We are through two weeks of the season, and the picture is becoming a bit more clear about certain teams and what to expect headed into 2018. There are now more with highlight victories, while some took a step back in week two. We discuss some of those notes from the second week below.
Note: It’s also impossible to get to every match and every team for the sake of you not getting bored on this page or my fingers falling off from typing, so we try to cut it down a bit.
There might not be a clear-cut number one team this season
Honestly, I’m all for it. Let the chaos rain down and the wins and losses rotate between top ranked teams. It’s still so early that someone could either keep pushing forward or pull away, but right when you think USC could be that team they lose to UCF. Right when Texas has a huge opening weekend they take a step back at Wisconsin.
It’s probably likely though that some of those teams go on a run toward the end of the season, but as for now you can make a legit argument for a couple handfuls of teams as National Title contenders and a whole host of teams that could make the Final Four. A piece of that is because Stanford lost and showed that they might not be as dominant as previously thought. Nothing better than parity though, right?
That said, BYU is legit
The Cougars got the biggest early win of the season, taking down top-ranked Stanford. They’re ranked number one in our VolleyMob Top 25 Power Rankings, but even if you don’t believe in them as being #1, they definitely are a legit final four and title contender. They downed Stanford after dominating the first two sets and overcoming a comeback attempt in the end and also have downed Duke – a team picked for a top five finish in the ACC – twice along with a sweep of Wichita State.
What’s amazing is that they are even playing without Taylen Ballard for the moment being, who will provide even more size up front for the Cougars. That’s currently forcing them to play sub-six-foot outside hitters at the position, but they’ve still been effective and gotten star play from Roni Jones-Perry and company. This team is the real deal, and now that they got the Stanford win they have a real chance at earning a top four seed as long as they can keep racking up victories – especially with a challenging slate this week against USC, Syracuse and at Marquette.
Molly Haggerty is back, and Wisconsin still has more to gain from Dana Rettke
Beyond returning countless players from 2017, Wisconsin also brought back Molly Haggerty, who missed last season with injury. The question was how good would she be returning from said injury and would she be fully implemented into the lineup. Four matches in and she is third on a balanced team in kills per set (2.80) while also hitting .270 and ranking fourth in digs per set (2.13). That’s great news for the Badgers, as they boast all kinds of talent.
Of course, the benefit has been seen as Wisconsin has risen to third in the VM Top 25 with their highlight win this past weekend over Texas. Even with the hot start, Dana Rettke has been solid but has yet to seemingly reach full gear. She’s second on the team with 2.87 kills per set on a .267 clip to go with 1.60 blocks per set. The numbers are strong and the blocking fantastic, but compare the attack numbers to her freshman year – 3.42 kills per set while hitting .443 – and it feels like she can hit another level. The kill numbers were bound to drop a bit with more balance, but if she gets closer to last year’s efficiency then Wisconsin could wind up number one.
Let’s see what Penn State’s got
Behind a young cast of characters that come in with all kinds of talent and a bright future, the Nittany Lions are 5-0. Even more impressive is that they’ve won all 15 sets they have appeared in despite having so much youth – a lot of times younger teams will give up a set here or there instead of fully stepping on their opponents throats to finish the match.
Now, that said, they’ve yet to play anyone really of note. Texas A&M would be the highlight of their five matches, but even the Aggies were picked as a middle tier team in the SEC after a losing season in 2017. There’s no doubt in my mind that this team is good – they’ve got seven players at 1.40 kills per set or more, with six right around or above the two threshold. Taylor Leath and improved Nia Reed have led the youngsters. The question if they are a great team will be tested soon though, because the schedule really ramps up.
This Friday they play at #2 Stanford, then get #18 Oregon on a neutral court. Their final three matches – at Howard, vs. Buffalo and at American – aren’t anything special, but American and Howard should be at the top of their leagues. After that, it’s Big Ten action to further prove what this Penn State team brings to the table.
USC’s got just as good a shot in the Pac-12 as Stanford, but what happened?
The Trojans have proven they can beat nearly anyone in the country, as shown by all five of their victories against teams either ranked or on the cusp in the VolleyMob Top 25. At the time of the match, USC won at #3 Florida (3-1), vs. #8 Kentucky (3-1), vs. #20 Northern Iowa (3-0), vs. #18 Creighton (3-2) and on a neutral court with (RV) Louisville (3-0).
So they will be dangerous for any top ranked team, and appear to be one themselves behind the presence of Khalia Lanier and Brooke Botkin on the pins. However, for whatever reason they had a down match against Central Florida – a team picked to finish fifth in the AAC who is currently 3-3. It’s important to remember these players are 18-22 year olds, and after a big win at #3 Florida with a match against (RV) Louisville ahead it would be an easy spot to have a let-down. It’s not something you want to see from a top tier team, but I think it’s safe to assume the Trojans will be fine and this will be more of an anomaly than something that pops up often.