The race for the Big Ten conference title in volleyball suddenly looks a little different after last week. Nebraska is now just a week away from two matches that will determine the team's championship aspirations.
Wisconsin was rolling along with a 12-0 conference record before losing against unranked Ohio State last week, shrinking the gap between the Badgers and three other teams -- Nebraska, Minnesota and Penn State -- chasing the top.
With three weeks remaining in the league season, Minnesota and Wisconsin are tied for first place with 13-1 records. Nebraska and Penn State are just one match back at 12-2.
Nebraska will play Minnesota and Wisconsin next week. Nebraska coach John Cook said he’ll be telling his players to look at the end of regular season just like the NCAA Tournament, where you have to win six matches to win the championship.
If Nebraska can go 6-0 to end the Big Ten season, they’ll also be champions.
Wisconsin looked solid sweeping Nebraska last month, but the Badgers' loss to Ohio State changed things.
“I think it puts everybody in a group now,” Cook said. “Wisconsin was kind of separated, and now they’re kind of back in the group. It’s all going to shake out in the next three weeks.”
Several of the best matches of the Big Ten season are still to be played. Seventh-ranked Wisconsin plays at No. 5 Minnesota on Thursday, and the Badgers also have to play No. 8 Penn State.
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Minnesota has to play three top-10 teams: Wisconsin, Nebraska and Penn State.
“There is some great matches here in the next three weeks,” Cook said. “If you look at where the top four or five teams are, everybody is playing everybody here down the stretch.”
Huskers move up: Nebraska has moved up one spot to No. 6 in the new coaches’ poll released on Monday. Nebraska has been in the top 10 all season. NU travels to Michigan State on Wednesday, and hosts Iowa on Saturday.
Texas is ranked No. 1, followed by Pittsburgh, Baylor and Stanford. Creighton dropped from No. 9 to No. 14 after last week’s loss against Villanova.
National team won’t be in Lincoln: Fans wanting to see the United States women’s national team play next summer will have to travel to Wichita, Kansas. The last two years Lincoln has hosted matches in the FIVB Volleyball Nations League, but Wichita was chosen to host the matches played in the U.S. in 2020. The matches will be June 9-11.
Lincoln had hoped to host tournament again because of 2020 being an Olympic Games year and submitted information. Several former Nebraska volleyball players, including Jordan Larson, Kelsey Robinson, Mikaela Foecke and Justine Wong-Orantes, will likely be competing for one of the 12 spots on the U.S. Olympic team.
Hard hits: During Nebraska’s win against Iowa last week, Lauren Stivrins hit a ball on a quick middle attack so powerful that the back-row defender couldn’t get her hands up fast enough, hitting her in the face.
Those plays are more common now because the players are more athletic.
“You’re seeing it happen more and more,” Cook said. “We train on getting our hands up in front of them. I’ve been saying for a couple years now that the women’s game is becoming more like the men’s game. It’s more physical. They hit the ball harder. So you’re going to see more and more of that. I’ve seen two shots against us — Kenzie Knuckles against Stanford and (Lexi Sun’s) shot she took (against Northwestern). Those were heavy-duty shots.”