Big Ten’s prestige solidified in rankings

Observing the Big Ten standings, one would see seven top-25 teams, the most of any conference. Two of those are ranked in the top three, and all but two teams in the conference are above .500.

There is no question the Big Ten is one of the top volleyball conferences in the country, as it has won the last five NCAA national titles — Nebraska won in 2005 as a part of the Big 12.

Illinois head coach Kevin Hambly attributes the Big Ten’s success to the competitiveness and how each team grinds out each match throughout the entire season.

“The depth of how many good teams there are and the worst team, whoever is in last place, can beat the top team,” Hambly said. “You know, Indiana’s the team that’s in last, they haven’t won a (Big Ten) match, but if you ask anybody who saw Indiana they’d say they were a pretty good team.”

When Indiana visited “Huff Hall on Sept. 30”:, the Hoosiers won the third set, forcing a fourth.

Though the Illini eventually won that match, redshirt freshman Anna Dorn said no team in the conference gives up easily.

“Everybody knows everyone’s going to fight in the Big Ten, no one is ever going to back down and give you the game,” Dorn said. “It’s definitely different being on the court and experiencing it as opposed to just watching it.”

Dorn witnessed Big Ten play last year on the bench “with an ACL injury”:, and said the conference is exactly what she expected when she became a starter this season.

With half of the conference season over, the sight of the postseason is becoming clear. Senior Colleen Ward said the competitiveness could help in the long run.

“It totally helps us now, but it is for the long run,” Ward said. “Especially when you’re getting more tired, you’ve had a lot more matches underneath you. It kind all just builds up, and staying consistent is really the only thing you can control. Learning that early will make it so much easier to do in the end.”

As a member of the Southeastern Conference for two years “while playing at Florida”:, Ward has seen the differences between the two conferences.

“Pretty much every weekend in the Big Ten you don’t get a night off,” Ward said. “Coming from the SEC, I mean, they have good teams, but they’re not as physical, and it’s not as demanding every single weekend as it is here. I think you are constantly challenged in the Big Ten.”

Ward said every Big Ten team has one big hitter and a big block. Hambly attributes this physicality to the kind of athletes that play in the conference.

“It’s a bunch of Midwest kids that are big and physical,” Hambly said. “It’s the same as football, same as basketball, every sport I think. … It’s the nature of the people we have in our area. We have a lot of Midwest kids.”

This advantage of physical and defensive-minded play, along with the competitiveness, is what Dorn said makes it tough for other conferences. Every Big Ten team was above .500 in nonconference play this season.

“I think a lot of other conferences aren’t used to the style of play in the Big Ten plays in on a regular basis,” Dorn said. “Other conferences might have huge matches where everybody is pumped up and excited to go, but in this conference, you need to be ready every single night.”