At the least, tonight will give the nation a clear picture of whom the “Big Dog” of the Big Ten conference is.
At most, tonight’s match could serve as a crystal ball into the future, Dec. 15, to be exact; the day of the women’s volleyball National Championship.
No. 4 Penn State (10-1) hosts No. 3 and defending conference champion Nebraska (8-1) at Rec Hall in a rare mid-week matchup.
This marks one of four times Penn State women’s volleyball will play on a Wednesday this season.
Since 2006, of the six national championships awarded, four have gone to Penn State, and one each for Nebraska and UCLA.
Nittany Lions who have already battled against the Cornhuskers, including junior Katie Slay, know what to expect out of the match — one that will likely have implications on the Big Ten Championship.
“Once you get into Big Ten season, you know it’s go-time,” Slay said. “Every game counts toward the Big Ten Championship and that’s definitely our goal. We have to play hard every night.”
The Huskers and Lions split the season series last year, with Penn State winning its home match at Rec Hall, while Nebraska won its match at the NU Coliseum.
“Penn State is a great team,” Nebraska head coach John Cook said in a press conference Monday. “They’ve returned everybody [from last year]. We really have no choice [but] to play a great match.”
When the two played at Penn State in 2011, Nebraska was the No. 1 team in the country before falling to the Lions, 3-1.
After the match, Penn State All-American Deja McClendon said, “We needed to play as a team and get a great win like this, it restores our hope I think.”
While the Lions have played stellar at times this season, hearing a quote about “restoring hope” following tonight’s match would be music to Penn State head coach Russ Rose’s ears.
Following Saturday night’s win against Eastern Illinois, Rose speculated that his team is either not playing well, or they are flat out “not very good.”
On paper, Penn State and Nebraska match up well, led by their respective outside hitters and 2011 All-Americans, Gina Mancuso (Nebraska) and McClendon for Penn State.
Mancuso leads the Huskers in kills per set (3.61), while McClendon — although having a solid season — has at times, been overshadowed by teammate Ariel Scott, who leads the Lions in kills per set (3.73).
Each team also has its own standout freshman. Outside hitter Megan Courtney has quickly become a mainstay in Penn State’s starting lineup, and Nebraska’s Meghan Haggerty leads freshmen across the country in hitting percentage (.465).
Nebraska was the No. 1 team in the country last week before losing to No. 19 Iowa State on Saturday.
“Iowa State played with a lot of emotion,” Cook said. “They played well and we just didn’t capitalize on our opportunities when we had them. We just kind of fumbled it away.”
The Lions and Huskers will face each other again in late October, but tonight’s match figures to catapult one team to the front of the Big Ten, and possibly the country, in the meantime.