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Massive Upsets Send Preseason Out With A Bang

Massive Upsets Send Preseason Out With A Bang
Photo: Maryland Athletics
Many top-ranked NCAA Division I women's volleyball teams scheduled fairly light in the final weekend of nonconference play. Despite their best attempts to cruise ahead to conference competition, however, a number of top-20 ranked teams suffered upsets over the weekend and will have to repair their bruised egos before taking on their first league opponents this week.

The first ranked team to fall was No. 16 USC, which took on Maryland on Thursday. The Terrapins harnessed the energy of playing at home to sweep USC 25-22, 25-23, 25-21. Steve Aird's outside hitters Gia Milana and Erika Pritchard led the way with 12 kills apiece.

USC struggled to get into an offensive rhythm, with go-to outside hitter Khalia Lanier hitting .026 and the team averaging .155 for the match. Senior middle blocker Hailey Murray led Maryland with four blocks as the Terrapins out-blocked USC 10 to four.

No. 11 Creighton's nightmare weekend started on Friday night with a loss to Wichita State in four sets (25-20, 16-25, 25-19, 25-22). Sophomore Megan Ballenger had a career- and team-high 16 kills with only three errors to hit .500, but the Bluejays averaged only a .166 hitting percentage as a team. Tabitha Brown led Wichita State with 17 kills, while libero Giorgia Civita dominated on the defensive end, scooping up a match-high 29 digs. The worst part of the Wichita State match for Creighton, however, was having star setter Lydia Dimke go out with an ankle injury. 

Iowa State then took advantage of the hit to Creighton's confidence and Dimke's absence, turning in a 25-21, 22-25, 25-16, 19-25, 15-8 victory over the Bluejays on Saturday night. Avery Rhodes set the tone for the Cyclones, hitting .357 with seven kills and adding two solo blocks and eight block assists. Creighton's Taryn Kloth led the match with 15 kills, but Iowa State's balanced offense had four hitters in double-digit kills, led by Jess Schaben with 13.

No. 12 Kansas suffered only its second loss of the season, falling at the hands of Santa Clara in the Broncos' home gym on Friday. The 3-2 victory (22-25, 27-25, 25-23, 23-25, 15-12) marked the biggest upset in program history for Santa Clara at home in the Leavey Center. Kansas' star opposite Kelsie Payne led the match with 22 kills, hitting .333, but as a team Santa Clara out-hit Kansas .231 to .189. Sophomore Michelle Gajdka led the Broncos with 21 kills.

The Omaha Challenge started out as expected for the No. 9-ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers, as they swept Kansas State Friday night. In their first of two matches on Saturday, however, Nebraska found itself on its heels versus Northern Iowa. The Panthers dominated from the outset of the match, winning sets one and two and ultimately taking the match in four (25-20, 25-23, 14-25, 25-21).

UNI head coach Bobbi Peterson, who has led her team to four victories over top-25 opponents so far this season, credited her setter Heather Hook for facilitating the victory. The redshirt senior had seven kills to go along with her 40 assists as she quarterbacked the Panthers to their first defeat of Nebraska in program history.

No. 18 Colorado State was riding high on preseason upsets of Florida State and Michigan, but the Rams saw their run come to an end with a five-set loss to Colorado on Saturday (21-25, 23-25, 25-22, 25-14, 15-8). Colorado State started slowly, losing the first two frames, but rallied back in the second half of the match and ultimately out-hit CSU .318 to .201 and out-blocked the Rams nine to seven. Colorado's Alexa Smith led the match with 25 kills, adding 15 digs.

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