Three volleyball matches to watch as conference season moves forward

As conference season continues to roll along, we are beginning to find out which teams are legitimate contenders to make a late postseason run. The top three stayed put this week, with Florida remaining the top ranked team, but Nebraska continued to shoot up the rankings, and they now sit fourth in the AVCA Coaches poll following wins over Minnesota and Wisconsin. The Cornhuskers follow-up act? Knocking off Michigan State Wednesday night.

This week is bound to bring more excitement in conference play, so here are three match-ups to keep an eye on: 

[More from Excelle: Colorado native Alexa Smith at home leading Buffs]

No. 2 Stanford (11-2, 4-0 Pac-12) vs. No. 16 Oregon (9-3, 2-2 Pac-12)

Friday 8:00 p.m. PT (ESPNU)

Stanford has been one of the most consistent teams in the nation this season. Of the Cardinal’s 11 wins, 10 have come in straight sets. Sophomore Kathryn Plummer continues to build off her impressive freshman campaign, as she currently paces the Pac-12 in kills per set (4.73) and points per set (5.41). Looking to stay on top in the Pac-12, Stanford will face off with Oregon, who they are 57-4 against all-time, including winning the last nine.

Oregon will be looking to avoid dropping its third match in its last four contests. After knocking off No. 17 Utah last week, the Ducks fell in four sets to No. 25 Colorado. Oregon ranks third in the Pac-12 in hitting percentage (.284) and kills per set (14.36). Junior Lindsey Vander Weide is the key to the Ducks offense, as the six-rotation player leads the team in kills per set (3.50) for the second consecutive year.

No. 7 Wisconsin (11-3, 2-3 Big Ten) vs. No. 14 Michigan State (11-3, 4-1 Big Ten)

Saturday 4:00 p.m. ET (BTN2GO)

Wisconsin is coming off a fight with No. 6 Minnesota where the Badgers dropped its second straight match in five sets. The Badgers led two-sets-to-one in Madison, Wisc., last night before fading down the stretch against the Gophers. Two freshman led the way for the Badgers, with middle blocker Dana Rettke putting up 19 kills (against only three errors) and five blocks. Setter Sydney Hilley recorded her third career double-double with 56 assists and 14 digs. Both will need to play big again if Wisconsin wants to get revenge on the Spartans and get back in the Big Ten race.

Michigan State had its six-match winning streak snapped at the hands of Nebraska, arguably the hottest team in the nation, Wednesday night. The loss put the Spartans in second place in a competitive Big Ten that features seven ranked teams. Michigan State dug themselves a hole against the Cornhuskers, dropping the first two sets while committing 16 errors before attempting a comeback. As a team, the Spartans hit only .147 percent in the match, well of their season average of .258, and they will have to regroup in a hurry to avoid dropping two matches in a row for the first time all year.

Auburn (11-3, 4-1 SEC) vs. No. 10 Kentucky (12-2, 3-0 SEC)

Sunday 2:00 p.m. ET (ESPNU)

As Florida and Kentucky continue to lead to the way in the SEC, the Auburn Tigers have quietly kept pace, as they currently sit third in the conference. Auburn picked up a five-set road win Wednesday night against Tennessee in Knoxville, Tenn., and will look to continue that momentum against its first top 10 opponent in Kentucky. Shaina White was all over the court for the Tigers against the Volunteers, posting a career-high 19 kills to go along with five blocks and two service aces. Alexa Filley registered another double-double (her 10th of the season) with 50 assists and 13 digs. If the Tigers want to have any chance at an upset, its defense (holding opponents to .171 hitting percentage) will need to limit a potent Wildcat offense (.327 hitting percentage).

Kentucky has rattled off seven wins in a row since losing to Kansas, and will need to continue that streak in order to keep pace with No. 1 Florida, who they face next week. The Wildcats haven’t lost to Auburn since 2010, although the last three times these teams have squared off, the match has gone the distance. As mentioned above, Kentucky boasts not only the SEC’s top offense, but one of the tops in nation. They are fourth in the NCAA in hitting percentage and seventh in kills per set (14.68). Leah Edmond leads the way for Kentucky with 4.26 kills per set to go along with 16 service aces on the season.

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