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 the next five days, we will be releasing five teams at a time. Henceforth, on day one, we release teams ranked 21-25.
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.
21. UTAH UTES – 46 points
- 2016: First Round, #25 in final AVCA Poll, 20-12 (11-9, T-5th in Pac-12)
- Returning Letterwinners/Starters (at least half of matches): 7/5
- Incoming Freshmen (UA All-Americans)/Transfers: 7 (2)/1
- Key Losses: None
- Key Returners: OH Adora Anae (2016 AVCA Second-Team All-American)
- Top Newcomers: OH Lauga Gauta (Northwest College transfer; Two-time NJCAA All-American), RS Dani Barton (2017 HS UA Second-Team AA) and OH Shannon Scully (2017 HS UA Third-Team AA)
- Other Notes: None
- Bottom Line: Utah technically returns four starters but we made an exception as Brianna Doehrmann, Torre Glasker and Carly Trueman combined to start 22 matches. The biggest losses are Eliza Katoa (21 starts) and Megan Shughrou (11 starts). Utah rotated its libero, but Doehrmann should secure the role. They return their top four in kills, led by Anae, who had an outrageous 592. Trueman only started 2 matches, but had 346 kills (second on Utah). Middle blocker Tawnee Luafalemana is back after joining the team in 2016 from the JuCo ranks and earning Pac-12 Honorable Mention, something that Lauga Gauta will attempt after winning NJCAA National Player of the Year. Adding to a dynamic front row will be two high school All-Americans. One question is depth with just seven letterwinners (eight counting a redshirt) back. With a huge recruiting class they have numbers and talent, but will all of them be ready to contribute?
22. OHIO STATE BUCKEYES – 44 points
- 2016: Sweet 16, #18 in final AVCA Poll, 22-13 (10-10, T-7th in Big Ten)
- Returning Letterwinners/Starters (at least half of matches): 9/5
- Incoming Freshmen (UA All-Americans)/Transfers: 4 (2)/2
- Key Losses: MB Taylor Sandbothe (2016 AVCA Second-Team All-American) and L Valeria Leon (Ohio State’s all-time dig leader)
- Key Returners: S Taylor Hughes (2016 AVCA All-America HM)
- Top Newcomers: OH Ayanna Swan (2017 HS UA First-Team AA) and MB Lauren Witte (2017 HS UA First-Team AA)
- Other Notes: Transfers are DS Megan Carr (Freshman from Butler) and Jasmine Koonts (Junior from Arizona State; 190 kills and 133 blocks in two seasons)
- Bottom Line: After making a Sweet 16, Ohio State lost Taylor Sandbothe (506 kills) to graduation. They return players ranked second through seventh in kills though for setter Taylor Hughes. Outside hitters Luisa Schirmer (364 kills) and Audra Appold (349 kills) lead the way while Hughes posted a resounding 227 kills as a setter. Madison Smeathers should keep an offensive threat in the middle after logging 171 kills on a .301 hitting percentage in year one. Even though someone will have to prove themselves as an option who is keyed on by the opposition every night, they should be a strong offense. There will be questions on defense, as Ohio State’s all-time digs leader, Valeria Leon, graduates. Sandbothe (Ohio State’s all-time block leader) totaled more than half the teams blocks per set for a bottom four blocking team in the Big Ten. They’ll hope improvement comes from within or some of the six newcomers can add to the defense in 2017.
23. SAN DIEGO TOREROS – 36 points
- 2016: First Round, #22 in final AVCA Poll, 24-6 (15-3, 2nd in WCC)
- Returning Letterwinners/Starters (at least half of matches): 12/4
- Incoming Freshmen (UA All-Americans)/Transfers: 3 (0)/0
- Key Losses: MB/RS/OH Lisa Kramer (2016 AVCA All-America HM) and MB Lauren Schad (2016 AVCA All-America HM)
- Key Returners: S Kristen Gengenbacher (two-time All-WCC HM)
- Top Newcomers: S Allyson Eylers (Redshirted in 2016)
- Other Notes: None
- Bottom Line: At the time of the committee’s teaser a month from the actual field, San Diego came in as the fifth overall seed. They then hit a tailspin by losing three of their final six, including in the first round to Baylor. Libero Hunter Jennings (WCC First-Team) graduates with Kramer and Schad, who were fifth and second in blocks per set, respectively in addition to being the top scorers. Gengenbacher and Anna Newsome formed a nice 6-2 setter duo as both are back to try and offset the offensive losses. The good news is they have everyone who ranked third-11th in kills back, as Kaity Edwards (MB), Lauren Fuller (OH), Thana Fayad (OH) and Jayden Kennedy (RS) combined for 807 kills with each at 170 or more. Edwards was also All-WCC Honorable Mention and Addie Picha led the team in blocks, so San Diego should be fine in the middle. If they fill the libero role and others pick up what was lost, San Diego could have a better finish than in 2016.
