Huth: Buckeyes, Nittany Lions on tap

Huth: Buckeyes, Nittany Lions on tap

Illinois Volleyball: A Weekend Preview

At Huff Hall
No. 21 Illinois (8-6, 2-2 Big Ten) vs. No. 19 Ohio State (11-5, 2-2), 7 p.m. Friday
Illinois vs. No. 1 Penn State (14-1, 4-0 Big Ten), 7 p.m. Saturday

Setting the scene
Since Penn State’s entry into the Big Ten in 1991, the pairing of the Nittany Lions and Ohio State as Big Ten volleyball travel partners typically has presented the rest of the league with its most difficult weekends on the schedule. In those past 21 seasons, either Penn State or the Buckeyes have won or shared the conference title 16 times. The Nittany Lions have accounted for the lion’s share of those crowns, with 14. But Ohio State rarely has been out of the running, finishing second or third eight times and in fourth place on four other occasions. ... The Illini are 35-36 all time against Ohio State, but they’ve dominated this series since the final season of Don Hardin’s UI coaching tenure in 2008. Illinois has won each of the last nine meetings, never losing more than one set. The teams’ most recent match was last December in the NCAA regional semifinal at Gainesville, Fla., with Illinois prevailing in four sets. Michelle Bartsch, now a UI student assistant coach, had seven of her team-high 18 kills in the fourth set. ... Penn State has dominated the all-time series with Illinois 35-9, but the Illini have won three of the last four meetings. A year ago, Illinois swept the season series against the Nittany Lions for the first time. ... The Illini’s annual Breast Cancer Awareness match is Friday night. The Illini Networkers booster club auctioned off 19 limited-edition jerseys, raising $4,253.50. All jerseys are pink, with the exception of Jennifer Beltran’s libero jersey, which is navy with pink trim. Each Illini will wear one of these jerseys against Ohio State before the jerseys are given to the auction winners. ... Illini sophomore middle blocker Anna Dorn ranks sixth in the nation and fourth in the Big Ten in hitting percentage at .454. The single-season school record is .455, set by Mary Eggers in 1986. ... Beltran needs 15 digs to catch Tracey Marshall (1996-99) for second place in UI career digs. The Illini junior enters with 1,411. ... The NCAA released its first RPI rankings of the season Monday, Penn State is No. 1, Ohio State No. 25 and Illinois No. 43.

The scoop on Ohio State
Coach: Geoff Carlston (fifth year, 93-62)
Players to watch: Sr. MB Mariah Booth; Sr. RS Emily Danks; Sr. OH Mari Hole
About the Buckeyes: Ohio State has lost four of its last seven matches. But each defeat came against an opponent ranked no lower than 18th, including three in the top 11. The Buckeyes took then-No. 3 Nebraska and then-No. 11 Florida State to four sets. In 3-0 losses to then-No. 18 Pepperdine and then-No. 10 Minnesota, five of the six sets were decided by three or fewer points. ... Earlier this season, the Buckeyes accomplished what Illinois could not — defeat Dayton. The Illini were swept by the Flyers on Aug. 24 at Dayton. Ohio State met the Flyers in a neutral-site match Sept. 7 and beat the then-No. 10 Flyers in five sets. ... In the Big Ten coaches’ preseason poll, the Buckeyes were picked to finish sixth, one spot behind the Illini. ... Under Carlston, Ohio State has won 25, 24 and 21 matches the past three seasons and advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16 each of the past two years. Before succeeding Hall of Famer Jim Stone at the Buckeyes’ helm, Carlston went 144-22 in five seasons at Ohio University, with five NCAA tournament appearances and two Sweet 16 runs. ... Danks is the sister of two Chicago White Sox players: pitcher John Danks and outfielder Jordan Danks. ... Hole ranks sixth in the Big Ten in points per set (4.63), one spot below Illini redshirt freshman Jocelynn Birks.

The scoop on Penn State
Coach: Russ Rose (34th year, 1,060-172)
Players to watch: Jr. OH Deja McClendon; Jr. RS Ariel Scott; Jr. MB Katie Slay
About the Nittany Lions: Penn State enters its match Friday night at Northwestern having won its last eight. The streak began after a startling five-set loss to unranked Oregon State on a neutral court. That outcome was out of character for a team that is 4-0 against Top 10 opponents. ... The Nittany Lions are in the midst of playing eight of 10 Big Ten matches on the road. Six of their last eight conference matches are at home. ... McClendon is the daughter of Centennial graduate Roger McClendon, a McDonald’s All-American in basketball during his senior year. Deja McClendon earned second-team All-America honors as a freshman and first-team All-America last season. She reached 1,000 career kills at Penn State on Sept. 28 against Wisconsin. ... The Nittany Lions rank first or second in the Big Ten in five major statistical categories: hitting percentage, opponent hitting percentage, assists, kills per set and blocks. ... Setter Micha Hancock, the 2011 Big Ten Freshman of the Year, leads the conference in assists per set (11.73) and ranks second in service aces (0.63). On Monday, Hancock was selected Big Ten Setter of the Week for the third time this season. ... Minnesota, No. 2 in the nation in hitting percentage, hit .098 against the Nittany Lions last Saturday while being swept. That’s the same Gophers team that hit .375 against Illinois on Sept. 21.    

                          Jeff Huth