At the end of the season, we released a Way-Too-Early 2017 NCAA Women’s Division I Rankings. With some transfers in and out of programs to go along with late signees or any other news, we’ve updated our top 25 list. The top two remains the same, but after that there is plenty of shuffling among the top 10. Penn State makes a big rise as UCLA falls from eight to 14 after the transfer market hurt the Bruins. Other teams were further evaluated as well, especially at the back end of the top 25.
So, without further ado, as the season gets closer here’s our updated list that is still a bit too early, but has more of a clear picture than back in January.
- 2016: National Champions, 27-7 (15-5 Pac-12), #1 in final AVCA Poll
- The defending National Champions lose middle blocker Inky Ajanaku to graduation and USA Volleyball in addition to five-time NCAA Champion winning coach John Dunning. They had a seven freshmen last season though, led by Freshman of the Year and AVCA First-Team All-American Kathryn Plummer. She led Stanford in kills (461) and kills per set (3.34). 6’6″ middle blocker Audriana Fitzmorris was AVCA All-America Honorable Mention and libero Morgan Hentz earned Pac-12 Honorable Mention honors as freshmen as well. Setter Jenna Gray is another notable contributor who becomes a sophomore in 2017. The lone senior on the roster will be Third-Team All-American Merete Lutz. The 6’8″ opposite averaged 2.29 kills per set.
- 2016: National Runner-Up, 27-5 (14-2 Big 12), #2 in final AVCA Poll
- Texas conceded the Big 12 title, but made a deep run in the NCAA Tournament that featured a Final Four upset over Nebraska before falling to Stanford in the title match. They do lose setter and AVCA Second-Team All-American Chloe Collins in addition to AVCA All-America Honorable Mention recipient Paulina Prieto Cerame, who was second on the team in kills. Texas does bring back AVCA First-Team All-Americans Ebony Nwanebu and Micaya White, who was also the Big 12 freshman of the year. They further bolstered the roster with four newcomers that include Lexi Sun, the top recruit, in a class that was ranked number one by PrepVolleyball. Besides the myriad of others returning, the possibility of former All-American middle blocker Chiaka Ogbogu returning after being academically ineligible in 2016 looms large.
- 2016: Regional Final, 29-5 (16-4 Pac-12), #7 in final AVCA Poll
- Over recent years, Nebraska has become Washington’s biggest hurdle come NCAA Tournament time. The Huskies fell to Nebraska this year in the Elite Eight – as they did in 2015, as well as in the Sweet 16 in 2014 and 2012. If the two were to meet again in the tournament, this could be the team that gets over that hump. Not only did the 2016 season see Washington win the Pac-12 over the likes of UCLA and Stanford, but they only graduated one senior. Pac-12 Player of the Year and AVCA First-Team All-American Courtney Schwan leads the charge of returnees and will have plenty of help with Second-Team All-Americans Crissy Jones (outside hitter) and Bailey Tanner (setter) coming back. Kara Bajema will be a sophomore after she was All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention as a freshman in 2016. The Huskies also tacked on a former three-time AVCA All-America Honorable Mention recipient Marion Hazelwood via tranfer from Oklahoma. As always, the Huskies did well on the recruiting trail as they add Lauren Sanders, a 2017 Under Armour First-Team All-American.
4. PENN STATE
- 2016: Regional Semifinal, 24-10 (13-6 Big Ten), #10 in final AVCA Poll
- Since winning the National Title in 2014, Penn State has lost in the Regional Semifinals two straight years. Last year they came a point away from upsetting top-seeded Nebraska on their home floor, but a wild comeback brought Nebraska down from match point (trailing 2-0 in sets) to a five-set win. They’re ready for another title run this year though after under-performing a bit during the regular season in 2016. AVCA First-Team All-Americans Simone Lee and Haleigh Washington are the big stars returning for one final go around. It won’t be the final go around for middle blocker Tori Gorrell and libero Kendall White, who earned spots on the Big Ten All-Freshman Team. Ali Frantti also came on toward the end of the year as the soon-to-be senior totaled 21 kills, 15 digs and six solo blocks in that Sweet 16 match against Nebraska.
