It’s time to get down to business.
Conference action kicks off across the country and if the past four weekends have been any indication, get ready for the unpredictable. The madness tends to get cranked up in conference competition. Below we highlight our favorite five showdowns, plus pick winners for the all matches featuring PVB Top 50 opponents.
— 1. No. 16 Colorado at No. 13 Utah (Friday, 9 PM ET, Pac-12 Network)
Pac-12 Conference matches get underway this week as #16 Utes host Colorado & Cal. https://t.co/VAjDJW5HeC
— Utah Volleyball (@UtahVolleyball) September 19, 2017
What to Watch For: With Colorado beating Colorado State last week and sitting at 10-1 entering conference play, this is our favorite clash of the weekend. Why? We are going to find out a lot about the Buffs. Their only loss so far is to Penn State. Among the 10 victories includes a five-setter over Illinois. Utah, meanwhile, has been in some close ones. Both the Utes’ losses have come in five games, to Kentucky and BYU, as well as a five-set victory against San Diego. To do something in the Pac-12 this season, this is the match both sides have to win. But of course, only one can. Adora Anae is always solid for Utah. One of the keys is the middle play. Both Utah and Colorado are at their bests when their middles are playing well. Berkeley Oblad and Tawnne Luafalemana are both hitting above .400 for Utah. Anna Pfefferle is hitting over .400 for Colorado, while Naghede Abu isn’t far off at .392. Of course, the Buffs have their reliable outside too in Alexa Smith. And both sides are relying on rookies. For Colorado, it’s freshman setter Brynna DeLuzio. For Utah, it’s the right side tandem of Dani Barton and Kenzie Koerber.
Prediction: This one is a home-court affair. That means wherever this one is being played, that’s the pick to win it. In this case, Utah is hosting. The outcome is going to be that close, that home court will provide Utah the edge. Utah in 5.
— 2. No. 8 Oregon at No. 12 UCLA (Friday, 11 PM ET, Pac-12 Network)
— UCLA Women's VB (@UCLAWomensVB) September 19, 2017
What to Watch For: This one almost takes the cake as our favorite showdown of the weekend. The Ducks opened conference action Tuesday night by sweeping Oregon State. UCLA opens Pac-12 action Wednesday by taking on crosstown rival USC. Whatever happens in that one, there won’t be much time for the Bruins to regroup for Oregon. UCLA’s made some small changes lately, flipping Mac May and Jenny Mosser on the left and right. Still, the matchups seem to favor Oregon. Lindsey Vander Weide could be poised for a big match, as Sponcil is a smaller blocker and May a freshman who the more experienced Vander Weide should do well against. Add in the rest of the Ducks’ attack and it might be hard for UCLA to deal with it all. Taylor Agost and Willow Johnson have been reliable right side options, while the explosive Ronika Stone is in the middle.
Prediction: Home court won’t matter here. Oregon’s been playing more consistent and has more pieces than the Bruins. Oregon in 4.
— 3. No. 10 Nebraska at No. 1 Penn State (Friday, 8 PM ET, Big Ten Network)
— PennStateVolleyball (@PennStateVBALL) September 20, 2017
What to Watch For: The Huskers losing to Northern Iowa last week kept this from being our favorite showdown of the weekend. That’s because Nebraska’s loss seemed to show a further divide between the Huskers and Penn State heading into Big Ten competition. But, if Nebraska can’t rally and get up for playing in this match, then nothing will fire them up. Expect Nebraska to bounce back and be ready. Being ready and having enough though aren’t the same thing. And that’s the question, does Nebraska have enough to derail the Nittany Lions? The only spot the Huskers seem to own the advantage at is on the right with freshman Jazz Sweet, who is averaging 2.74 kills per set and is hitting .354. On the other side, Nebraska needs to worry about Simone Lee and Ali Frantti on the outside and contending with Haleigh Washington in the middle.
Prediction: It’s going to take a less-than-expected performance from Penn State for Nebraska to win on the road. The Nittany Lions will be locked in and there’s no way to overlook Nebraska coming to town. Nittany Lions in 4.
— 4. No. 41 Notre Dame at No. 34 Louisville (Friday, 7 PM ET, ACC Network Extra)
— LouisvilleVolleyball (@UofLVolleyball) September 20, 2017
What to Watch For: Louisville loaded up the non-conference schedule with Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois and Kentucky. Though the Cardinals went 0-4 in those contests, the point was to gear up for ACC action and now Louisville is hoping it pays off. Meanwhile, Notre Dame did the same. The Fighting Irish played a home-and-home with Ohio State, splitting that series, and then upset Michigan State last week. What makes this meeting so great is the ACC is wide open this year and both these squads are hopeful they can capitalize on that. So winning this meeting is a great start. Notre Dame’s offense has been spread around between Jemma Yeadon, Sam Fry, Sydney Kuhn and Rebecca Nunge. It’ll be important for Louisville to serve tough and get Notre Dame out of system as much as possible. The Cardinals’ attacks is anchored by outsides Melanie McHenry and Tess Clark and both need to come through for Louisville to prevail.
Prediction: This is a tough, tough call. As it stands, the feeling here is Notre Dame is further along, enough to find a way to get it done on the road. Notre Dame in 5.
— 5. No. 46 North Carolina at No. 45 NC State (Friday, 7 PM ET, ACC Network Extra)
What to Watch For: At 3-5, that’s not exactly the record the Tar Heels thought they would have as ACC play kicks off this week. However, that’s where North Carolina stands. In some ways, it looks worse than it really is. Three of the five setbacks came to Wisconsin, Minnesota and Florida, all currently ranked in the Top 6 of PVB’s national rankings. The other two came to Auburn and LMU. Those are matches UNC was expected to win, but none of that matters now. NC State is poised to strike. The Wolfpack also lost to Auburn, and have played a competitive schedule with setbacks to Kansas (twice), Florida and Michigan. Part of UNC’s struggles can be attributed to the loss of Julia Scoles. While Taylor Leath is averaging 4.03 kills per set on the outside, the Tar Heels don’t have the same dynamic duo to pester defenses with. Beth Nordhorn has been solid in the middle, averaging 3.29 kills and 1.14 blocks per set. NC State has been right there, it’s just finding a way to win the crucial points and close sets out. The Wolfpack will use a heavy dose of Julia Brown on the outside and Melissa Evans on the right.
Prediction: Part of this is which side is able to manage the emotions of the match better. Playing at home will favor NC State in this one. That’s why the pick is NC State in 5.
More Matches From PVB’s Top 50
*Predicted winners in bold
Fri, Sept. 22
No. 24 Michigan at No. 2 Minnesota (in 3)
No. 31 Texas A&M at No. 47 LSU (in 4)
No. 35 Michigan State at No. 6 Wisconsin (in 5)
Sat, Sept. 23
No. 29 Iowa at No. 1 Penn State (in 3)
No. 40 Ohio State at No. 15 Purdue (in 4)
No. 27 Baylor at No. 50 TCU (in 4)
Sun, Sept. 24
No. 3 Florida at No. 38 Arkansas (in 3)
No. 35 Michigan State at No. 2 Minnesota (in 3)
No. 4 Stanford at No. 16 Colorado (in 5)
No. 24 Michigan at No. 6 Wisconsin (in 4)
No. 47 LSU at No. 9 Kentucky (in 3)
No. 34 Louisville at No. 46 North Carolina (in 5)
No. 41 Notre Dame at No. 45 NC State (in 5)