VolleyMob’s 2018 Preseason Top 25 (#11-15): Illinois on Fringe of Top 10

  0 Derek Johnson | August 15th, 2018 | Big Ten, College - Women's Indoor, News, Pac 12, Rankings

The 2018 women’s season begins in less than two weeks now, and after releasing our Way-Too-Early 2018 VolleyMob Top 25 Power Rankings back in June, we’ve updated the list to get set for opening week. With that said, we will be releasing teams five at a time with a full list including honorable mention picks coming on Friday for our official 2018 Preseason Top 25.


  • 2017 Finish/Rank: Sweet 16, #20 in final VM Top 25
  • 2017 Record: 23-11 (12-8 Big Ten)
  • Returning Letterwinners/Starters (at least half of matches): 10/6
  • Incoming Freshmen (AVCA All-Americans)/Redshirts/Transfers: 2 (2)/2/1
  • Key Returners: MB Ali Bastianelli (2017 AVCA Third-Team AA), S Jordyn Poulter (2017 AVCA Third-Team AA), OH Megan Cooney (2017 Big Ten Freshman Team)
  • Key Losses: L Brandi Donnelly (2016 AVCA All-America HM)
  • Key Additions: S Diana Brown (UA Second-Team AA), DS/L Taylor Kuper (UA Third-Team AA), S Kylie Bruder (Redshirted in 2017; 2016 UA All-America HM), MB Ashlyn Fleming (Pacific transfer; two-time All-WCC HM)
  • Bottom Line: The Big Ten has shown favor to experienced-laden teams. For instance look no further to last year with Nebraska, Penn State and Michigan State making runs in the NCAA Tournament. Illinois could be like the Spartans this year as a Big Ten dark horse after last season they had just one senior on the roster compared to nine freshman. Unfortunately, the one senior lost was Donnelly, who missed the award stage after missing matches with injury. Her team-best 4.44 digs per set were vital though. They also lose their second best blocker in middle Tyanna Omazic to transfer along with three others to different schools. Still, with so much returning, a strong end to 2017 and the late transfer addition of two-time All-WCC Honorable Mention middle Ashlyn Fleming, the Fighting Illini are a team to watch in 2018.


  • 2017 Finish/Rank: Sweet 16, #15 in final VM Top 25
  • 2017 Record: 21-11 (12-8 Pac-12)
  • Returning Letterwinners/Starters (at least half of matches): 9/4 + Libero
  • Incoming Freshmen (AVCA All-Americans)/Redshirts/Transfers: 7 (2)/2/0
  • Key Returners: MB Madeleine Gates (2017 AVCA Second-Team AA), L Zana Muno (2017 AVCA All-America HM), OH Mac May (2017 Pac-12 Freshman Team & HM), OH Jenny Mosser (2017 Pac-12 Freshman Team)
  • Key Losses: S Sarah Sponcil (2017 AVCA All-America HM), OH Reily Buechler (2017 Pac-12 First-Team)
  • Key Additions: S Devon Chang (UA Second-Team AA), OH Lexi Hadrych (UA Second-Team AA), MB Emily Ryan (Redshirted in 2017; #42 PrepVolleyball Recruit in 2016)
  • Bottom Line: The Bruins lost several impact performers heading into 2017 after making the Elite Eight in 2016, but re-tooled with a strong freshman class and a big transfer addition. That transfer, Sponcil, was great in a position change to setter and helped push the Bruins back to the Sweet 16. They’ll have a hole to fill at that same spot now and also lose Buechler, but have plenty of options back at the front of the net to pair with Muno in the back. A huge class of freshmen with plenty of talent joins the fold as well, as UCLA will be both a presence this year with potential for an even bigger jump in 2019. The combination of the returning talent should make for a better UCLA in 2018 as the battle between the Los Angeles schools could determine a top-two finish in another loaded version of the Pac-12.