- 2016: Second Round, 27-3 (15-1 Big 12), #12 in final AVCA Poll
- Kansas did fall in the second round last year, but its hard to find too much fault in a match that went to extra points in the fifth set against a Creighton team who would go on to make the Elite Eight. Overall, the season was spectacular for Kansas who only lost three matches and won the program’s first ever Big 12 title. They do experience some big losses in Big 12 Libero of the Year Cassie Wait in addition to three-time All-Big 12 middle blocker Tayler Soucie. The senior class will be loaded though, as two-time AVCA First-Team All-American Kelsie Payne and 2016 Third-Team All-American Ainise Havili return in 2017. Outside hitter Madison Rigdon is also back after an All-Big 12 First-Team season that featured one of the largest ace totals in the country (seventh at 54). In total, there are eight seniors on KU’s roster with two coming in as transfers – Gabby Simpson and Taylor Alexander – who should bolster Kansas’ front line. They’ll also have some youth with outside hitter Jada Burse back for her second year after she was named to the All-Big 12 Freshman team in 2016.
- 2016: Final Four, 29-5 (17-3 Big Ten), #3 in final AVCA Poll
- Minnesota pushed through to the Final Four for the second straight year, even with the loss of 2015 Big Ten Player of the Year Daly Santana. In 2017, they’ll lose more than they did before the 2016 season as Paige Tapp and sister Hannah Tapp, who combined for a slew of awards during their time, both graduate. The biggest loss comes from Sarah Wilhite, who won the 2016 AVCA Player of the Year. As always though, Minnesota brings in a strong recruiting class to join those returning. The biggest name coming back for Minnesota is First-Team All-American and Big Ten Setter of the Year Samantha Seliger-Swenson. In her sophomore season, she had 1,465 assists and 11.63 assists per set, good for first and eighth in the nation, respectively. Outside hitter Alexis Hart is also back in her second year after she earned AVCA All-America Honorable Mention along with soon-to-be senior middle blocker Molly Lohman.
- 2016: Final Four, 31-3 (18-2 Big Ten), #4 in final AVCA Poll
- Nebraska followed up their 2015 National Championship with a Big Ten title and another run back to the Final Four as the NCAA Tournament’s top seed in 2016. However, they fell short in the 2015 National Championship rematch as Texas ousted the huskers. AVCA First-Team All-American’s Kadie Rolfzen and libero Justine Wong-Orantes graduate, as does Kadie’s sister Amber Rolfzen, who was an AVCA Third-Team All-American. Nebraska doesn’t rebuild though; instead they retool. In addition to the incoming class, Nebraska brings back setter and AVCA Second-Team All-American Kelly Hunter. She ranked 17th in the country in assists per set with 11.24, and 20th in total assists with 1,315. She will have some nice options to set it up to, as a pair of 2016 AVCA All-America Honorable Mentions are back in Mikaela Foecke and Briana Holman.
- 2016: Regional Final, 29-7 (18-0 Big East), #9 in final AVCA Poll
- Creighton lost a tight match with Nebraska early in the year that dropped their record to 6-6. From then on, Creighton was a new team as they would go on to win 23 straight matches – including over nationally seeded Kansas and Michigan – before Texas did them in in the Elite Eight. All in all, the Blue Jays tied the school record for wins, won the Big East with a perfect mark in conference and made the Elite Eight for the first time. They return a majority of the contributors from last year, led by Big East Player of the Year and AVCA Third-Team All-American setter Lydia Dimke – a former Purdue transfer. She ranked second in the country in total assists (1,454) and 12th in assists per set (11.36). Taryn Kloth and Jaali Winters each earned AVCA All-America Honorable Mention in 2016. Second-Team All-Big East middle blocker Marysa Wilkinson also returns along with Brittany Witt who impressed as a freshman libero. Creighton loses just one starter from the 2016 team in Lauren Smith.
