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Big Ten volleyball notebook: Mid-season checkups

BY CARLOS SOSA | OCTOBER 23, 2012 6:30 AM

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The first half of the Big Ten volleyball season culminated on Sunday with Iowa’s loss to Northwestern in straight sets at Welsh-Ryan Arena. Here’s a look at where some teams stand after 10 out of 20 conference matches:

Midseason Winners: No. 1 Penn State (20-1, 10-0 Big Ten)

Penn State and Nebraska are ranked one and two in the Big Ten in the sport’s most important statistic of hitting percentage. The Nittany Lions also have arguably the best setter in the Big Ten in Micha Hancock. She doesn’t lead the Big Ten in assists — she ranks 6th in assists per set — but she guides the No. 1 team in the nation and has won the conference Setter of the Week award four times. Her play helps such stalwarts as juniors Deja McClendon and Ariel Scott excel at killing the ball.

No. 4 Nebraska (17-2, 9-1)

Nebraska, on the other hand, will try to continue its dominance en route to a Big Ten championship. To do that, however, the Huskers will have to beat Ohio State and the Nittany Lions this upcoming weekend.

“This is certainly, for us, a big weekend if we want to compete for a Big Ten championship,” Nebraska head coach John Cook said in a press conference on Monday. “We can’t look past Ohio State.”

Bottom of the Big Ten: Indiana (10-12, 2-8)

Indiana is on a two-game winning streak, but those victories were the Hoosier’s first conference wins of the year. Before Indiana’s first conference victory over then-No. 17 Purdue on Oct. 16, it hadn’t won since Sept. 15.

Iowa (10-12, 2-8)

The Hawkeyes have had their own problems while trying to find an identity on the court. Besides their wins over Indiana and then-No. 12 Purdue, the Hawkeyes have only won five sets since conference play started.

Surprise strugglers: No. 21 Purdue (14-7, 5-5)

Purdue is still a nationally ranked team, but it’s streaking downward mightily as Big Ten play continues. The Boilermakers started conference play strong with a 4-0 record. But in its last six games, Purdue is 1-5 with losses against both Indiana and Iowa.

“I thought we could be 6-4,” Boilermaker head coach Dave Shondell said in a video release. “We’re going to move forward and have six home matches in the last ten games which will be helpful.”

Illinois (10-10, 4-6)

Illinois, meanwhile, began the season ranked No. 7. Now, it’s barely receiving votes.

The Fighting Illini’s sub-.500 Big Ten record is a drastic change from their 16-4 conference record last year. Illinois ranks third in hitting percentage in the Big Ten and is fourth in kills and assists, but it hasn’t been able to translate that into wins.

“The kids are pretty resilient,” head coach Kevin Hambly said in a release after the team’s loss to Nebraska on Sunday. “They want to make the tournament, they want to fight for that, so they know what they have to do to get there.”

Surprise success: Ohio State (15-7, 6-4)

Ohio State has held its own in a tough conference. Its four losses have come to teams all ranked in the top-20. The Buckeyes have won the games they’re supposed to win — beating Iowa, Northwestern, Indiana, and Wisconsin. Ohio State also beat then-No. 21 Illinois and most recently a stingy Michigan State team. The Buckeyes owe much of their solid play to an offense that ranks first in assists and kills in the Big Ten.


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