In-state rivalries highlight NCAA volleyball weekend

It was a relatively quiet week in the rankings, with Nebraska joining the top 10 after sweeping UCLA and Minnesota holding onto the top spot with a win over Texas. But that could change this week with in-state rivalries highlighting the conclusion of the non-conference season.

Here are four matches to keep an eye on:

No. 14 BYU (8-1) vs. No. 16 Utah (8-1)

Thursday Sept. 14, 7:00 M.T.

BYU is coming off its first loss of the season after being upset by Baylor, but will look to regain momentum against in-state rival Utah. Senior middle blocker Cosy Burnett (1.58 blocks per set) and junior outside hitter Veronica Jones-Perry (4.15 kills per set) will have to pace the Cougars in order for them to bounce back Thursday.

Utah will be entering the match after a win in the Utah Volleyball Classic, where the Utes collected its first win against a top-25 team by knocking off then No. 15 San Diego. When they take the court this weekend to close out non-conference play in an All-Utah showdown (both teams will also play Utah Valley this weekend), watch for senior outside hitter Adora Anae, who last season became the first Ute to post back-to-back 500 kill seasons.

Note: this will be the 100th all-time meeting between the two. The Cougars hold the series lead 69-30, but the Utes won a five-set match last year in Provo, Utah.

No. 19 Iowa State (7-1) vs. No. 8 Creighton (7-2)

Saturday Sept. 16, 4:30 C.T.

Creighton was able to bounce back from a loss against No. 15 Purdue last Friday, sweeping Belmont followed by No. 9 Kansas to take home the Kansas Invitational. On the season, the Bluejays have been battle tested, with five of nine matches coming against teams ranked in the Top 20. Creighton’s trio of Jaali Winters, Taryn Kloth, and Marysa Wilkinson (who each averages over three kills per set) will be key to countering the Cyclone defense.

Iowa State saw its undefeated record fall Tuesday night after dropping a five-set match to in-state rival Northern Iowa. However, the Cyclones boast a defense that ranks ninth in the country in blocks per set (3.13), led by senior middle blocker Alexis Conaway. Conaway, who is the reigning Big 12 defensive player of the week, is averaging 1.48 blocks per set while also contributing 1.96 kills per set.

[More from Excelle: Stanford-Penn State rematch among NCAA volleyball games to watch this weekend]

Northern Iowa (8-3) vs. No. 10 Nebraska (5-2)

Saturday Sept. 16, noon C.T.

Nebraska has been on a tear since starting the season 0-2. The Cornhuskers have rattled off five wins in a row without dropping a set, including blanking No. 13 UCLA last weekend in a two-game series. Senior setter Kelly Hunter has returned to form after missing the first two games due to injury to quarterback one of the most balanced attacks in the nation.

Northern Iowa is an interesting team. They are one of three teams in the country with wins over three ranked opponents, including No. 18 USC and No. 19 Iowa State, but they also lost to UMKC last week. The Panthers rank ninth in assists per set and sixth in kills per set, and will be looking to score another upset this weekend in Omaha, Neb.

Colorado (7-1) vs. No. 22 Colorado State (8-1)

Saturday Sept. 16, 7:00 M.T.

Colorado State is the lone representative from the Mountain West Conference in the polls as the Rams continued to roll this weekend, collecting a win against then No. 16 Michigan in three sets en route to a win in the CSU Tournament. Senior outside hitter Sanja Cizmic was named the Sports Imports/AVCA Player of the Week Tuesday after she posted 35 kills and a .415 attack percentage over the weekend. She is the ninth player in CSU history to receive the honor.

Following its first loss of the season at the hands of No. 2 Penn State, Colorado scored its biggest win of the season by taking down Illinois in five-sets last weekend in game two of the Pac-12/Big Ten Challenge. Freshman setter/libero Brynna Deluzio has stepped into the starting role this season to help pace a Buffs attack that hits at .308, good for eighth in the country. Deluzio and Colorado will look to continue one of its best non-conference starts before they enter Pac-12 play, where they were picked to finish ninth in the preseason.

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