At the end of the season, we released a Way-Too-Early 2017 NCAA Women’s Division I Rankings. As the season is now nearly upon us, it’s time for our final preseason top-25, featuring contributions from eight different VolleyMob writers. Over the course of five days, we are releasing five teams at a time. Today (day three), we release teams ranked 11-15.
Note: As eight different VolleyMob contributors voted on the poll, a standard scoring system of 25 points for being ranked number one, 24 for being number two and so forth was utilized. Number of first-place votes are shown in parenthesis next to the team while total voter points are dashed next to it.
Top 25 Releases:
11. CREIGHTON BLUEJAYS – 119 points
- 2016: Elite Eight, #9 in final AVCA Poll, 29-7 (18-0, 1st in Big East)
- Returning Letterwinners/Starters (at least half of matches): 10/5 + Libero
- Incoming Freshmen (UA All-Americans)/Transfers: 3 (1)/0
- Key Losses: MB Lauren Smith (Three-time All-Big East)
- Key Returners: S Lydia Dimke (2016 AVCA Third-Team All-American), Jaali Winters (2016 AVCA All-America HM), Taryn Kloth (2016 AVCA All-America HM)
- Top Newcomers: RS Steph Gaston (2017 HS UA All-America HM)
- Other Notes: None
- Bottom Line: Although Creighton technically only returns four starters based on the ‘at least half of matches’ metric, we made an exception in giving them five, as Taryn Kloth and Kenzie Crawford each started 17 of the team’s 36 matches. Big East Player of the Year Lydia Dimke finished second in the country in assists and should keep the offense running at a top rate, especially considering Winters and Kloth are back. Second-Team All-Big East middle blocker Marysa Wilkinson adds another dynamic piece out of the middle for one of the better offensive units in the country. With a 6’3″ setter in Dimke able to compete up front as a six-rotation player in addition to solid front-line size, Creighton should sport a solid defense, with Brittany Witt back after impressing as a freshman libero. They have several bench contributors returning as well and two of the three incoming freshmen were PrepVolleyball Top 100 recruits, giving the team valuable depth.
12. UCLA BRUINS – 110 points
- 2016: Elite Eight, #6 in final AVCA Poll, 27-7 (15-5, T-2nd in Pac-12)
- Returning Letterwinners/Starters (at least half of matches): 8/2
- Incoming Freshmen (UA All-Americans)/Transfers: 7 (3)/1
- Key Losses: L Taylor Formico (Pac-12 Libero of the Year), OH/RS Torrey Van Winden* (2016 All-Pac-12 First-Team) and MB Jennie Frager (2016 All-Pac-12 First Team, 2015 All-Pac-12 HM)
- Key Returners: OH Reily Buechler (Three-time All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention)
- Top Newcomers: OH Sarah Sponcil (Loyola Marymount transfer; two-time AVCA All-America HM), OH Jenny Mosser (2017 HS UA First-Team AA), OH Mac May (2017 HS UA Second-Team AA) and MB Emily Ryan (2017 HS UA All-America HM)
- Other Notes: *Van Winden is leaving as a transfer to Cal Poly
- Bottom Line: Somehow UCLA didn’t have any AVCA All-Americans last season, even with star libero Taylor Formico. Instead, they were a solid all-around team that had depth and talent everywhere on the roster. They lose some big chunks off that roster like Formico, Van Winden, Frager and Jordan Anderson (2016 All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention) as some of that depth will be tested. The Bruins recruit to where they have players ready to go and tacked on a large incoming class with three high school All-Americans. Sarah Sponcil may have been the top transfer available after a strong career at Loyola Marymount where she starred in a 2015 Sweet 16 run. She serves as a symbol of established talent on a team that doesn’t have a ton, which puts UCLA in a weird position. Will their talent keep them among the nation’s best or will their lack of experience push them down a notch? If Sponcil and Reily Buechler are a dynamic duo, that could help everything else fall into place for 2017.