- 2016: Second Round, 27-4 (16-2 SEC), #15 in final AVCA Poll
- Florida had a similar ending to Kansas – a conference champion who played a team they had beaten in the regular season in the second round. Just like the Jayhawks, the Gators couldn’t take down their foe as Florida lost to rival Florida State. Overall, the Gators mustered 27 wins to just four losses in their SEC Championship ride. They do lose AVCA Second-Team All-American and opposite Alex Holston, but they’ll have plenty up front with the return of AVCA Third-Team All-American and middle blocker Rhamat Alhassan. 6’8″ SEC All-Freshman Team middle blocker Rachael Kramer will join her, as the Gators also welcome back a trio who made 2016 AVCA All-America Honorable Mention: Caroline Knop (libero), Allie Monserez (setter) and Carli Snyder (outside hitter). Under Armour First-Team All-American Paige Hammons should blend in nicely with the returnees.
- 2016: Regional Final, 28-5 (17-3 Big Ten), #5 in final AVCA Poll
- Wisconsin couldn’t put a magical finish on the incredible four-year ride they had with all-everything setter Lauren Carlini. The Badgers made it to the Elite Eight, but fell to eventual national champion Stanford. As mentioned, they lose four-time All-American Lauren Carlini in addition to AVCA Second-Team All-American Haleigh Nelson and several others. The good news is that Wisconsin is bringing in a top-tier recruiting class with seven athletes. They also have Third-Team All-American and Big Ten Freshman of the Year Molly Haggerty back for her sophomore season – she led Wisconsin with 385 kills and 3.41 kills per set. Tionna Williams also made the AVCA Third-Team All-American list and will now be a junior at the middle blocker position.
- 2016: Regional Semifinal, 29-4 (16-2 WCC), #8 in final AVCA Poll
- The Cougars fell behind 2-0 to Texas in the Sweet 16 after they were dominated 25-14 in the second. BYU fought back to force a fifth and even led 14-12. However, Texas reeled off four straight to pull through and knock the Cougars out. Who knows what could have been for a BYU team that made a run to the National title match in 2014. The biggest difference for the 2017 edition will be the loss of AVCA First-Team All-American middle blocker Amy Boswell. Whitney Young-Howard also departs at the middle position after earning All-WCC Volleyball First-Team last year. 2016 kill-leader and AVCA Third-Team All-American McKenna Miller returns after being named WCC Freshman of the Year. The Cougars also bring back two other options on offense who totaled over 200 kills in addition to Lyndie Haddock, the starting setter in 2016. Mary Lake helps with the defensive side as the libero is back after she was listed on the 2016 All-WCC Volleyball Freshman Team. Two Under Armour High School All-Americans also come in, led by first team outside hitter Taylen Ballard.
12. NORTH CAROLINA
- 2016: Regional Semifinal, 29-4 (19-1 ACC), #11 in final AVCA Poll
- North Carolina bowed out of the tournament in the Sweet 16 to UCLA after receiving the number seven overall national ranking in 2016. They do lose setter Abigail Curry (All-ACC Second-Team) and right side Taylor Treacy (All-ACC First Team), but they dominated the ACC and bring back AVCA Second-Team All-American/ACC Player of the Year Taylor Leath for her junior season. The outside hitter position will be loaded for the Tar Heels, who also return Julia Scoles after her phenomenal freshman year that earned a spot on the AVCA All-America Honorable Mention list. Middle blocker Taylor Fricano (All-ACC Volleyball Second Team) and outside hitter Taylor Borup (All-ACC Freshman Team) also return after winning ACC awards last year.
13. MICHIGAN STATE
- 2016: Second Round, 25-9 (13-7 Big Ten), #19 in final AVCA Poll
- Coming into the NCAA Tournament, Michigan State earned the ninth overall ranking from the committee, but were upset in the second round by Arizona in five sets. They’ll have more than enough back in 2017 to make another run as they will be led by AVCA Second-Team All-American junior middle blocker Alyssa Garvelink. AVCA All-America Honorable Mention outside hitter Autumn Bailey returns as a senior along with setter Rachel Minarick who was Big Ten Honorable Mention in 2016.
