Championship Rematch: Women’s Volleyball Opens B1G Campaign at Wisconsin

On Dec. 21 of last year, the Penn State women’s volleyball team defeated the Wisconsin Badgers in Seattle to win the NCAA championship.

And tonight, the two teams — both ranked in the top five nationally — will meet again in Madison to open the Big Ten season. The game will be televised live on the Big Ten Network at 7:30 p.m.

Here’s what you need to know as volleyball’s Big Ten slate gets underway:

How did we get here? 

The No. 3 Nittany Lions (12-1) are riding a nine-match winning streak after winning the Alumni Classic tournament this past weekend with victories over Eastern Illinois, DePaul, UIC, and East Carolina. Redshirt junior Aiyana Whitney took home the all-tournament MVP award.

This weekend also put head coach Russ Rose into first place on the all-time Division-1 win list with 1,137 wins, passing Hawaii’s still-active Dave Shoji.

The Nittany Lions enter Wednesday’s match leading the nation in hitting percentage, earning a .395 mark through thirteen matches. Nia Grant is leading the Big Ten, hitting .525. Senior Micha Hancock is first nationally with 1.17 aces per set. Last weekend, she recorded eight aces against both DePaul and East Carolina.

A five-set loss to top-ranked Stanford in Palo Alto has been the lone blemish on an otherwise spotless record for the Nittany Lions. Eleven of its 12 victories have come in straight sets.

Penn State tops six Big Ten teams ranked in the AVCA Top 25 Coaches Poll. Wisconsin (9-1), ranked fifth nationally, lags closely behind.

Scouting Wisconsin

The No. 5 Badgers are coming off a five-set road loss to the fourth-ranked Washington Huskies, preceded a day earlier by a victory over No. 10 USC. Wisconsin returns all but two players from last year’s team, and only has one freshman on its roster.

On offense, the team is led by the two-time Big Ten Setter of the Week Lauren Carlini, who ranks third in the nation with 11.97 assists per set. Two-time Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week Taylor Morey leads the defensive effort with 5.56 digs per set.

Wednesday night’s matchup marks the beginning of a four-game road set for the Nittany Lions to start their Big Ten campaign. A Saturday night visit to Minnesota will be followed by games at Nebraska and Iowa next week.

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Ben Berkman

State College, PA

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