When Michigan State beat Kentucky on Sunday in the second round of the NCAA tournament, any argument against the Big Ten being the nation’s top volleyball conference this season was definitively silenced.
The Spartans’ victory, which came on the Wildcats’ home floor, meant seven of the eight Big Ten clubs that made the tournament advanced to the regional semifinals. That’s a record for the most teams any conference has placed in the round of 16.
That leaves the Big Ten on the top of the heap among conferences in the postseason. The Pac-12 led all leagues with nine schools in the tournament, but only Washington, Stanford and Southern Cal remain. The biggest loser of the tournament’s first weekend was the Southeastern Conference, which had all eight schools knocked out.
Included among the SEC casualties was conference champion Missouri. The Tigers entered their second-round match with Purdue undefeated at 35-0 and the top seed in their regional. But after the Boilermakers’ convincing 3-1 win in Columbia, Mo., Purdue coach Dave Shondell’s said he knew playing in the rugged Big Ten gave his team plenty of confidence to tangle with the nation’s most efficient offense.
“We felt like we were going to bring a different style of volleyball than what they had seen,” Shondell said. “I told our guys when that draw came out, I didn’t say specifically Missouri, but I said, ‘The teams here are not going to know what to do with Purdue defense. They’re not going to know what to do when we go out and play the style — hard, aggressive, tough — Purdue volleyball. I just don’t think they see a lot of that.’ ”
Across the Big Ten, coaches and players had expressed the sentiment that the competition level in the conference may give its teams a leg up in the NCAA tournament. The Boilermakers’ advanced to the round of 16 after finishing sixth in the Big Ten, a year after Michigan advanced to the final four from the same place in the standings.
“I think every Big Ten team has played so hard every night, especially this year,” Purdue libero Carly Cramer said. “Every Big Ten team was so good, so I think that’s great preparation for the tournament.”
One advantage Big Ten representatives point to is the conference’s Friday-Saturday scheduling format, which mirrors the schedule of the NCAA tournament. Nebraska setter Mary Pollmiller, who transferred from Tennessee, played on teams that had their season ended by Big Ten foes each of the last two seasons.
“In the SEC, we used to play Friday-Sunday,” Pollmiller said. “Once you were in the tournament, you could definitely feel it when you would play two days in a row, so we have that complete advantage here.”
More Big Ten battles lay ahead this weekend as the NCAA selection committee clustered most of the league’s teams in two regionals. Both the Champaign (Ill.) Regional and the Lexington (Ky.) Regional feature three Big Ten teams.
Times set for Lincoln Regional
Nebraska (25-6) will face San Diego (26-3) at 7 p.m. Friday, or 30 minutes after the conclusion of the match between Texas (25-2) and American (34-2). San Diego has won 17 matches in a row and is making the third trip to the regional semifinals in program history.
The winners of Friday’s matches will play in the regional final at 8 p.m. Saturday on ESPNU.
Terry Pettit book signing
Former Husker volleyball coach Terry Pettit will be signing copies of his new book “A Fresh Season: Insights into Coaching, Leadership, and Volleyball” in Omaha and Lincoln on Saturday.
The signings will be held at The Bookworm, 8702 Pacific St. in Omaha, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. followed by a signing in Lincoln at Huskers Authentic, 625 Stadium Drive, just west of Memorial Stadium, from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m.
The book is a collection of essays and reflections by Pettit on coaching, leadership and the state of college volleyball that draws heavily on his reflections from coaching Nebraska from 1977 to 1999.