13. BYU COUGARS – 100 points
- 2016: Sweet 16, #8 in final AVCA Poll, 29-4 (16-2, 1st in WCC)
- Returning Letterwinners/Starters (at least half of matches): 12/4 + Libero
- Incoming Freshmen (UA All-Americans)/Transfers: 3 (2)/1
- Key Losses: MB Amy Boswell (2016 AVCA First-Team All-American)
- Key Returners: OH McKenna Miller (2016 AVCA Third-Team All-American)
- Top Newcomers: OH Taylen Ballard (2017 HS UA First-Team AA) and RS Sara Hamson (2017 HS UA All-America HM)
- Other Notes: None
- Bottom Line: The Cougars had a few match points to upset Texas in the Sweet 16, but fell short. They do have a void to fill in the middle after losing star Amy Boswell and All-WCC First-Team middle blocker Whitney Young-Howard. Even if the position is not as strong, BYU should have plenty of strengths to cover it up; 2016 WCC Freshman of the Year and kill-leader McKenna Miller returns with fellow outside hitters Veronica Jones-Perry and Lacy Haddock, who each netted over 200 kills last season. High School All-American Taylen Ballard only adds to what should be one of the best outside hitter positional groups in the country. Lacy’s sister, Lyndie Haddock, will keep the delivery to the pins running smoothly after posting 10.26 assists per set in 2016. BYU won’t have the defensive presence of Boswell and Howard, but libero Mary Lake should keep the defense going after earning a spot on the All-WCC Freshman Team.
14. KENTUCKY WILDCATS – 86 points
- 2016: Second Round, #23 in final AVCA Poll, 23-8 (15-3, T-3rd in SEC)
- Returning Letterwinners/Starters (at least half of matches): 11/5 + Libero
- Incoming Freshmen (UA All-Americans)/Transfers: 4 (4)/1
- Key Losses: OH Anni Thomasson (2014 AVCA All-America HM)
- Key Returners: OH Leah Edmond (2016 AVCA Third-Team AA), L Ashley Dusek (2016 AVCA All-America HM) and S Olivia Dailey (2016 AVCA All-America HM)
- Top Newcomers: OH Meridith Jewell (Morehead State transfer; two-time All-OVC; 2015 HS UA All-American), L/DS Gabby Curry (2017 HS UA First-Team AA), S Madison Lilley (2017 HS UA First-Team AA), MB Kendyl Paris (2017 HS UA Second-Team AA) and OH Avery Skinner (2017 HS UA Third-Team AA)
- Other Notes: None
- Bottom Line: Kentucky had an up-and-down non-conference slate in 2016 before finishing just a win back of an SEC Championship. They lose just one starter as they had a young team that is ready to explode in 2017, led by 2016 SEC Freshman of the Year Leah Edmond. In fact, all of the award-recognized Wildcats are back for 2017, as beyond Edmond, setter Olivia Dailey and libero Ashley Dusek return as upperclasswomen. Another starter, Kaz Brown, didn’t get AVCA status, but the All-SEC middle blocker returns for her senior season. The combination of returning starters, letterwinners back, a transfer who can immediately fill-in for the one lost starter and a dynamic freshmen class will give Kentucky a shot at an SEC Championship and a top-16 seed come NCAA Tournament time, especially if the five freshmen blend in with the 10 upperclasswomen.
15. OREGON DUCKS – 83 points
- 2016: Second Round, #21 in final AVCA Poll, 21-10 (13-7, 4th in Pac-12)
- Returning Letterwinners/Starters (at least half of matches): 12/6
- Incoming Freshmen (UA All-Americans)/Transfers: 1 (0)/0
- Key Losses: L Amanda Benson (2016 AVCA All-America HM)
- Key Returners: OH Lindsey Vander Weide (2016 AVCA Third-Team All-American)
- Top Newcomers: OH Haley McLaren (Redshirted in 2016; Played in 16 sets in 2015; 2015 HS UA Third-Team AA)
- Other Notes: Ex-Oregon head coach Jim Moore and assistant Stacy Metro relieved of coaching duties
- Bottom Line: 32 year-old head coach Matt Ulmer should ease into his first season at the helm as he has an experienced roster back in 2017. They do experience one huge loss in libero Amanda Benson, who is now with USA Volleyball. There aren’t many holes after that though as all six starters return with Vander Weide and four others who were All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention in 2016. That quartet consists of Taylor Agost (right side), Lauren Page (middle blocker/outside hitter), Jolie Rasmussen (outside hitter) and Ronika Stone (middle blocker). In total, nine of the top 10 in kills and digs, the top two in assists and 10 of the top 11 in aces and blocks all are back in Eugene. Throw Haley McLaren, a 6’3″ outside hitter, in the mix after she redshirted as a sophomore following coming in as a PrepVolleyball top 40 recruit and playing sparingly as a freshman.