  • 2017 Finish/Rank: Second Round, RV in final VM Top 25
  • 2017 Record: 18-12 (10-10 Pac-12)
  • Returning Letterwinners/Starters (at least half of matches): 10/5*
  • Incoming Freshmen (AVCA All-Americans)/Redshirts/Transfers: 5 (3)/1/1
  • Key Returners: MB Ronika Stone (2017 All-Pac-12 First Team), OH Jolie Rasmussen (2017 Pac-12 HM), OH Lindsey Vander Weide (2017 Pac-12 HM)
  • Key Losses: RS Taylor Agost (2017 AVCA All-America HM)
  • Key Additions: MB Karson Bacon (UA First-Team AA), OH/DS Brooke Nuneviller (UA First-Team AA), DS/L Camryn Tastad (UA First-Team AA), S Kylie Robinson (#8 PrepVolleyball Recruit), OH Taylor Borup (UNC transfer)
  • Bottom Line: Oregon had a rough end to 2017, but the start showed some of the potential they have when they upended Nebraska. They go through some losses, but a big core of the team progresses to pair with a yet another strong recruiting class. Pegging the amount of returning starters is difficult because they had eight players log 13 or more starts. Of that group, six players return. Seven of the eight started more than half of the team’s matches and five of those return. If you just take the top six for matches started, five are back as well. Regardless of the number, they’re on pace to have eight upperclassmen to mix with the new faces that includes the elite group of freshman and former All-ACC Freshman pick Taylor Borup. They should have a high ceiling for this year and in the years to come, but if they want to push up into the top tier nationally they’ll need someone to step up into a star/all-american role.


  • 2017 Finish/Rank: Second Round, #13 in final VM Top 25
  • 2017 Record: 25-8 (14-6 Pac-12)
  • Returning Letterwinners/Starters (at least half of matches): 8/1+*
  • Incoming Freshmen (AVCA All-Americans)/Redshirts/Transfers: 5 (2)/0/1
  • Key Returners: MB Lauren Sanders (2017 Pac-12 Freshman Team)
  • Key Losses: RS Carly DeHoog (2017 AVCA Third-Team AA), L Tia Scambray (2017 AVCA All-America HM), OH Courtney Schwan (2017 AVCA All-America HM), OH Crissy Jones (2017 Pac-12 HM), S Bailey Tanner (2017 Pac-12 HM)
  • Key Additions: S Ella May Powell (UA First-Team AA), OH Claire Hoffman (UA Second-Team AA), MB/OH Marin Grote (#20 PrepVolleyball Recruit), MB Dani Cole (#36 PrepVolleyball Recruit), OH Shannon Crenshaw (#69 PrepVolleyball Recruit), OH Samantha Dreschel (Maryland transfer)
  • Bottom Line: The number of returning starters is complicated for Washington, who with a rash of injuries had 11 players start eight or more matches. That makes things difficult in distinguishing who to count as a returning starter, but if you base it on the top six then just one returns in Sanders (who tied for the team-lead with 32 starts). Again though, Shayne McPherson, Kara Bajema, Destiny Julye and Avie Niece combined for 38 starts and all return, so realistically its a much more experienced team than that ‘one starter’ indicates. A big-time recruiting class in 2018 joins the group along with Maryland transfer Samantha Dreschel, creating a talented but challenging group of players for Keegan Cook to coach up. If Washington can get some early contributions at a high-level from some of the top-notch newcomers, they’ll be right around the top of the league again. Otherwise, it could be more of a developmental, but still positive season, for 2019.


  • 2017 Finish/Rank: Sweet 16, #16 in final VM Top 25
  • 2017 Record: 24-10 (12-8 Pac-12)
  • Returning Letterwinners/Starters (at least half of matches): 10/4 + Libero
  • Incoming Freshmen (AVCA All-Americans)/Redshirts/Transfers: 4 (0)/2/0
  • Key Returners: OH Alexa Smith (2017 AVCA Second-Team AA), S Brynna Deluzio (2017 AVCA All-America HM), MB Naghede Abu (2017 Pac-12 HM), OH Frankie Shebby (2017 Pac-12 HM)
  • Key Losses: RS Joslyn Hayes (2017 Pac-12 HM)
  • Key Additions: S Jenna Ewert (#72 PrepVolleyball Recruit)
  • Bottom Line: Colorado should be ready to rock in 2018 after a phenomenal 2017 season. They bring back four starters plus the libero, led by Alexa Smith – a dark horse Pac-12 Player of the Year candidate if the Buffaloes can rise up the standings. They’ll have to overcome the loss of Hayes along with a starting middle blocker and a solid bench option, but the pieces are there for the Buffaloes to be even better in 2018. That especially rings true after they have NCAA Tournament experience and success under their belt from the previous season, with a hot finish where they wound up 7-3 in the second half of Pac-12 play and won all six sets of their opening two rounds of the postseason. That becomes even more plausible if some of their group of six freshmen (between true and redshirts) can contribute to the season.

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