Week in and week out, the women’s volleyball schedule is so consistently strong that it’s easy to take it for granted.
For example, in a rare occurrence, there are no matches between Top-10 programs this weekend. That’s the first time it’s happened this season. But spoiled enough are we as fans that we still get some incredible showdowns to keep us occupied until conference action kicks off next week.
We highlight our five favorite matches of the week, plus pick winners from all the matches involving PVB Top 50 schools.
— 1. No. 17 BYU at No. 14 Utah (Thu, 9 PM ET, Pac-12 Network)
— Utah Volleyball (@UtahVolleyball) September 12, 2017
What to Watch For: The first of three rivalry clashes we start off with this week, BYU traveling to take on the Utes is are favorite. There is so much to like about this one, starting with the fact both are highly-ranked and off to tremendous starts, each having only lost once. Somebody is getting No. 2 Thursday night. Utah has the best player on the court in Adora Anae. She’s averaging 4.82 kills per set, but the Utes need production around her in order to overcome BYU. Middle Berkeley Oblad is second in kills with 39, or more than 40 less than Anae. Oblad is hitting .408. Tawnee Luafalemana has also been effective, hitting .436 with 30 kills. The more Utah can take advantage of those two, the better the odds of winning. The Cougars have been riding Veronica Jones-Perry and McKenna Miller on the outside, with Cosy Burnett helping out in the middle with 66 kills (2.00 per set). She’s also hitting .325 with a team-high 52 blocks.
Prediction: As much as I like home court advantage, I don’t see it playing out in this one. I think BYU will be just a touch more consistent and grind this one out. BYU in 5.
— 2. No. 19 Colorado at No. 23 Colorado State (Sat, 9 PM ET, Mountain West Network)
— CSU Rams Volleyball (@CSUvolleyball) September 13, 2017
What to Watch For: Both these schools have been climbing up the Top 50 Rankings the past two weeks and are now set to duke it out between the two of them. At this point, both programs have to be feeling great about their productive starts to the season. But this is where the good times stops for one of them. The loser is going to hate the feeling of watching the winner walk away with state bragging rights. No surprise that outside Alexa Smith has been the steadying force on the left, leading the Buffs with 103 kills (4.12 per set) and hitting .319. Frankie Shebby has been providing Colorado offense on the outside as well, with 73 kills, second-most on the roster. It’s the size across the front that Colorado brings that bothers opponents. Middles Naghede Abu (64 kills, .439) and Anna Pfefferle (48 kills, .484) have been terrific offensively in the middle, while Joslyn Hayes (57 kills, .301) has provided an option on the right side. Just as impressively, the trio has combined for 83 blocks so far. On the other side, setter Katie Oleksak has been running a fairly balanced attack. Breana Runnels leads the way with 112 kills. Jasmine Hanna (88 k), Paulina Hougaard-Jensen (78 k) and Sanja Cizmic (75 k) can all get in on the action as well.
Prediction: This seems like an even contest. Both have played solid schedules so far. Both are playing well, including Colorado beating Illinois last week and Colorado State topping Michigan. I’m rolling with home court in this one. Colorado State in 5.
— 3. No. 40 Louisville at No. 13 Kentucky (Fri, 7 PM ET, WatchESPN)
What to Watch For: Yet another rivalry meeting, this one is different from the first two we featured. In those, the outcome is a toss-up. In this one, there is no denying Kentucky is the favorite, especially playing at home. But, that’s what makes it so intriguing. This is a golden opportunity for the Cardinals to strike. A loss to the ‘Cats isn’t going to put shame in Louisville’s game. However, there is no way Kentucky wants to taste defeat by getting upset at the hands of Louisville. The Cardinals are going to be playing free and loose and cause Kentucky problems. Melanie McHenry and Tess Clark are quite the 1-2 pop on the outside that Kentucky has in Leah Edmond and Avery Skinner, but the duo has been reliable for Louisville and will need to be in order to pull the upset.
Prediction: Upsets always provide good storylines, but I don’t see one coming here. Kentucky will get pushed but will prevail. Kentucky in 4.
— 4. No. 45 NC State at No. 25 Michigan (Fri, 7:30 PM ET)
What to Watch For: NC State’s overall record entering this week’s play is 3-5, but three of the five losses have been in five games. All three were to opponents ranked in our Top 50. Michigan, meanwhile, was swept by Colorado State last weekend, the second time Michigan lost this season (the first was to USC). The Wolverines have been leaning on Adeja Lambert and Carly Skjodt on the outsides, as the duo has combined for nearly 200 kills and are averaging more than 6.00 per set. For NC State, it’s about limiting the errors. Julia Brown and Melissa Evans lead the way, teaming for 213 kills, but they also have 75 errors. NC State have been in tight matches, but it’s about converting points at the right time. If NC State does that, then there will be an upset.
Prediction: With that said, I don’t think Michigan is losing at home. On the road, I would pick NC State to do it, but the Wolverines will find a way to get it done. Michigan in 4.
— 5. No. 26 Michigan State at No. 42 Notre Dame (Fri, 7 PM ET)
What to Watch For: Here’s what drew us to this one. Last weekend, Notre Dame traveled to Ohio State and split a pair of matches with the Buckeyes. This weekend, the Fighting Irish get to play host to the Spartans, so will we see another upset? Michigan State lost to Georgia Tech already this season in a shocker, and we know Notre Dame is coming after Michigan State with everything in hopes of springing the upset. Notre Dame has nice balance on its attack, with Jemma Yeadon (99 kills) the team leader not too far ahead of Sam Fry, who has 60 winners out of the middle and leads the roster with 34 stuffs. Yet, Michigan State is even better spreading out the attack. Autumn Bailey (53 kills), Alyssa Garvelink (52), Holly Toliver (51) and Brooke Kranda (49) are all viable options for setter Rachel Minarick.
Prediction: I think Notre Dame splitting a pair of matches with Ohio State got Michigan State’s attention. Therefore, I think the Spartans come ready to play and won’t take Notre Dame lightly. Michigan State in 3.
More From PVB’s Top 50
*Predicted winner in bold
Thu, Sept. 14
— No. 16 USC at No. 39 Maryland (in 4)
Fri, Sept. 15
— No. 5 Washington at No. 39 Maryland (in 3)
— No. 10 Creighton at No. 34 Wichita State (in 4)
— No. 44 Western Kentucky at No. 24 Ohio State (in 5)
— No. 31 Washington State at No. 37 Missouri State (in 5)
Sat, Sept. 16
— No. 36 Lipscomb at No. 3 Florida (in 3)
— No. 9 Nebraska v No. 46 Northern Iowa (in 3)
— No. 10 Creighton v No. 18 Iowa State (in 5)
— No. 22 Illinois at No. 37 Missouri State (in 5)
— No. 41 Auburn at No. 28 Florida State (in 4)
Sun, Sept. 17
— No. 18 Iowa State at No. 34 Wichita State (in 5)