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.
6. TEXAS LONGHORNS
- 2017 Finish/Rank: Elite Eight, #5 in final VM Top 25
- 2017 Record: 27-3 (16-0 Big 12)
- Returning Letterwinners/Starters (at least half of matches): 9/3
- Incoming Freshmen (AVCA All-Americans)/Redshirts/Transfers: 4 (1)/1/0
- Key Returners: OH Micaya White (2017 AVCA Third-Team AA, 2016 First-Team), S Ashley Shook (2017 AVCA All-America HM)
- Key Losses: MB Chiaka Ogbogu (Four-time AVCA AA, Three on First-Team), L Cat McCoy (2017 AVCA All-America HM), RS Ebony Nwanebu (2017 AVCA All-America HM), OH Lexi Sun (2017 AVCA All-America HM via transfer)
- Key Additions: MB Brionne Butler (Redshirted in 2017; #2 PrepVolleyball Recruit), DS/L Sydney Petersen (UA First-Team AA), MB Asjia O’Neal (#2 PrepVolleyball Recruit), OH Logan Eggleston (2018 Big 12 Preseason Freshman of the Year)
- Bottom Line: Texas suffers big losses in a four-time All-American (Ogbogu), a dynamic attacker (Nwanebu) and the school’s all-time dig leader (McCoy), but Texas always reshuffles the deck. It seemed like a smoother transition before Lexi Sun transferred, but that deck this year still has a lot of young talent. White is one of the best outside hitters in the country while Shook should grow as a sophomore in facilitating the offense. Filling in for Sun could be Eggleston, who graduated high school early and heads to UT after a strong showing in the U20 NORCECA Women’s Championship. Talented players like Yaazie Bedart-Ghani and Orie Agbaji could be more prominent too, but the key will be the middle blocker position with the loss of Ogbogu. Morgan Johnson improved as a junior and the secret weapon is Butler, a 6’4″ middle who redshirted in 2017 after coming in as the #2 recruit in the nation. O’Neal could join the position as well to strengthen things. The biggest question though once again will be passing.
7. FLORIDA GATORS
- 2017 Finish/Rank: National Championship Match, #3 in final VM Top 25
- 2017 Record: 30-2 (17-1 SEC)
- Returning Letterwinners/Starters (at least half of matches): 9/3
- Incoming Freshmen (AVCA All-Americans)/Redshirts/Transfers: 6 (3)/1/1
- Key Returners: MB Rachael Kramer (2017 AVCA Third-Team AA)
- Key Losses: MB Rhamat Alhassan (Four-time AVCA AA, Two-time First-Team), RS Shainah Joseph (2017 AVCA Second-Team AA), OH Carli Snyder (2017 AVCA Second-Team AA), L Caroline Knop (2017 AVCA All-America HM)
- Key Additions: OH Thayer Hall (UA First-Team AA), RS Haley Warner (UA Second-Team AA), DS/L Paula Cerame (UA Third-Team AA), S Marlie Monserez (#24 PrepVolleyball Recruit), MB Lauren Dooley (#58 PrepVolleyball Recruit), DS/L Riley Fischer (#95 PrepVolleyball Recruit), S Holly Carlton (North Carolina transfer)
- Bottom Line: The Gators had arguably the best season in program history, reaching the National Championship match for the second time ever in addition to winning the SEC along with 30 victories. They lose one of the program’s best senior classes and will have plenty to fill for the year ahead. Kramer eases some in the middle for Alhassan, while Paige Hammons should be ready to move into a star role after coming in as a highly touted freshman in 2017. Speaking of well-regarded freshmen, Florida will have a host of skilled new faces led by the #1 recruit in Thayer Hall. Adding to the newcomers is 6’7″ setter Holly Carlton, a transfer from UNC who should make for an intimidating block with the 6’8″ Kramer if she plays right away. They should stick around for a shot at the SEC once again, but 2018 may serve as a build-up for another even bigger run in 2019 with so many youngsters unless their talent lives up to the hype right out of the gates.
