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Volleyball: State of the B1G Conference

Everything you need to know to start watching conference play

B1G Ten season starts September 23rd so we should start studying and doing our homework. Don’t teachers always say you should start early? Isn’t that the way to earn an A+?

We’ll go team by team in the conference starting with the teams that will test Nebraska most. Note: the rank of key wins and losses are listed at the time the match was played, not current national ranking.

#7 Ohio State (4-4)

Key Wins: 3-1 vs #3 Louisville
3-0 vs #10 BYU
3-1 vs #5 Georgia Tech
Key Losses: 0-3 vs #1 Texas
1-3 vs #1 Texas
0-3 vs #15 San Diego
0-3 vs #12 Pitt

When OSU loses, they lose quick. They are yet to play a five set match this season and they have played in some competitive matches. What this means is they are not adjusting well during the match. When they win, they have executed the game plan well and when they lose the game plan was flawed or they didn’t execute well. But in either case, they don’t adjust much because they either can’t, or don’t need to.

The Buckeyes are unique in that they have ZERO transfer portal players. Their roster is very much the same as last year with five seniors and three juniors receiving most of the court time.

You will see Mac Podraza run the offense as their senior setter. She still sets Emily Londot and Gabby Gonzalez twice much as anyone else. Londot is a 6’3’’ heavy hitting right side and Gonzalez is a 6’3’’ heavy hitting left side...notice a trend? Riley Rader and Janaisya Moore handle the middle blocker responsibilities. Kylie Murr is the libero and a very very good one.

Ohio State is stacked with talent, oozing experience and coached well by Jen Flynn Oldenburg. But they keep hitting a wall, the one that separates very good programs from excellent programs. Not a title contender... yet. If they find the next gear, look out. Player for player there are no holes on this team and that is why there are the top of this list. If they all come to play the whole match, they can beat almost anyone.

#8 Minnesota (5-3)

Key Wins: 3-0 vs Baylor
3-1 vs Florida
3-1 vs Oregon
Key Losses: 0-3 vs #1 Texas
1-3 vs #22 Pepperdine
1-3 vs #9 Stanford

What you must know about Minnesota is Taylor Landfair is excellent. She is a 6’5’’ redshirt sophomore, and was the #1 recruit coming out of high school. She was shaky her freshman season, worked through injury last year, but this year she is rolling! She plays all six rotations and hits from everywhere.

She is not at the level of Stephanie Samedy but she has all the potential to be by her senior season. You remember Samedy, dominant right side hitter for the Gophers for the last five season and two time B1G Ten Player of the Year. She finally graduated and is playing professionally. So Landfair is stepping up and earning 4.35 kills per set. Minnesota will go as far as she takes them.

The second outside hitter is still Jenna Wenaas. She is a 6’1’’ junior that was named to the All Big Ten Second team last season. Ellie Husemann returns in the middle where she earns about one kill and block per set. She is a contributor to this team. Naya Gros joins in the middle as a 6’3’’ transfer from Michigan State.

Minnesota added Carter Booth to the roster as a freshman and she makes an impact at 6’7’’ and a good jumper. CC McGraw is back for another season as libero. She is one of the better liberos in the country and defiantly makes the Gophers a better passing team.

Minnesota goes as Landfair goes. If she has a great night, Nebraska will need to be in top form to win. Landfair can produce kills from most places on the court but she has yet to do it match after match. She lacks consistency. Her setter, Melani Shaffmaster is getting better at set distribution so when she gives everyone the ball, this team is very good.

#6 Wisconsin (6-2)

Key Wins: 3-0 vs #14 Kentucky
3-1 vs #24 Marquette
Key Losses: 2-3 vs #16 Baylor
2-3 vs #16 Florida

Wisconsin is running a 6-2 offensive system. You know all about those now after watching Nebraska’s last five matches. The advantage is you always have three hitters in the front row. The badgers had a very impactful transfer from Michigan State in Sarah Franklin. She was a first team all conference selection last season.

Caroline Crawford is also a transfer portal gift. A 6’3’’ middle from Kansas, she is a quick and athletic player. She is starting for Wisconsin alongside returning Badger Danielle Hart, a 6’4’’ middle blocker. Also returning and key to Wisconsin are Julia Orzol, 6’0’’ outside hitter, and Devyn Robinson, a 6’2’’ right side hitter, Anna Smrek, 6’9’’, is at middle blocker.

You are a good reader and noticed I listed three middle blockers. The 6-2 system allows the Badgers to move hitters around. Sometimes Smrek is in the middle and sometimes on the right side. In transition plays sometimes Robinson will stay on the right side while Smrek blocks middle. The Badgers are taking advantage of their 6-2 very well.

Wisconsin lost a bunch of talented players but they returned some very good players and added a couple great transfers. While this isn’t quite on par with last year’s championship team, they still put up a huge block and play very good floor defense.

The areas that get Wisconsin into trouble so far this season are serve receive and offense. Against Baylor, tough serving caused the Badgers all sorts of trouble and is the main reason they lost. The loss to Florida was because there were too many hitting errors and at times there were no players able to earn kills, they would send over an easy ball and Florida would jam it down their throat.

