

Brittany Gilpin led the Islanders with 11 kills and hit .321.

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