Jumbled Divisions As Conference Play Begins

Coming off a 2011 season with three at-large bids to the NCAA women’s volleyball tournament, the MAC would have loved to keep the momentum going into 2012.

Unfortunately for the conference, the nonconference portion of the season has been a set of ups-and-downs for all 12 teams, as no one has really set itself ahead of the pack. This likely means that the MAC tournament winner will be the sole representative in the NCAA tourney this year. With the conference looking as wide open as it has, this could be a wild couple of months leading to the crowning of a champion.

So, if it’s all going to come down to a champion, who are the leaders as MAC play begins? Let’s take a closer look.

Most wins: Eastern Michigan
The Eagles, on the strength of four- and six-match winning streaks, were the only team in the MAC to reach double-digit wins during the nonconference slate.

Rachel Iaquaniello has led the team in kills, but her attack rate is .188 on the season. Teammates Kristen Baker (.303) and Erin Short (.219) have been more effective while ranking No. 2 and No. 3, respectively, in kills for the Eagles.

The Eagles come into MAC play on a down note, in the midst of a four-match losing streak after dropping a match at Oakland and going 0-3 during the Michigan Tournament.

After playing only one home match during the nonconference -- a five-set loss to Cleveland State -- Eastern Michigan will get to start MAC play at home with matches against Western Michigan and Northern Illinois this weekend.

Most kills per set: Paige Penrod, Bowling Green (4.12)
Penrod is the only player in the MAC contributing more than four kills per set. This includes her 30 kills in a five-match loss to Utah on Sept. 8. In all, Penrod has reached double-digit kills in eight of the Falcons’ 11 matches as well as the past six.

Bowling Green is 4-4 when Penrod reaches double digits and 0-3 when she hasn’t. So she’s not able to singlehandedly lead her team to victory. In fact, Lindsey Butterfield has the best correlation of double-digit kills to wins, as the team is 3-1 when she hits that threshold.

If Butterfield can continue to develop as a third option for the Falcons, along with Penrod and Danielle Tonyan, they could find some success in conference action.

MAC East leader: Akron
The Zips were picked to finish last in the MAC West, but they have already surpassed their 2011 win total by going 7-5 in nonconference play. They are the only MAC East team with a winning record entering the start of conference action.

The schedule won’t blow anyone away -- a four-set victory over 10-4 Youngstown State seems to be the best win of the season -- but for a program looking to rebuild after a four-win 2011, there’s not much for Zippy & Co. to win complain about.

Most of the Zips’ success has come at home, where they are 4-1. Although, Akron has managed to keep relatively steady numbers in kills, assists and blocks whether it plays. The Zips will open MAC play at home as well, hosting 6-6 Buffalo on Thursday.

Most player of the week awards: Lena Oliver, Western Michigan
Oliver is the only player in the conference to take home three POTW honors (out of four weeks) so far this season. This week, the libero was honored after recording 57 digs during the Northwestern Wildcat Classic.

On the season, Oliver is tied for second with 5.07 digs per set. (Jenna Coates of Central Michigan is tied with Oliver, and Catie Fredrich of Ball State leads the category at 5.29 digs/set.) And Western Michigan is 7-6 this season.

Most blocks per set (team): Ohio
The Bobcats lead the conference with 2.68 blocks per set. They are also a top-five team in terms of digs per set.

Ohio’s record hasn’t been helped by the defensive prowess, though. It is just 5-8, but I don’t think a MAC team has played a harder schedule in the nonconference portion. Time will tell if taking their lumps early will pay off for the Bobcats.

Meanwhile, Eastern Michigan has the most total blocks (117) but has taken 63 sets to do so -- the most played by a MAC team this season. It’s blocks per set number ranks eighth.

Thursday’s matches

Buffalo at Akron, 7 p.m. ET
Toledo at Ball State, 7 p.m. ET

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