When it comes to women’s volleyball, the Big Ten rules the rankings.
As of Monday, seven of the conference’s 12 teams are ranked in the American Volleyball Coaches Association Top 25 Poll, with three others in the conference receiving multiple votes. That means 10 of 12, or more than 83 percent of all Big Ten women’s volleyball teams are either ranked or close to it. The conference with the second-highest number of teams either ranked or receiving votes is the Pac-12, with seven.
Currently leading the pack is No. 2 Penn State, while Minnesota, Nebraska, Michigan State and Wisconsin all sit in the top 15. Purdue and Michigan come in at 16th and 17th, respectively, and Ohio State, Illinois and Northwestern each received votes.
Northwestern coach Keylor Chan, who has led the Wildcats to a 5-5 conference record, said rankings are thrown out the window when it comes to Big Ten play.
“It’s just difficult,” he said. “Every weekend you have great teams coming in, you never have a break.”
Chan added that his team prepares for each opponent the same, no matter its national standing.
“We prepare for everyone,” he said. “You’re preparing for each team, I don’t think rankings tell you what a team is like.”
Chan’s Wildcats have not yet been ranked this season, but they have topped multiple teams featured in the AVCA poll. Northwestern beat then-No. 20 Purdue Oct. 12 and on Oct. 16, the Wildcats beat then-No. 17 Ohio State. The Buckeyes, who have been ranked as high as No. 12 this season, currently sit outside of the top 25 after finding out just how tough the competition is.
OSU is currently 2-8 in Big Ten play, which includes six consecutive losses. The Buckeyes opened their conference season with a 3-1 home victory over then-No. 10 Michigan Sept. 27, but have not topped a ranked opponent since then.
Even taking into account the team’s recent struggles, OSU still received 43 votes in the most recent AVCA poll.
So Buckeyes have already played seven matches against current teams in the top 25. They are scheduled to play six of their final 10 Big Ten matches against currently ranked opponents.
Freshman defensive specialist Valeria León said the competition is high in the Big Ten and that she and her teammates always have to be on top of their game.
“You know, Wisconsin can beat Nebraska and Nebraska can beat Penn State,” León said. “You never know, we have to play hard every game.”
Despite a tough schedule, OSU coach Geoff Carlston said he is “proud to be part of the Big Ten.”
“It’s fun to figure out the problems and try to figure out what we need to do,” he said.
Freshman middle blocker Taylor Sandbothe said playing in such a tough conference creates stronger players.
“Honestly, playing in the Big Ten, it’s the best volleyball conference,” she said. “I think you’re going to be the best player you can be by coming out of it.”
Four members of the 14 players named to the 2012 AVCA Division I First-Team All-America squad came from Big Ten schools. Six players from the conference made the second-team, four made the third-team, including Mari Hole from OSU, and four more made the honorable mention list.
Senior outside hitter Kaitlyn Leary said the level of play is never a burden.
“I love playing in the Big Ten, it’s one of the reasons I chose Ohio State,” she said. “Every single game you’re playing a top 20 team. It’s awesome, it’s fun and it definitely prepares you for the tournament.”
Carlston, his players and Chan all said they agreed that winning a Big Ten title is tougher than winning a national championship.
“(To) win the Big Ten title, you have to be good for 10 weeks,” Chan said.
As is often the case, the Buckeyes are scheduled to return to the court this weekend for two more ranked matches.
OSU is set to travel to East Lansing, Mich., Friday for a match against No. 14 Michigan State, before heading to Ann Arbor, Mich., Saturday for a date with No. 17 Michigan.