8. KENTUCKY WILDCATS
- 2017 Finish/Rank: Elite Eight, #6 in final VM Top 25
- 2017 Record: 29-4 (17-1 SEC)
- Returning Letterwinners/Starters (at least half of matches): 10/3
- Incoming Freshmen (AVCA All-Americans)/Redshirts/Transfers: 4 (2)/0/1
- Key Returners: OH Leah Edmond (Two-Time AVCA AA, 2017 First-Team), S Madison Lilley (2017 AVCA Second-Team AA)
- Key Losses: MB Kaz Brown (2017 AVCA All-America HM), L Ashley Dusek (2017 AVCA All-America HM), MB Emily Franklin (2017 All-SEC First-Team), S Olivia Dailey (2016 All-SEC) via transfer
- Key Additions: OH Alli Stumler (UA Second-Team AA), DS/L Lauren Tharp (UA Third-Team AA), OH Caitlyn Cooper (Iowa Western Transfer; NJCAA First-Team AA)
- Bottom Line: Kentucky is fresh off of its best season in program history, as they cracked the Elite Eight for the first time after winning the SEC and earning a top four seed. They’ll have to weather a bit of a storm of losses, mainly in regards to their defense with a pair of awarded middles and another via transfer (Jordan Fry) along with one of the best liberos in the country, Ashley Dusek. She also was the start to the offense with great passing, but an injury that vaulted Gabby Curry into the lineup gives the team more experience without her. If they can find a way to piece together the defense then they should be more than okay, as dynamic offense stars Leah Edmond and Madison Lilley should help give the Wildcats one of the top attacks in 2018. Avery Skinner will also be key, as the highly-touted freshman was second on the team in kills in year one and will be looking to make a big jump as a sophomore. Another strong group of freshman will look to make a quick impact too, with Cooper looking ready to do so after playing at a high-level in junior college.
9. PENN STATE NITTANY LIONS
- 2017 Finish/Rank: Final Four, #2 in final VM Top 25
- 2017 Record: 33-2 (19-1 Big Ten)
- Returning Letterwinners/Starters (at least half of matches): 8/1 + Libero
- Incoming Freshmen (AVCA All-Americans)/Redshirts/Transfers: 8 (4)/0/1
- Key Returners: L Kendall White (2017 AVCA Second-Team AA)
- Key Losses: OH Simone Lee (Two-Time AVCA First-Team AA), MB Haleigh Washington (Three-time AVCA First-Team AA), OH Ali Frantti (2017 AVCA All-America HM), S/OH Abby Detering (2017 AVCA All-America HM), RS Heidi Thelen (2017 AVCA All-America HM)
- Key Additions: S Gabby Blossom (UA First-Team AA), RS/S Jonni Parker (UA First-Team AA), MB Amanda Phegley (UA Second-Team AA), DS/L Jenna Hampton (UA Second-Team AA), MB Kaitlyn Hord (#3 PrepVolleyball Recruit), MB Serena Gray (#5 PrepVolleyball Recruit), OH Allyson Cathey (#71 PrepVolleyball Recruit), OH Taylor Leath (UNC transfer; All-ACC Second-Team)
- Bottom Line: The Nittany Lions had a fantastic year where they were number one for a majority of the season before falling in the Final Four. Now, they hit reboot and return just one starter and the libero. They also lost players to transfer in former highly-touted recruits Cami May and Michaela Putnicki. The good news though is Penn State always recruits so well that the cupboards are full. Some could say the cupboard doors are even partially pushed open because of all the amassed talent that the team is bringing on this year. They also garnered a huge addition with graduate transfer and former North Carolina outside hitter/two-time All-ACC performer Taylor Leath. They’ll still be ultra talented but the question will be how ready and experienced can the team be with so many questions. Nonetheless, the talent at the very least makes this team ultra dangerous – especially by season’s end with more playing time. They could easily drop below this spot if things don’t come together early, but could also wind up a top five team if the youngsters hit early.
10. USC TROJANS
- 2017 Finish/Rank: Elite Eight, #7 in final VM Top 25
- 2017 Record: 25-10 (14-6 Pac-12)
- Returning Letterwinners/Starters (at least half of matches): 10/3 + Libero
- Incoming Freshmen (AVCA All-Americans)/Redshirts/Transfers: 4 (1)/0/2
- Key Returners: OH Khalia Lanier (2017 AVCA First-Team AA)
- Key Losses: RS Brittany Abercrombie (2017 AVCA Third-Team AA), RS Niki Withers (2017 Pac-12 HM)
- Key Additions: S Ashley Humphreys (UA All-America HM), MB Abby Hansen (#70 PrepVolleyball Recruit), MB Jasmine Gross (Pepperdine transfer; Two-Time All-WCC), OH Emily Baptista (Pacific transfer; All-WCC First-Team)
- Bottom Line: After starting 2017 unranked, USC made its way to the Elite Eight and came a point away from upending Florida. They do have a couple of questions for 2018 though. Maybe the most important is how will Brent Crouch transition into the head coaching job after Mick Haley was surprisingly fired. Beyond that, the biggest question is how do they replace Abercrombie and Withers on the right pin. Still though, there is enough depth on the team to fill some of those holes and help out Player of the Year candidate Khalia Lanier. They also got reinforcements from the West Coast Conference in a pair of All-WCC players, MB Jasmine Gross and OH Emily Baptista. Besides the notably recognized newcomers above, setter Raquel Lazaro could also be a name for the freshmen to keep an eye on as a six-year member of the Spanish National Team. Maybe the biggest boost though would be if they get soon-to-be sophomore Brooke Botkin to play like she did at the end of the year when she had 27 kills in the final two matches.