- 2016: Regional Final, 27-7 (15-5 Pac-12), #6 in final AVCA Poll
- Amazingly, UCLA didn’t have any AVCA All-Americans last year. They did have the Pac-12 Libero of the Year in Taylor Formico though, but she graduated from the team. Three of their other four All-Pac-12 performers – Jennie Frager (All-Pac-12 First-Team), Torrey Van Winden (All-Pac-12 First-Team) and Jordan Anderson (All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention) – depart as Frager graduated while Van Winden is transferring. Anderson exhausted her indoor eligibility and is also transferring for one last beach season. The lone returner who made the awards is Reily Buechler (All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention). Still, UCLA has recruited well, including the incoming class of seven freshmen and AVCA All-America Honorable Mention recipient Sarah Sponcil who transferred in from Loyola Marymount.
- 2016: Regional Semifinal, 24-11 (11-9 Big Ten), #14 in final AVCA Poll
- The Wolverines went through Oregon before faltering to Creighton in the Sweet 16 in Austin to end 2016. They do lose AVCA Second-Team All-American Abby Cole in the middle, but bring back five of the top seven back in terms of kills. That should give AVCA All-America Honorable Mention setter MacKenzi Welsh plenty of options in 2017.
- 2016: Regional Semifinal, 27-6 (16-2 SEC), #16 in final AVCA Poll
- Missouri shared an SEC title with Florida before they broke through to the Sweet 16. They lose Carly Kan, who was an AVCA All-America Honorable Mention, but return a majority of the team’s core. AVCA Third-Team All-American Melanie Crow will be a senior while junior-to-be middle blocker Alyssa Munlyn returns after receiving honorable mention status from the AVCA. Setter Courtney Eckenrode will be back to facilitate to the pair, as well as senior opposite Kira Larson, who was on the AVCA All-America Honorable Mention team back in 2015 as a sophomore.
- 2016: Second Round, 21-10 (13-7 Pac-12), #21 in final AVCA Poll
- Oregon winds up a few spots behind Michigan, the team they fell to in the second round of the 2016 NCAA Tournament. The Ducks don’t have many losses, but one in particular stands out; Libero Amanda Benson, who was AVCA All-America Honorable Mention, graduates and is now with USA Volleyball. Soon-to-be junior outside hitter Lindsey Vander Weide was the only other Duck to make some form of AVCA recognition as she was a Third-Team All-American. Oregon will have a myriad who will push for the listing in 2017, as Taylor Agost (senior), Lauren Page (junior), Jolie Rasmussen and Ronika Stone (sophomores) were all on the Pac-12 Honorable Mention squad in 2016.
- 2016: Second Round, 23-8 (15-3 SEC), #23 in final AVCA Poll
- Kentucky finished just a game out of sharing an SEC title with Missouri and Florida in the regular season before they made it to the NCAA Tournament’s second round in the postseason. All of the award-recognized Wildcats are back for 2017, spearheaded by 2016 SEC Freshman of the Year and AVCA Third-Team All-American Leah Edmond. Both setter Olivia Dailey and libero Ashley Dusek earned honorable mention from AVCA’s All-America listings. Dailey is back for her junior season while Dusek has one more go around as a senior. Kaz Brown didn’t get AVCA status, but the All-SEC middle blocker returns for her senior season.
19. FLORIDA STATE
- 2016: Regional Semifinal, 26-6 (17-3 ACC), #13 in final AVCA Poll
- Last season ended on a high-note (besides the Regional Semifinal loss, of course) for Florida State as they took down in-state rival Florida in a second round upset to advance to the Sweet 16. Outside hitter Milica Kubura was named AVCA All-America Honorable Mention and will look to star in the offense as a senior. The Seminoles will need her contributions after losing All-ACC First-Team performer Katie Horton and both their middle blockers (Mara Green and Melanie Keil) that made All-ACC Second Team.
