One-third of the way through the Missouri Valley Conference volleyball regular-season, Missouri State and UNI remain unbeaten in league matches, while Southern Illinois, Wichita State and Evansville all sit at 3-2 following last weekend's matches. Creighton posts an even 3-3 record, while Drake and Illinois State are both one match behind at 2-4. This weekend's conference slate will pit four of the Valley's top-five teams, as the Salukis and Purple Aces will challenge both the Bears and Shockers. In other action around the Valley, Illinois State and Indiana State will host Bradley and UNI, while Creighton heads to Des Moines, Iowa, to challenge Drake.
In this week's AVCA Coaches' Poll, Wichita State fell out of the rankings for the first time this season, following a setback at Creighton last weekend. The Shockers, Panthers and Bears all hold down a position among this week's "others receiving votes." Northern Iowa, who tallied league wins over Evansville and Southern Illinois last weekend, garnered 9 points in the poll.
Highlights from last week's MVC matches include Creighton's first-ever win over a ranked opponent, as the Bluejays knocked off No. 25 Wichita State, 3-1, winning their first match over a ranked team in 36 tries. Creighton junior libero Nayka Benitez also became the first player in school history to post 30 or more digs in back-to-back matches, tallying a career-high 36 in the win over the Shockers and 30 in the previous match against Illinois State.
Evansville's 3-2 victory over Illinois State last Saturday night marked just the second time in UE history the Purple Aces topped the Redbirds. Evansville junior Julie Sylvester and sophomore setter Ellen Sawin also moved into the top-10 in school history in digs and assists, respectively, following last weekend's performances.
Missouri State, now winners of five-straight, had performances from two student-athletes that were worthy of those leading the nation. Junior Cara Hackmann averaged 7.33 digs per set in two matches, besting the national lead of 6.77, and Bethany Fuller's 2.67 per set blocking average was more than a block per set above the 1.62 average of the nation's best blocker.
En route to its current 12 consecutive wins, UNI's 5-0 league start is its best in Valley action since the Panthers won their first eight MVC matches in 2003.
In Wichita State's sweep of Drake last Saturday, junior middle blocker Sarah McGee set the Shocker school record for hitting percentage in a match, tallying 10 kills on 12 swings for a .833 hitting percentage. The previous record was .818 held by Elizabeth Meyers and Carrie Gerth. Meyers (9-0-11) hit .818 against South Florida on Sept. 3, 2005, while Gerth (10-1-11) hit .818 against New Mexico on Sept. 5, 1999.
This week, just one non-conference match is scheduled in the Valley, as Drake welcomes South Dakota State to Des Moines on Wednesday, Oct. 7.
This week's State Farm Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Week is Missouri State's Kelley Michnowicz, the Defensive Player of the Week is Bethany Fuller of Missouri State and the Freshman of the Week is Creighton's Megan Bober.
State Farm Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Week:
Kelley Michnowicz, Missouri State, RS, So., Belleville, Ill. (Althoff Christian)
Sophomore right side Kelley Michnowicz led Missouri State in all offensive categories as the Bears picked up road sweeps at Drake and Creighton. She averaged 4.00 kills per set and hit .413, while also contributing 1.83 digs, 1.67 blocks and 0.67 assists per set. Friday at Drake, she had eight kills, three assists, seven digs and five blocks before putting together a career match at Creighton the next night. Against the Jays, Michnowicz had a career-high 16 kills and hit .536, making just one error in 28 total attacks. She also served a pair of aces and totaled five more blocks in the sweep of the Jays.
Other Notable Performances: Jessica Houts, CU; Ginta Gabruseva, UE; Tabitha Visk, ILS; Jodilynne Stoker, INS; Bre Payton, UNI; Jennifer Berwanger, SIU; Sarah McGee, WSU.
State Farm Missouri Valley Conference Defensive Player of the Week:
Bethany Fuller, Missouri State, MB, Jr., Cedar Rapids, Iowa (John F. Kennedy)
Bethany Fuller recorded eight blocks in each match of the weekend, logging 16 total for a 2.67 per set average, more than a block per set higher than the national leader averages for the year. She added five digs in six sets as well, while averaging 3.00 kills on .412 hitting on the offensive side of the ball. At Drake on Friday, Fuller recorded three solo blocks and five assists to go with two digs and a match-high 12 kills. At Creighton on Saturday, Fuller was a part of eight block assists, including seven in the first set to help the Bears to a 25-22 win in the period. She also had three digs and six kills in the sweep.
Other Notable Performances: Nayka Benitez, CU; Julie Sylvester, UE; Kiya James, INS; Ellie Blankenship, UNI; Alicia Johnson, SIU; Melissa Granville, WSU.
State Farm Missouri Valley Conference Freshman of the Week:
Megan Bober, Creighton, S, Fr., Murdock, Neb. (Elmwood-Murdock)
Creighton freshman setter Megan Bober hit .400 while averaging 10.29 assists, 1.86 digs, 1.86 kills and 1.71 blocks in two of her best all-around peformances to date. She began her week by tying her career highs with 43 assists and seven kills while adding seven blocks and five digs in a 3-1 victory over Wichita State that was CU's first-ever win over a ranked team. On Saturday, Bober had six kills while hitting .500 and added 29 assists, five blocks and eight digs. In conference-only matches, Bober leads all MVC freshmen in blocks per set (1.08) and hitting percentage (.351) while ranking second with 9.48 assists per set.
Other Notable Performances: Angela Rego, ILS; Morgan Dall, INS; Amy Braun, UNI; Rachael Brown, SIU.
MVC News & Notes:
Get Your Popcorn Ready
The Missouri Valley Conference continues to be one of the leading conferences in home attendance and are playing in front of some of the largest crowds from coast-to-coast. Twenty-one home matches have topped the 1,000-fan mark and Valley teams have played in 23 matches surpassing the 1,000 mark in attendance.
UNI hosted 6,126 fans at the McLeod Center on Sept. 2, when the Panthers hosted then-No. 12 Iowa State, marking this season's eighth-highest match attendance in the nation.
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