Power Rankings: Huskies' eyes on prize

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Middle blocker Lianna Sybeldon was named Pac-12 offensive player of the week after leading Washington to wins over USC and UCLA in Los Angeles.

Washington's volleyball squad has had to keep a balance all season of not thinking too much about something it can't help but think about at least a little.

The volleyball national championship will be decided at Seattle's KeyArena in December, and the Huskies' program has been building toward this year for the past few seasons. It's pretty much not a final four without at least one Pac-12 team, and Washington aims to be the last one standing.

But it's not something the Huskies can dwell on. They have to focus on the process, because -- as we've seen already this season -- the Pac-12 is a treacherous conference with a lot of potential upsets.

So far, the Huskies have lost only one match, and that was one of those aforementioned "potential" upsets that actually happened. Washington fell 3-1 at Colorado on Oct. 4.

But the Huskies have rallied back from that disappointment by winning their past seven matches. Last week, that included 3-1 victories over UCLA and USC on the always-tough trip to Los Angeles. That put Washington in first place in the conference at 9-1.

Washington sophomore middle blocker Lianna Sybeldon was named Pac-12 offensive player of the week for her work in the two wins, with a combined 27 kills and 12 blocks.

This weekend, the Huskies can get some revenge on the Buffaloes as Colorado visits Washington, along with Utah.

Here is this week's top 10 in the espnW power rankings:

1. Texas (16-2)

Texas has won 12 matches in a row. The Longhorns had sweeps last week of West Virginia and Kansas State -- two of their longer road trips of the Big 12 season -- and a 3-1 win Wednesday over TCU. Texas plays Oklahoma on the road Saturday. The Horns lead the Big 12 at 9-0.

2. Penn State (18-2)

As much as you can have an easy week in the Big Ten, the Nittany Lions did with sweeps of Ohio State and Iowa at home. There was some chaos in the Big Ten last week (see Michigan State in the Digs), but none of it involved Penn State. That might change this weekend, as the Nittany Lions travel to Michigan and Michigan State. Seven Big Ten schools are ranked in the American Volleyball Coaches Association poll, led by No. 2 Penn State.

3. Washington (17-1)

There is still a full month left of the regular season, including trips to Arizona, Arizona State, Stanford and Cal, but the Huskies can feel pretty good about where they are at this point and how they've positioned themselves in the Pac-12.

4. USC (19-3)

The Trojans weren't able to defend their home court against Washington last week. But Wednesday, USC went on the road and defeated Stanford in five sets, giving the Trojans a season sweep over the Cardinal for just the third time in program history. The Cardinal have had the better of that rivalry, with a 57-22 edge in the series coming into the match. But thanks in part to Natalie Hagglund's season-high 36 digs -- she is now USC's career leader in that category with 2,095 -- the Trojans got their first victory at Stanford's Maples Pavilion since 2006.

5. Missouri (25-0)

Are the Tigers too high at this spot? Probably. But they keep winning, and they've beaten Florida, so here they are. While last weekend was rough for the school -- the previously undefeated football team lost in double overtime to visiting South Carolina -- the volleyball Tigers beat LSU and Texas A&M on the road. Mississippi and Kentucky visit Mizzou this weekend.

6. Florida (20-2)

After suffering their first SEC loss of the season at Missouri on Oct. 20, the Gators bounced back with sweeps over Auburn and Tennessee. Florida travels to LSU and Texas A&M this weekend. And not to look too far ahead, but the Gators have a rematch with Missouri -- at home -- on Nov. 15.

7. Stanford (15-5)

The Cardinal bounced back from their tough loss to Washington by sweeping Oregon and Oregon State last week. But Wednesday was another loss, the second of the season to USC. Now the Trojans are in second place in the Pac-12 at 9-2, while the Cardinal are in third at 8-3.

8. Nebraska (16-4)

The Huskers fell out of our previous power rankings but are back in after beating Iowa and Ohio State last week and Illinois on Wednesday. Nebraska's Mary Pollmiller and Kadie Rolfzen were named Big Ten setter and freshman of the week, respectively. On Saturday, the Huskers face Northwestern.

9. San Diego (18-3)

After losses to BYU and Saint Mary's near the end of September, the Toreros were perfect in October. They swept Pepperdine on Wednesday and have won nine matches in a row. San Diego is 10-2 in the West Coast Conference and has a rematch with BYU on Nov. 23.

10. Colorado State (19-0)

The Rams remain undefeated and make their first appearance in our espnW power rankings this season. Colorado State is No. 9 in the AVCA poll, the program's highest ranking since 2004. The Rams are coming off sweeps of Fresno State and San Jose State and lead the Mountain West at 10-0.

Next five: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Hawaii, North Carolina, Michigan State

Digs

• It was a rough trip to the mainland for Hawaii, which lost at Cal State Northridge and UC Davis last week. The Rainbow Wahine are 16-4 and dropped five spots to 13th in the AVCA poll. Hawaii is also out of the espnW power rankings for the first time this season.

• Speaking of rough weeks, Michigan State lost twice at home in East Lansing. The first was 3-1 to rival Michigan, which is one of the Spartans' more emotional matches of the season. Perhaps feeling some hangover, they were upset 3-2 by last-place Indiana, which was previously winless in Big Ten play. That was a stunner. After winning 15 matches in a row, the Spartans have lost four straight -- and Penn State is visiting East Lansing on Saturday. Life in the Big Ten.

• North Carolina and Duke are tied atop the ACC at 9-1. The Blue Devils won their first showdown of the season, 3-0 on Oct. 11 in Chapel Hill. The rematch will be the season finale Nov. 29 in Durham.

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