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Padding the Stats: Big Ten Volleyball Preview Power Rankings

September 22, 2021

The volleyball nonconference is officially in the books, and the Huskers dive into league play Wednesday night in Evanston.

After four weeks of nonconference play, six Big Ten teams are ranked, a seventh is receiving votes and 12 teams have winning records. However, Big Ten teams challenged themselves to varying degrees.

To help preview what is arguably the best conference in college volleyball year in and year out, I decided to power rank the teams — in tier form — based on roster talent and what they’ve accomplished thus far. Let’s dive in.

*Note: the rankings referenced below for opponents are what the team was ranked at the time of competition, not their current rankings.

Tier One (Wisconsin)

Wisconsin belongs in its own tier at this point. The Badgers, who have been ranked second all season long and have been receiving first-place votes each week, are the reigning Bg Ten champions who went undefeated in League play before falling in the Final Four.

The Badgers returned five of their eight seniors from last year’s team for an extra season, including four-time first-team All-American middle blocker Dana Rettke (3.54 kills per set on .569 hitting and 1.42 blocks per set this season) and the 2020-21 Big Ten Setter of the Year in Sydney Hilley (11.81 assists per set).

In total, the Badgers returned six All-Big Ten players (four first-team, two second-team) and have gotten an immediate impact from freshman outside hitter Julia Orzol (3.46 kills per set on .310 hitting).

Wisconsin (8-0) is first among all Big Ten teams in hitting (.356) and fourth in opponent hitting percentage (.140). The Badgers have four-set wins over No. 10 Baylor and No. 8 Kentucky and haven’t dropped a game outside of those two matches.

Right now, everyone in the Big Ten is looking up at Wisconsin.

Tier Two (Ohio State, Purdue)

Ohio State was the surprise of the Big Ten last season, finishing in fourth place in the Big Ten at 15-3, and the Buckeyes have continued to build on that success this year.

Ohio State is currently ranked third nationally at 10-0 with wins over No. 4 Washington, Texas Tech, Virginia and Notre Dame (twice). The Buckeyes are second among Big Ten teams in both hitting (.314) and opponent hitting (.126).

Outside hitter Emily Londot was the 2020-21 Big Ten Freshman of the Year and is leading the Ohio State attack once again at 3.68 kills per set on .294 hitting plus 1.03 blocks per set. All-Big Ten setter Mac Podraza is back (12.03 assists per set) as is second-team All-Big Ten libero Kylie Murr (4.68 digs per set this season). Junior outside hitter Gabby Gonzales has coming on strong 3.48 kills per set on .298 hitting) and middle blocker Rylee Radar, a second-team All-Big Ten pick last season, has been terrific (2.35 kills per set on .480 hitting and 1.09 blocks per set).

Purdue has been hanging out inside the top 10 this season as well, moving up into a tie for seventh in the latest poll. The Boilermakers went 14-6 last year and are off to a 8-1 start this season including wins over No. 25 Washington State and No. 22 Tennessee. Purdue’s only loss this season is to No. 10 Louisville, which has risen to No. 5 since.

Purdue is third in hitting (.314) and 11th in opponent hitting (.180). The Boilermakers placed four players on the All-Big Ten First Team last season, and all four are back. Grace Cleveland (3.63 kills per set on .369 hitting) and Caitlyn Newton (3.67 kills per set on .243 hitting)) form a tough one-two punch offensively, libero Jena Otec is the reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and Hayley Bush (11.11 assists per set) is a strong setter.

Tier Three (Minnesota, Nebraska)

Minnesota and Nebraska challenged themselves more than any other Big Ten team, facing five and four ranked opponents, respectively, and their records have taken a hit as a result.

Minnesota is currently ranked ninth with a 5-3 record. The three losses are to No. 10 Baylor, No. 1 Texas and No. 5 Florida. However, the Golden Gophers also beat No. 14 Stanford and No. 11 Oregon.

Minnesota’s stats have taken a hit as well by the tough schedule as Minnesota, which finished second in the Big Ten at 15-2 last year, is only hitting .240 this season (10th) and allowing .173 (eighth).