24. ARIZONA WILDCATS – 27 points
- 2016: Sweet 16, #20 in final AVCA Poll, 20-15 (10-10, T-7th in Pac-12)
- Returning Letterwinners/Starters (at least half of matches): 9/3
- Incoming Freshmen (UA All-Americans)/Transfers: 6 (3)/2
- Key Losses: S Penina Snuka (2016 AVCA Third-Team All-American) and OH Kalei Mau (2016 AVCA Third-Team All-American)
- Key Returners: OH Kendra Dahlke (Team-best 496 kills in 2016)
- Top Newcomers: MB Candice Denny (2017 HS UA Second-Team AA), OH Katie Smoot (2017 HS UA All-America HM) and OH Paige Whipple (2017 HS UA All-America HM)
- Other Notes: Transfers are Kimberly Gutierrez (San Francisco) and Mackenzie Hernandez (Bakersfield College)
- Bottom Line: Arizona is another Pac-12 team that had a mass exodus of talent but bring in highly-regarded recruitings and transfers to plug any holes. The biggest losses are Snuka and Mau, who were vital in an upset of Michigan State to reach the Sweet 16. Libero Laura Larson leaves another hole with Katerina Pilepic, who was third in kills/set. They need Dahlke to step up with 6’7″ middle blocker McKenzie Jacobson (fourth in kills) and fellow middle Devyn Cross, who was the team-leader in blocks. Sophomore Julia Patterson was a backup last year after coming in as PrepVolleyball’s number 67 recruit and should slide into the setter position. They may have their libero too after Gutierrez transferred from San Francisco where she was sixth all-time in digs. So although they lose a myriad of talent, they have players capable of sliding into needed roles. They also have the talent to make things work up front with what’s back combined with three high school All-Americans.
25. PURDUE BOILERMAKERS – 23 points
- 2016: Second Round, RV (#29) in final AVCA Poll, 19-14 (8-12, 10th in Big Ten)
- Returning Letterwinners/Starters (at least half of matches): 11/5 + Libero
- Incoming Freshmen (UA All-Americans)/Transfers: 4 (3)/1
- Key Losses: MB Faye Adelaja (2016 All-Big Ten HM, 2015 AVCA All-America HM)
- Key Returners: OH Danielle Cuttino (2016 Unanimous All-Big Ten selection, 2015 AVCA All-America HM)
- Top Newcomers: S Hayley Bush (2017 HS UA Third-Team AA), DS/L Julianna Reisinger (2017 HS UA Third-Team AA) and DS/L Jena Otec (2017 HS UA All-America HM)
- Other Notes: Transfer is Erin Williams (Loyola Marymount)
- Bottom Line: Purdue had superb non-conference victories over Stanford and Kansas but struggled in Big Ten play. They still made the NCAA Tournament second round and now only have to overcome losing one starter in middle blocker Faye Adelaja. In total, the Purdue returns all other 10 athletes who played in their last match. The leader of that crew is Danielle Cuttino, who had over 200 kills more than any other Boilermaker. Her sister, Shavona Cuttino, could be in for a bigger role too. Ashley Evans is back at setter and will have options beyond Cuttino in outside hitters Azariah Stahl (second on team with 326 kills) and Sherridan Atkinson (268 kills), along with middle blocker Blake Mohler (.299 hitting percentage and team-leader in blocks). Natalie Haben and Brooke Peters were viable defensive specialists as the team adds more to the position with two high school All-Americans, so they should have strong libero play no matter who it is.