Wisconsin has had Nebraska’s number with an eight match winning streak. The mental preparation for Wisconsin is huge for Nebraska players. Nebraska absolutely has the talent and ability to beat Wisconsin or for that matter any team on this list but on any night one of these top teams could take advantage of an off night for the Huskers. That is why they play the game!

#9 Penn State (11-0)

Key Wins: 3-2 vs #11 Stanford
3-2 vs #18 Oregon
Penn State has not had the most challenging preconference schedule, but when they did face challenges they responded impressively. On back to back nights they played PAC-12 teams Stanford and Oregon and rose to the challenge beating them both. This is the first season since Coach Russ Rose retired. Former Penn State Assistant Coach Katie Schumacher-Cawley is leading the program and is off to a great start.

The Nittany Lions roster is very different than last season. They saw many players transfer away; Kaitlyn Hord to Nebraska, outside hitter Adanna Rollins to Kentucky, setter Gabby Blossom to San Diego and libero Jenna Hampton to University of South Carolina. Those were some big holes so Penn State went looked for transfers in as well.

They found outside hitter Zoe Weatherington from Utah. She leads the team with 2.74 kills per set so that was a pretty good find. Weatherington is powerful, fast and has a quick arm swing. They also found Seleisa Elisaia to run the offense as setter. She was a stand out setter for CSU Bakersfield. Taylor Trammell is a familiar name because she played middle for Purdue the last two seasons. The last transfer is outside hitter Kashauna Williams from Long Beach State.

So, each of these transfers is making an impact and they are tested against some very good teams, but what will this new era of volleyball look like at PSU? This is a long range question that will not be answered this season. This squad of mostly transfer players will challenge and compete in the B1G and is hungry to prove themselves.

Michigan (9-1) Receiving votes for the top 25

Key Win: none
Key Loss: 1-3 vs Duke
The Wolverines have essential players returning from last season which makes them dangerous but they haven’t had the preconference schedule to challenge them. Jess Mruzik is on the outside earning 3.74 kills per set and Jess Robinson is in the middle earning 2.70 kills per set. Robinson combines with May Pertofsky on the right side to block over 2 balls per set. The Wolverines return setter Maddie Dowd to run the offense.

One of the calling cards of last year’s Michigan squad was the ability to keep playing with a belief in winning no matter how far down they were. That belief makes a team dangerous no matter how much talent is on the other side of the net and no matter what the scoreboard says.

Michigan really hasn’t proven anything thus far in the season but if these players return with as much gut and heart as last season they will give Nebraska and every other team a real match each time they step on the court.

#11 Purdue (9-1)

Key Win: 3-1 vs Utah
Key Loss: 0-3 vs #4 Louisville

Purdue graduated everyone who was a contributor, and I mean everyone. The players that remain from last season were role players rather than consistent point scorers. They are led in attempts and kills per set by freshman outside hitter Eva Hudson. She averages 4.85 kills per set.

Purdue also added Hannah Clayton to the roster. she is a 6’2’’ middle blocker transfer from Iowa. She averages 1.97 kills per set.

When Purdue can get more production from their role players they are a much better team. Maddy Chin, Emma Ellis and Madeline Koch sometimes have high kill nights in the second outside position and other times they don’t. That is why all three of the move through that position, so Coach Shondell can find the right hitter for the right night.

Purdue could use the sneak attack to earn a win or two this season in the conference. The #11 team isn’t making waves on the national scene as much as they are riding in on the resume of past teams. They haven’t proven or disproven their rank. The B1G season will show their skill. They will end up lower than 11 but could steal a win from an off guard Nebraska or other top team.

Northwestern (11-1) Receiving votes for the top 25

Key win: 3-0 vs #24 Pepperdine
Key loss: 1-3 vs #13 Washington

Northwestern didn’t just beat Pepperdine, they beat them in three sets, 25-20, 25-18, 25-17 and got better over the course of the match. That is an impressive win that deserves a deeper look at this team.

Temi Thomas-Ailara is a dominate hitter that has been playing since her freshman year. She is now a senior that earned 12 kills and hit .400 against Pepperdine. She averages over 3.81 kills per set so she was right on track against Pepperdine. She is joined on the outside by Hanna Lesiak a 6’2’’ fifth year player.

Megan Miller, former Husker, continues to play libero for the Huskies in her fifth year of eligibility. She averages 3.8 digs per set.

Illinois (5-5) Receiving votes for the top 25
Illinois has three main hitters that carry the offensive load for the team. Raina Terry and Jessica Nunge both average over three kills per set on the outside. Kennedy Collins is in the middle and contributes both blocking and hitting.

Maryland (9-3)
Maryland is largely untested and I don’t see anything on their roster that tells me they will challenge for anything other than middle or lower part of the B1G.

Indiana (7-5)
Key Loss: 1-3 vs #21 Western Kentucky

Michigan State (9-2)
The Spartans have a new head coach after Kathy George retired. The new head coach Leah Johnson came from the head coach position and Illinois State where she took the team to the NCAA tournament the last four straight seasons.

Iowa (6-5)
The Hawkeyes hired Jim Barnes as the new head coach. He was previously at Tulane University for six years. He also was the head coach at Baylor University from 2004-15. A couple players followed him from Tulane.

Rutgers (6-6)
They have a very international roster with experienced players.

B1G play begins September 23rd. First up for Nebraska is Michigan State. GBR!