The reigning Big Ten Player of the Year, outside hitter Stephanie Samedy, is putting up monster numbers this season with 5.07 kills per set on .266 hitting and 3.67 digs per set. Taylor Landfair, the No. 1 recruit in the 2020 class who had a strong freshman season, has missed the last couple of weeks with an injury. Outside hitter Adanna Rollins, a second-team All-Big Ten pick last season, transferred to Penn State, but setter Malani Shaffmaster is back and averaging 10.59 assists per set after making the All-Freshman team last season.

If you’re reading this website, you should be pretty familiar with Nebraska at this point. The Huskers are 6-3 with three straight losses, but all three came to top-20 teams and the Huskers knocked off another top-20 team in Creighton right before that skid.

Nebraska has more than enough talent to climb a couple of tiers, but they’ve got a lot of work to do first.

Tier Four (Penn State)

I gave Penn State its own tier. The Nittany Lions are the final ranked team in the conference at No. 20 with a 7-3 record. Penn State has four wins over Power Five opponents, but they’ve also lost to all three ranked teams they’ve played: No. 24 Georgia Tech, No. 11 Oregon and No. 14 Stanford.

I can’t put the Nittany Lions any higher than this until they earn it by knocking off one of the teams in a higher tier.

The Nittany Lions brought back first-team All-Big Ten middle blocker Kaitlyn Hord (2.28 kills per set on .348 hitting), second-team All-Big Ten setter Gabby Blossom (10.12 assists per set) and second-team All-Big Ten opposite Jonni Parker (3.67 kills per set on .42 hitting).

Penn State also picked up a pair of intra-conference transfers in Rollins from Minnesota and outside hitter Erika Pritchard from Maryland, a first-team All-Big Ten pick last season.

Tier Five (Michigan)

Michigan is a top-35 team nationally according to the voters, though they don’t really deserve anything more than that as they haven’t faced a single ranked opponent this season. The Wolverines are 7-2 with four Power Five wins plus losses to West Virginia and North Carolina.

Michigan is sixth in the Big Ten in hitting at .267 hitting despite its top two hitters, Paige Jones and Jess Mruzik, both hitting below .160. Defensively, the Wolverines are allowing .134 hitting (third).

Tier Six (Maryland, Michigan State, Illinois, Rutgers)

Maryland is leading the Big Ten in wins at 12-0, but the only Power Five team the Terps have played is Virginia. Maryland is currently leading the Big Ten in opponent hitting at .098, but again, they haven’t really played anybody.

Michigan State is 7-2 with no Power Five wins and losses to Wright State and BYU. Outside hitter Sarah Franklin is having a strong season at 3.56 kills per set on .277 hitting.

Illinois is 8-3 with the losses coming to Washington, Colorado and No. 19 Creighton. Chris Tamas brought back two all-conference players in first-team libero Taylor Kuper (4.65 digs per set this season) and second-team outside hitter Megan Cooney (2.88 kills per set on .229 hitting).

Rutgers! Not in the cellar! The Scarlet Knights are 8-3, though they haven’t beaten a Power Five team yet and have losses to Florida Gulf Coast, North Carolina State and Clemson. Rutgers returned All-Big Ten setter Inna Balyko (9.95 assists per set this year) and productive super senior opposite hitter Beka Kojadinovic (3.26 kills per set on .260 hitting).

Tier Seven (Northwestern, Indiana)

Nebraska’s first Big Ten opponent had a rough go of it in the nonconference, going 5-6. The Wildcats have a win over a bad Missouri team, but they also lost to Northern Colorado, New Mexico State, UTEP, Arizona, UCSB and DePaul.

Northwestern does have a first-team All-Big Ten player in productive outside hitter Semi Thomas-Ailara (3.60 kills per set on .237 hitting).

Indiana went 6-6 in the nonconference with losses to Western Michigan and Chicago State in addition to four other Power Five teams. The Hoosiers are 12th in the Big Ten in both hitting and opponent hitting.

Tier Eight (Iowa)

Oh, Iowa.

The Hawkeyes are 2-8 with half of those losses coming to teams outside of the Power Five. Opposite hitter Courtney Buzzerio is one of the most productive players in the conference (4.67 kills per set and 0.57 aces per set) but she doesn’t have enough around her.

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