Every Friday, PrepVolleyball.com will look at some interesting match ups for the coming weekend and make predictions about their outcomes.
Last week was below average for your fearless prognosticator. After a string of 5-2 weeks, I regressed to 4-3 AND my Upset Special, Miami over undefeated Pitt, did not come close to coming true, as the Panthers rolled, 25-15, 25-8, 25-13.
I take a look at seven more matches this week and go out on another thin limb with my upset special.
Spotlight Match of the Week
No. 7 Minnesota (11-2) at No. 3 Nebraska (14-1) – Saturday
The only remaining unbeaten Big Ten teams will clash at Devaney Center on Saturday evening and all signs point to a Nebraska win. The Huskers have won 14 matches in a row since a season-opening loss to Florida. Nebraska has won 18 straight conference matches, 33 of its last 34 matches overall and is undefeated with OH Lexi Sun, who is averaging three kills and 2.5 digs per set, in the starting lineup. Nebraska also is peeved at Minnesota head coach Hugh McCutcheon because he wouldn’t move up the match to avoid a conflict with the Nebraska football game at Wisconsin.
Minnesota comes into the match 5-0 in the B1G, all sweeps, including wins over ranked squads Wisconsin, Penn State and Indiana. The Golden Gophers are led by setter Samantha Seliger-Swenson, the only senior in the rotation. The team, which leads the conference in hitting, also relies on RS Stephanie Samedy and OHs Alexis Hart and Adanna Rollins.
Nebraska has setter Nicklin Hames running the show and she has done quite well for a freshman. Her favorite targets, besides Sun, are senior OH Mikaela Foecke and sophomore RS Jazz Sweet.
Nebraska is 34-7 all-time versus Minnesota, 8-3 versus the Golden Gophers since joining the Big Ten and swept in their only meeting last year.
The verdict: Both teams are very strong on the pins and in the back row. Minnesota has an experience edge at setter but Nebraska’s middles, Lauren Stivrins and Callie Schwarzenbach, are playing at a very high level right now. Those two and home court advantage help the Huskers pull out the win in four sets.
Other Matches We Like
St. Francis College Brooklyn (5-12) at Saint Francis University of Pennsylvania (2-14) — Saturday
At “Weekend Preview,” we like to go beyond the top 25 to look at fun match-ups that might otherwise get overlooked. What’s more fun than patron saint schools with the same name in the same conference battling one another? (If you don’t like it, lighten up! – Stripes reference).
The host school had won only once before stunning Robert Morris at home last Friday. The Red Flash are currently trotting out a lineup that includes two sophomores and three freshmen. The young players are getting it done, as freshmen Nicole Adams and Madi Tyus and sophomore Alexis Lambert each reached double figures in both kills and digs. Adams and Tyus are among the conference leaders in kills.
The Terriers of St. Francis College have dropped six of their last seven matches. The team has a balanced offensive attack, with three players averaging between two and three kills per set, but is known for its defensive style. MB Wies Hurkmans is a big block at the net and freshman libero Kizzy Rodriguez is averaging six digs per set in conference play.
The verdict: The Pennsylvania school won both contests a year ago. In 2016, the Brooklyn school won both. In 2015, the teams split. Saint Francis himself became known as the patron saint of animals, so it’s safe to say that this one will be a dogfight. Give me the home team to escape in five.
Army (7-10) and Navy (11-6) — Saturday
You can throw out the records when Army and Navy get together. This is more than just another match.
Last year the teams met three times. They split during the regular season before Navy won the rubber game in the Patriot League semifinals. Army leads the all-time series, 47-15.
Army, which does not have a senior on its roster, has been training extra hard to get ready for this one. What kind of training, you ask?
“Army training, sir!”
The Cadets are led by terrific libero Ana Oglivie and a strong offense keyed by MB Emmy Barnhorst and RS Sydney Morriss, the reigning Patriot League POW.
Navy is 3-1 in league play and has a terrific veteran nucleus that includes Maddi Sgattoni on the outside, Patricia Mattingly at setter, Katie Patrick in the middle and Sydney Shearn in the contrasting jersey.
The verdict: Navy is home, has the experience and has played better to date in 2018. There’s one other factor that favors the Middies: Navy has produced 89 aces while yielding 71. Army has delivered 78 aces while giving up 88. As between Army and Navy, it stands to reason that the difference will be behind the service line. Navy in three.
No. 32 Syracuse (8-4) at No. 4 Pittsburgh (15-0) — Friday
Two of three teams still unbeaten in the ACC will meet tonight at Pittsburgh as part of “Retro Weekend.” The Panthers will wear Retro uniforms for tonight’s match versus the Orange.
Pitt comes into the contest one of only two still-undefeated Division I teams in the nation. The Panthers are off to their best start in school history and have won 15 matches in a row for the first time in 30 years.
Syracuse has won five matches in a row and is coming off of an impressive weekend in North Carolina, where the Orange defeated both Wake Forest and Duke in four sets.
