Big Ten Volleyball Serves Up Excitement Ahead of NCAA Tournament
Big Ten Volleyball ramps up as the modified season winds down, which makes way for the highly anticipated NCAA Tournament. The first round begins on April 14.
The Wisconsin Badgers, 14-0 in conference and overall, recently punched their ticket to the NCAA Tournament on Thursday, April 1, with a 3-0 sweep of the Michigan Wolverines in the Big Ten championship. Leading the Badgers offense was senior middle blocker Dana Rettke, who accumulated five blocks and a massive 17 kills. The Badgers hit an impressive .344 to the Wolverines .046.
The Wolverines were a tough opponent to face in the Big Ten championship. Junior 6-foot-1-inch outside hitter Paige Jones put up 13 kills of her own against the Badgers—a number that would put a strain on any defense.
In other news, the matches between the Nebraska Cornhuskers and Penn State Nittany Lions were canceled out of caution regarding rising COVID-19 cases. The 14-2 Cornhuskers finished strong despite the season finale cancelation with senior outside hitter Lexi Sun collecting 214 total kills.
Most recently, the Nittany Lions’ home of State College, Pennsylvania, has become a rapidly growing hotspot for a new COVID-19 variant found in the borough’s and campus’s waste management testing. These matches will not be rescheduled.
With a 9-5 record, the Nittany Lions already had their season cut short with two canceled matches against No. 1 Wisconsin over the weekend of March 26 due to COVID-19 concerns.
Going into NCAA Tournament selection, Penn State’s season had impressive showings from breakout freshman Annie Cate Fitzpatrick. The outside hitter and Ocala, Florida, native led the roster with 15 service aces and ranks just behind junior right side Jonni Parker in kills on the 2020 season.
Amid COVID restrictions, the Illinois Fighting Illini utilized their energetic bench to boost morale and curb mid-match fatigue. For their match against the Indiana Hoosiers on Saturday, March 26 and Sunday, March 27, an attendance of 50 lively fans, mostly families of athletes, were permitted into Huff Hall to cheer on the Illini.
The spirit in the stands surely helped Illinois hold the Hoosiers to one set victory the entire weekend. The Illini swept Indiana three sets to none in the first game and three sets to one in the second game. Illinois’s hitting percentage reached its season best at .284 on March 26.
No. 8 Purdue will host Illinois to close out the spring 2021 season in West Lafayette, Indiana. Senior outside hitter Caitlyn Newton leads the Boilermakers with 257 kills and 29 service aces over the course of the season. On the defensive, senior specialist Jena Otec boasts a strong 301 digs.
The Illini have weapons of their own, especially with junior defensive specialist Taylor Kuper, just 35 total digs behind Otec at 266.
Around the league, seasons are wrapping up as the 3-10 Michigan State Spartans take on the 4-14 Rutgers Scarlet Knights in East Lansing, Michigan on April 2 and April 3.
The 4-14 Iowa Hawkeyes swept Michigan State in their home finale and now head to Minneapolis, Minnesota to take on the No. 3 Golden Gophers to play the final games of the season on April 2 and April 3. The Maryland Terrapins also have a 4-14 record and are hosting the 3-5 Northwestern Wildcats in College Park, Maryland.
In the latest volleyball power rankings by the NCAA, five Big Ten teams fill spots in the top 10, with Wisconsin, Nebraska and Minnesota making up the top three. Purdue and Ohio State rank No. 8 and No. 9, respectively.
The field of 48 teams for the NCAA Tournament will be announced on Sunday, April 4.
Emma Holtz is a freshman majoring in public relations. To contact her, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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