Upsets abound last week, but Stanford rules
The last month of volleyball's regular season got started with some rather entertaining chaos -- although it wasn't very fun if you were one of the ranked teams that began November with an upset (or two).
This past weekend was a rough one especially for Nebraska and Oregon, while UCLA, USC and Florida State were also stung.
The good news for the teams feeling a bit down now is there's time to regain their mojo: the NCAA tournament selection is still 2½ weeks away on Sunday, Nov. 25, at 4 p.m. ET on ESPNU.
Then there's Stanford, which has enjoyed clear sailing since the start of September. The Cardinal's only losses were back-to-back: at Hawaii on Aug. 26 and at Penn State on Aug. 31. At that point, Stanford's stellar freshman class was just getting started, and doing so against two of the best teams in the country -- who also have two of the most formidable home-court advantages.
But beginning with a Sept. 1 victory over Florida (on Penn State's court), the Cardinal have won 20 matches in a row. It's Stanford's longest winning streak since 1999 -- and the longest under coach John Dunning while at Stanford. (He took over there for the 2001 season after 16 years and two NCAA titles at Pacific.)
The Cardinal entered this season with very high hopes, but still heaviness in their hearts. In March, outside hitter Sam Wopat died after a suicide attempt, leaving a grieving team that included her twin sister, Carly Wopat.
Stanford's players wear the initials "SW" on their uniforms, and, of course, have Sam in their thoughts. Carly told reporters before this season began, "Personally, she's always in my heart and my mind. I know that every point, every game, every match, I'll be playing for her, and I know the team will be, too."
Carly, a 6-foot-2 junior middle blocker, has played extremely well this season. She leads the Cardinal with 245 kills, 114 total blocks (14 solos) and a .405 hitting percentage. She was named Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week on Monday.
The rookies also have been huge for Stanford, and they come from across the country. Hitter Jordan Burgess (Fort Myers, Fla.) has 244 kills, middle blocker Inky Ajanaku (Tulsa, Okla.) has 200 kills and 97 total blocks, hitter Brittany Howard (Los Altos, Calif.) has 185 kills and setter Madi Bugg (Apex, N.C.) has 700 assists. Another freshman, Megan McGehee (Lee's Summit, Mo.), is getting valuable learning experience as a middle blocker.
Stanford, 14-0 in the Pac-12, has six regular-season matches left, including at USC and UCLA. That trip, Nov. 15-16, is likely the biggest thing that stands between Stanford and a perfect record in a very difficult league.
1. Stanford (22-2)This past Sunday's matchup between the No. 1 Cardinal and No. 2 Oregon didn't live up to billing, although it did bring 5,000-plus fans out to watch in Eugene, Ore. Stanford won in a sweep -- 25-20, 25-22, 25-21 -- despite not having Burgess. The freshman is day-to-day with an ankle injury she suffered in Stanford's 3-0 win at Oregon State on Friday. Meanwhile, Brittany Howard was named Pac-12 Freshman of the Week. The Cardinal host Washington State and Washington this week.
2. Penn State (23-2)The Nittany Lions bounced back well after their lone Big Ten loss, Oct. 28 at Nebraska. They beat Minnesota and Wisconsin, with outside hitter Ariel Scott and setter Micha Hancock both earning Big Ten weekly honors Monday. Penn State leads the Big Ten at 13-1, and this week hosts Illinois and Northwestern.
3. Texas (20-3)Last week I put Texas here but still wondered if it was too high a spot. No qualifiers this week for the Longhorns, who are also third now in the AVCA poll. All the upsets elsewhere helped solidify Texas' jump. The Longhorns swept TCU and Kansas State last week, with Bailey Webster and Molly McCage earning Big 12 weekly honors. Texas, 12-0 in the Big 12, has four matches left for a perfect league record. But two of them are on the road: at Kansas this Saturday and at Iowa State on Nov. 24.
4. Hawaii (21-2)UCSB and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo were the latest to fall to the Rainbow Wahine, who are 14-0 in the Big West, have clinched the league title and show no signs of slowing down. Emily Hartong, who was AVCA national player of the week last week, hit a season-high .619 against the Mustangs on Saturday. Hawaii plays a nonconference matchup with BYU-Hawaii this week, then takes its last Big West road trip of the season to Pacific and UC Davis on Nov. 16-17.
5. Washington (19-4)This past weekend in Seattle, the Huskies swept Colorado but had to go the distance to beat Utah, taking the fifth set 15-11. Wednesday, the Huskies travel to Cal for a match at 10 p.m. ET on ESPNU. Thursday, the Huskies visit No. 1 Stanford. Then they have a little more than a week to prepare to host Oregon. Washington is tied with UCLA and USC at 10-4 in Pac-12 play, behind Stanford and Oregon.
6. Oregon (20-3)The big weekend didn't go well for the Ducks. They knew to be wary of Cal, despite the Bears' .500 record coming into their match in Eugene, Ore., last Friday. But Cal still got the 3-2 upset, led by Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week Kat Brown. The Ducks seemed to be feeling the lingering effects of that disappointment when they were swept by Stanford on Sunday. But Oregon is still in second place in the Pac-12 at 11-3 and hosts Arizona State and Arizona this weekend.
7. UCLA (18-5)Arizona is 13-12 overall and 5-9 in Pac-12 play, but the Wildcats have played well against the Bruins in recent years. Arizona's sweep of UCLA last Friday was the Wildcats' third win in their past four meetings with the Bruins. UCLA did bounce back from that to beat Arizona State 3-1. The Bruins are at Colorado and Utah this weekend.
8. USC (22-4)On the same night city rival UCLA was upset in a sweep at Arizona, the Trojans were getting the very same treatment from Arizona State, which is 16-11 overall and 5-9 in the Pac-12. Then USC rallied and beat Arizona on Sunday, led by freshman Samantha Bricio's 18 kills and 10 digs. The Trojans travel to Utah and Colorado this weekend.
9. Nebraska (18-5)Talk about a lost weekend. The momentum the Huskers had after their emotional win over Penn State on Oct. 28 dissipated with their 3-2 losses at both Michigan and Michigan State. Senior Hannah Werth injured her ankle during the loss to the Wolverines and didn't return for the conclusion of that match. She didn't play at all against the Spartans, and her absence was very large -- both with the Huskers' defense and energy level/confidence. Nebraska hopes to have her back for home matches this weekend against Indiana and Purdue.
10. Minnesota (20-5)The Gophers are now in second place in the Big Ten at 11-3. They lost 3-1 at league leader Penn State last weekend, but bounced back to win 3-2 at Ohio State. This weekend, Minnesota has the same trip that wounded Nebraska last week: Michigan State and Michigan. And the Gophers still have one more matchup left with the Huskers: Nov. 16 in Minneapolis.
• Last week was great for North Carolina, which beat ACC leaders Miami and Florida State back-to-back. The Hurricanes and Seminoles are still tied for first at 13-2 in the league, but the Tar Heels are right behind at 12-3. UNC's Emily McGee and Paige Neuenfeldt were ACC Player and Freshman of the Week, respectively.
• Arizona sophomore Ronni Lewis got the call to make her first start of the season at libero last Friday against UCLA because teammate Candace Nicholson was sick. Lewis responded with a career-high 20 digs in the upset of the Bruins.
• Dayton, which is No. 12 in the AVCA poll this week, is one match away from a perfect record in the Atlantic 10 regular season. The Flyers play at Xavier on Saturday. Then the A-10 tournament is Nov. 16-18.