Pittsburgh’s power is on the left side in the persons of Kayla Lund and Stephanie Williams, who combine to average almost seven kills and more than four digs per set. The Panthers also have a terrific senior setter, Kamalani Akeo, and have seen MB Layne Van Buskirk come on strong of late.
Syracuse is a big blocking team led by middles Amber Witherspoon and Sentita Ebangwese. The Orange lead the ACC averaging almost three blocks per set. Offensively, freshman Polina Shemanova leads the way, averaging more than the four kills per set.
The verdict: Pittsburgh leads the all-time series 38-11 and won both matches last year. The Panthers will make history with this win and will not look past the ‘Cuse as they seek to remain unbeaten and in the top five nationally. Pittsburgh takes this one in four sets.
No. 33 Denver (14-1) at North Dakota (12-8) — Sunday
Making its return to The Summit League in 2018, North Dakota was picked by our Insider to win it all. Denver, last year’s champion, has other ideas and is off to the best start in school history. The Pioneers are one of three unbeaten teams in league play and will play another, South Dakota, on Friday.
Denver and North Dakota have never met when both were Division I programs and, in fact, have only met once ever, 30 years ago when North Dakota prevailed. The host Fighting Hawks are led offensively by hitters Kayla Williams and Jordan Vail, first-year setter Roosa Rautio and sensational freshman libero Taliyah Flores. Denver is very strong on the pins with Becca Latham, Katarina Marinkovic and Lydia Bartalo and leads the nation in aces per set.
The verdict: Folks nationally have been sleeping on Denver, whose only loss was in five sets at nationally-ranked Utah. The Pios have to go to the Dakotas to make a statement and do just that. Denver takes out Mark Pryor’s crew in four sets in the Sunday finale.
Illinois State (12-4) at No. 24 Northern Iowa (10-6) — Friday
Two of the three remaining undefeateds in the Missouri Valley Conference butt heads on Flashback Friday 80s night.
Illinois State is one of the most underappreciated teams in the country. The Redbirds, who are led offensively by setter Stef Jankiewicz and high-efficiency middles Marissa Stockman and Ali Line, has a win over SEC school Auburn and losses only to ranked teams Wisconsin, Marquette and Washington State as well as once-ranked Georgia. This team is GOOD and sits 12-4 for the first time since 2013.
Northern Iowa cooled off after an incredible start that saw the Panthers defeat both Creighton and Kentucky on opening weekend, but the team has put together four straight wins to open conference play. Bobbi Petersen’s squad features Karlie Taylor on the left, Piper Thomas in the middle, Rachel Koop at setter and Kendyl Sorge, who is on the verge of going over 2,000 career digs, at the libero position.
The verdict: Northern Iowa is 52-25 all-time versus Illinois State and won two of three from the Redbirds last year, including the match in Cedar Falls. While the signs point to a UNI win, the hunch here is that Illinois State will make a statement. Look for the Redbirds to stun UNI in five sets.
Hofstra (13-5) at No. 49 College of Charleston (13-5) — Friday
Two of the top teams in the CAA do battle on Friday with Charleston looking to remain as one of the conference two unbeaten squads.
Charleston has won 10 of its past 11 matches, having lost only to undefeated Pittsburgh during that span. The Cougars are led by setter Allison Beckman, who leads the conference in assists per set; libero McKala Rhodes and big-time senior attackers Kennedy Madison and Devon Rachel, who leads the CAA in kills per set.
Hofstra has only a five-set loss at James Madison marring its CAA resume and comes to Charleston leading the conference in hitting percentage. Pride players to watch include Laura Masciullo, Aisha Skinner, Doris Bogoge and Michela Rucli
The verdict: Hofstra lost all three times it played Charleston last year. Charleston’s impact players are all seniors. The Cougars are at home. They have the momentum. This sets up as a Charleston sweep.
More Intriguing Matches of Note:
Air Force/Colorado State
Arizona State/Washington State
Florida Gulf Coast/Kennesaw State
South Florida/Wichita State
Boise State/Fresno State
Ohio State/Penn State
Rutgers /Ohio State (Friday) – Rutgers is home on Friday to Ohio State looking for its first B1G win since 2015. The Scarlet Knights got off to a dreadful start to 2018 but have been more competitive of late, even as they’ve started conference play 0-4. Rutgers also will be without its best blocking middle, who suffered a season-ending knee injury against Maryland. But Ohio State appears primed to be upset. The Buckeyes are on the road, banged up, playing youngsters in key spots and have a “bigger” match at Penn State slated for the next day. It’s awfully gutsy to pick an Upset Special with a team that hasn’t won in conference in almost three years but this is a classic look ahead match. Rutgers stuns the volleyball world with the five-set win!
Every week, we’ll keep a running total of how I am doing on my picks. I’ll be hoping for praise while taking my licks.
Week 6 record: 4-3
Upset Special 0-1
Season to Date:
Season to date: 26-16 overall; 2-4 in Upset Specials