Penn State looks to extend its six-match winning streak when it takes on Nebraska and Northwestern Friday and Saturday at Rec Hall.
First up for the No. 13-ranked Nittany Lions is a clash with the No. 10 Cornhuskers Friday night.
Nebraska will enter State College on a winning streak of its own, having won its last four contests en route to a 10-3 record.
A key piece of the Cornhuskers’ attack recently returned to the court: sixth-year senior middle blocker Lauren Stivrins made her season debut on Oct. 1 against Michigan.
Stivrins, a three-time AVCA All-American, joins a fearsome Nebraska lineup that also includes fellow senior middle blocker Kayla Caffey — whose 0.399 hitting percentage is sixth in the Big Ten — and senior outside hitter Lexi Sun, a two-time All-American in her own right.
Like Penn State, the Cornhuskers have struggled against ranked foes thus far.
Nebraska is 1-3 against AVCA top-25 opponents, including a loss to Stanford just days after the Nittany Lions fell to the Cardinal.
With the teams’ spring matches both canceled due to the coronavirus, Friday’s contest will be the first meeting between Penn State and Nebraska since November 2019.
The Cornhuskers took that match in five sets, and they’ve had the edge over the Nittany Lions in the vast majority of their meetings over the past several decades.
Penn State holds just an 11-23 record against Nebraska since 1981, including losses in nine of the teams’ last 10 matchups.
A Penn State-Nebraska match also means another meeting between two of the sport’s most accomplished programs and head coaches.
While Russ Rose’s seven national titles, combined with his 17 conference championships, are an NCAA record, Nebraska’s John Cook isn’t far behind, leading the Cornhuskers to four of the program’s five NCAA championships.
Outside of their regular season clashes, the two teams have some recent history in the NCAA Tournament.
The Cornhuskers defeated the Nittany Lions in the 2017 national semifinals in five sets before eventually winning that season’s national title.
Nebraska also took down the blue and white in five sets in the 2016 regional semifinals, but Penn State edged the Cornhuskers in the 2008 national semifinals in Omaha, Nebraska, on its way to its third title.
Following their showdown with the red and white, the Nittany Lions will take on a struggling Northwestern squad looking to turn its season around Saturday.
The 6-9 Wildcats have lost three of their first four Big Ten matches but were competitive in their five-set loss to No. 7 Minnesota on Oct. 2.
Despite the team’s poor record, one of the conference’s premier outside hitters in junior Temi Thomas-Ailara leads Northwestern.
Thomas-Ailara paces the Wildcats with 3.68 kills per set — a figure that ranks seventh in the Big Ten.
As with Nebraska, it’s been nearly two years since Penn State saw Northwestern — a Nittany Lion sweep was the result the last time these two linked up on Nov. 17, 2019.
The Nittany Lions have been dominant against the purple and white since the turn of the century, holding a 39-3 record against Northwestern since 1998 — and none of the three Wildcat wins were at Rec Hall.
Penn State’s 4-0 start to Big Ten play hasn’t been without its challenges — the Nittany Lions had to prove their worth against a top-five Ohio State team and fought back from a two-set deficit on the road against Maryland.
The blue and white’s next two tests come against a team it’s had trouble against historically and a squad trying to move past a slow start.
First serve between Penn State and Nebraska will be at 7 p.m. Friday at Rec Hall, with the Nittany Lions getting underway against Northwestern 7 p.m. Saturday.
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