Penn State may have taken charge of the Big Ten race in recent weeks, but Nebraska made it known this past weekend that the conference crown would not be decided without a fight.
Unpredictable has been the word most commonly uttered to describe this year’s Big Ten women’s volleyball season. Until the past few weeks, there was a genuine sentiment that any team had a chance to pull off a win, regardless of the matchup. However, as so often has been the case in this conference over the past decade, Penn State has asserted itself and begun to separate from the rest of the pack.
Through 10 matches of the Big Ten season, the nation’s deepest and most decorated conference has lived up to its billing. Upsets have been plentiful, top 15 matchups are the norm and contenders have emerged from the pack. The standings have rarely looked the same on any given week, and early-season surprises have struggled to endure the grind of the league.
For years, Big Ten coaches have spouted off clichés about how difficult a grind the conference is week in week out, how there are no off nights, that you’re in for battle in every match, and that there is no margin for error. While accurate in some sense, until the 2013 season, it seemed like a lot of coach speak to pump up the reputation of the league.
“The margin for error in our conference is as thin as it has ever been.” Michigan head coach Mark Rosen made that statement heading into last Saturday night, a night that may have represented a first in Big Ten women’s volleyball. All 12 teams were in action, and at the end of the evening, all but two would play nerve-racking 5-set matches.