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Wisconsin volleyball: Big Ten title race heats up with four matches left in season

I’m not great at math, but it looks like six teams can have a share of the crown.

NCAA VOLLEYBALL: DEC 21 Div I Women’s Championship - Wisconsin v Stanford Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As the regular season for the volleyball season is wrapping up (wow, time really flies), the Big Ten conference title race is having some interesting twists and turns.

With four matches left and a whole lot of huge head-to-head showdowns between the conference’s best teams, there is bound to be a lot of moving and shaking. Let’s sort out who can still gain the conference crown.

Wisconsin Badgers (13-3 Big Ten record, T-1st)

Next matches: MSU, at Minnesota, Nebraska, Indiana

The Badgers’ slip against the Purdue Boilermakers allowed the race to really heat up. Wisconsin heads to Minnesota this Sunday in probably their toughest remaining test. Though UW beat the Gophers earlier in the season, stopping Minnesota star Stephanie Samedy is always a big ask.

Julia Orzoł could use some more consistency to take UW’s attack to the next level.

A matchup against Nebraska at home right after will also be tough, but Wisconsin has had the Huskers’ numbers in recent years and swept the Huskers in Lincoln already this season. The Badgers will be hoping that fifth year Dana Rettke can get going earlier in matches to close the season, and that freshman Julia Orzol can show more consistency on the attack.

Nebraska Cornhuskers (13-3 Big Ten record, T-1st)

Next matches: Penn State, Rutgers, at Wisconsin, at Purdue

The Huskers started the conference season strong, going undefeated before losing to the Badgers in straight sets. Now, Nebraska faces a late season gauntlet starting with No. 15 Penn State coming to Lincoln. The Nittany Lions have won four straight matches, so Nebraska will need their senior setter Nicklin Hames to be at her best for the offense. Get through that, and the Huskers will travel to Madison and West Lafayette to end their season.

Purdue Boilermakers (12-4 Big Ten record, T-2nd)

Next matches: Michigan, at Northwestern, Indiana, Nebraska

The Boilermakers are rolling, winners of six-straight games including a season sweep of the Wisconsin Badgers. Caitlyn Newton and Grace Cleveland are dominating offensively, while the Purdue block is a nightmare for opponents (as Wisconsin fans know All Too Well).

Get past that, and then you have to deal with libero Jena Otec, who averages 4.48 digs per set. Purdue may be the hottest team in the country, and have a much lighter remaining schedule that their conference rivals, but that last match against Nebraska could have the Big Ten title on the line.

Penn State (12-4 Big Ten record, T-2nd)

Next matches: at Nebraska, at Ohio State, Minnesota, Iowa

Outside hitter Adanna Rollins is rounding into form for the Nittany Lions, and passed the 1,000 mark on career kills and digs last match against Michigan State. PSU will need her and their two middle blocks Kaitlyn Hord and Allie Holland at their best down the stretch, where they’ll face three Top 10 teams in three matches. Penn State has won four in-a-row after a surprising loss to Illinois, but they’ll need to be at their best to get back in the Big Ten race.

Minnesota (12-4 Big Ten record, T-2nd)

Next matches: Rutgers, Wisconsin, at Penn State, at Maryland

The Gophers were the latest victim of Purdue’s runaway train of a hot streak but Minnesota is far from out of the title race. Airi Miyabe and Jenna Weenas are emerging as options in the attack outside Stephanie Samedy and Katie Meyers is emerging as a top defensive presence on the block.

If Minnesota can upset Wisconsin on Sunday, they will have a lot to play for against Penn State the following weekend.

Ohio State (11-5 Big Ten record, 3rd)

Next matches: Iowa, Penn State, at Rutgers, at Maryland

The Buckeyes will play mostly lower ranked teams to end the season and can change the complexion of the title chase with a win against Penn State. OSU swept Nebraska to kick off a three-match win streak. Gabby Rodrigues and Emily Londot have combined to be a great attacking tandem with both averaging over 3.5 kills per set. Beat the Nittany Lions (and have a lot of help) and the Buckeyes can find a way to at least have a shout at the top spot in the standings.