20. OHIO STATE
- 2016: Regional Semifinal, 22-13 (10-10 Big Ten), #18 in final AVCA Poll
- Ohio State had to go through nationally seeded Kansas State on their home court to advance to the Sweet 16, and did so in five sets before almost upsetting Wisconsin in the Regional Semifinal. AVCA Second-Team All-American middle blocker Taylor Sandbothe led the Buckeyes with over 500 kills in 2016 and has exhausted her playing days with the Scarlet and Gray. The good news for Ohio State is all of the athletes who ranked second through seventh in kills return for soon-to-be junior setter Taylor Hughes (2016 AVCA Third-Team All-American).
- 2016: Second Round, 23-6 (15-1 Big West), #17 in final AVCA Poll
- After an Elite Eight trip in 2015, Hawaii was unable to match its remarkable season. They still fought through a bunch of early season injuries for another strong season though before bowing out to Minnesota in the second round. Right side Nikki Taylor was the key weapon for Hawaii on both teams as she graduates after two straight seasons of Second-Team AVCA All-American honors. All-Big West First-Team middle blocker Annie Mitchem joins Taylor as a fellow senior exhausting eligibility with the team. The biggest hit comes from the loss of Dave Shoji. The legendary coach retired after 42 years of coaching as he was battling illness. On the bright side, the Rainbow Wahine bring back AVCA All-America Honorable Mention middle blocker Emily Maglio. Two key freshman mature to sophomores as both Norene Iosia (setter) and Savannah Kahakai (libero) were All-Big West First-Team last season.
- 2016: Second Round, 22-12 (9-7 Big 12), RV (#33) in final AVCA Poll
- Baylor slowly added to its win total the last couple years before breaking out in 2016. They even pulled a bit of an upset over San Diego in the first round. Now, they’ll look for the first ever back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances in team history. Outside hitter Katie Staiger gives Baylor a great shot at doing so, as the one-woman-wrecking machine finished third in the country with 698 total kills. She was also an AVCA Second-Team All-American as a junior in 2016. She won’t be alone though, as 2016 All-Big 12 Second Team middle blocker Camryn Freiberg is back for one final season at a position that Baylor was ravaged by injuries last season. In fact, middle blocker Shelly Fanning, who was All-Big 12 Second Team as a freshman in 2015, is back after a one-year hiatus. Libero Jana Brusek also returns after being named to the All-Big 12 Second Team in 2016 – not a bad honor considering Cassie Wait of Kansas was first team.
23. WASHINGTON STATE
- 2016: Second Round, 22-12 (11-9 Pac-12), #24 in final AVCA Poll
- The Cougars were a bit of a surprise in 2016 after a 15-15 (5-15 Pac-12) season in 2015. Washington State scored some big wins along the way, including a stretch during the middle of the season in which they defeated Washington, UCLA and Stanford in back-to-back-to-back matches. They made the NCAA Tournament second round behind a balanced attack with four different Cougars over 200 kills. On the down side, kills leader and AVCA All-America Honorable Mention outside hitter Kyra Holt graduates. On the positive side of things, the other three who totaled more than 200 are back, most notably outside hitters Taylor Mims and 6’5″ senior Casey Schoenlein. Both were Pac-12 Honorable Mention in 2016.
- 2016: First Round, 20-12 (11-9 Pac-12), #25 in final AVCA Poll
- The Utes couldn’t get through UNLV in the NCAA Tournament, but still had a strong year finishing ranked in the final AVCA Poll. They’ll have their biggest piece back as outside hitter Adora Anae comes back for her senior season after making Second-Team AVCA All-American in 2016. Middle blocker Tawnee Luafalemana is also back for senior year after she joined the team in 2016 from the junior college ranks and earned Pac-12 Honorable Mention.
- 2016: Second Round, 19-14 (8-12 Big Ten), RV (#29) in final AVCA Poll
- Purdue had an up and down season that featured non-conference victories over Stanford and Kansas but a rough go of it in the rugged Big Ten. They still made the NCAA Tournament second round after defeating Iowa State and return Danielle Cuttino for her senior season after the outside hitter was All-Big Ten in 2016. The Boilermakers do lose Big Ten Honorable Mention middle blocker Faye Adelaja, but of the 11 athletes who played for Purdue in their NCAA Tournament loss to Missouri, all other 10 (besides Adelaja) return