- 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 four), we crack into the top 10 with teams ranked six through 10.
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:
6. PENN STATE NITTANY LIONS (1) – 155 points
- 2016: Sweet 16, #10 in final AVCA Poll, 24-10 (14-6, 4th in Big Ten)
- Returning Letterwinners/Starters (at least half of matches): 14/6 + Libero
- Incoming Freshmen (UA All-Americans)/Transfers: 2 (1)/1
- Key Losses: None
- Key Returners: OH Simone Lee (2016 AVCA First-Team All-American) and MB Haleigh Washington (2016 AVCA First-Team All-American)
- Top Newcomers: RS Kathryn Cather (Ole Miss transfer; 2015 SEC All-Freshman Team) and OH Michaela Putnicki (2017 HS UA Third-Team AA)
- Other Notes: None
- Bottom Line: Although Penn State had an inconsistent regular season in 2016, they finished strong with a Sweet 16 appearance and were a point away from defeating top-seed Nebraska. Now, riding their end-of-year momentum, they return all six starters and the libero. The player most indicative of the rise was Ali Frantti, who netted 21 kills, 15 digs and six blocks in that final match vs. Nebraska. Penn State has plenty of depth with returners and newcomers, as they have the star power to compete against anyone with Lee and Washington up front. Middle blocker Tori Gorrell and libero Kendall White should progress as well after earning Big Ten All-Freshman Team honors last season. Setter Abby Detering will look for a strong senior send-off with plenty of options around her, and along with Frantti could be the wildcard in the Nittany Lion’s success.
7. KANSAS JAYHAWKS – 149 points
- 2016: Second Round, #12 in final AVCA Poll, 27-3 (15-1, 1st in Big 12)
- Returning Letterwinners/Starters (at least half of matches): 11/5
- Incoming Freshmen (UA All-Americans)/Transfers: 1 (0)/3
- Key Losses: L Cassie Wait (Big 12 Libero of the Year) and MB Tayler Soucie (Three-time All-Big 12)
- Key Returners: RS Kelsie Payne (2016 AVCA First-Team All-American) and S Ainise Havili (2016 AVCA Third-Team All-American)
- Top Newcomers: RS/S Gabby Simpson (Colorado transfer; two-time All-Pac-12 HM) and MB Taylor Alexander (Ole Miss transfer)
- Other Notes: Third transfer is Mmachi Nwoke from Arizona State
- Bottom Line: Although the Jayhawks fell in the second round, it was the most successful regular season in program history. 2015 was the best postseason, as now with two-time All-Americans Payne and Havili as seniors, Kansas will look to combine the successes of the last two years. Losing a starter and libero hurts, but returning two middle blockers in Zoe Hill and Kayla Cheadle along with adding Nwoke and Ole Miss’ 2016 block leader Taylor Alexander should ease the loss of Soucie. Kansas will be searching for the next libero, as the list is long and competitive. Beyond those questions, not only do they have a dynamic duo, but outside hitters Madison Rigdon (2016 All-Big 12 First-Team) and Jada Burse (2016 All-Big 12 Freshman Team) combine with Colorado transfer Gabby Simpson to form one of the nation’s deadliest attacks.
8. WISCONSIN BADGERS – 146 points
- 2016: Elite Eight, #5 in final AVCA Poll, 28-5 (17-3, T-2nd in Big Ten)
- Returning Letterwinners/Starters (at least half of matches): 9/3 or 4* + Libero
- Incoming Freshmen (UA All-Americans)/Transfers: 7 (4)/0
- Key Losses: S Lauren Carlini (2016 AVCA First-Team All-American), MB Haleigh Nelson (2016 AVCA Second-Team All-American)
- Key Returners: MB Tionna Williams (2016 AVCA Third-Team All-American); possibly OH Molly Haggerty* if healthy
- Top Newcomers: OH Madison Duello (Redshirted as a Soph. in ’16 & played in 29 matches in ’15; 2014 HS UA First-Team AA), S Sydney Hilley (2017 HS UA First-Team AA), OH Grace Loberg (2017 HS UA First-Team AA), MB Dana Rettke (2017 HS UA Second-Team AA) and OH Mariah Whalen (2017 HS UA Third-Team AA)
- Other Notes: Molly Haggerty could be out for the 2017 season after back surgery in the summer*
- Bottom Line: Wisconsin has top-notch talent, but what keeps them further down is a lack of experience, as over 40% of the roster are freshmen. Add in the loss of Lauren Carlini, a four-time All-American and team-leader along with 2016 All-American Haleigh Nelson and AVCA Honorable Mention All-Region opposite Romana Kriskova and Wisconsin has huge shoes to fill. They do bring in one of the best recruiting classes in the country and have some proven options back with outside hitter Lauryn Gillis and middle blocker Tionna Williams. They also should remain one of the stingiest defenses in the country with libero Kelli Bates and defensive specialist/team captain Amber MacDonald back. One big ‘if’ for the Badgers is the health of Molly Haggerty, who was an AVCA Third-Team All-American and the Big Ten Freshman of the Year after leading Wisconsin with 385 kills. After back surgery this offseason, she may not play, which would be a huge loss.
9. FLORIDA GATORS – 141 points
- 2016: Second Round, #15 in final AVCA Poll, 27-4 (16-2, T-1st in SEC)
- Returning Letterwinners/Starters (at least half of matches): 15/5 + Libero
- Incoming Freshmen (UA All-Americans)/Transfers: 2 (1)/0
- Key Losses: RS Alex Holston (2016 AVCA Second-Team All-American)
- Key Returners: MB Rhamat Alhassan (2016 AVCA Third-Team All-American), S Allie Monserez (2016 AVCA All-America HM), OH Carli Snyder (2016 AVCA All-America HM) and L Carolina Knop (2016 AVCA All-America HM)
- Top Newcomers: OH Paige Hammons (2017 HS UA First-Team AA)
- Other Notes: None
- Bottom Line: Just like Creighton, Florida technically brings back four starters with a mix of others not hitting enough starts, such as DS Allie Gregory (14 starts). So, we made another exception and counted Florida with five. Top option Alex Holston graduates, but Monserez led the NCAA in assists per set in 2016 and has plenty back on offense. Alhassan and Knop provide a great foundation on defense and the Gators should be one of the top blocking teams in the country as they bring back 6’8″ middle blocker Rachael Kramer. U.S. Women’s Junior National Team outside hitter Paige Hammons also joins the team as an immediate impact recruit. After losing in the second round in 2016, Florida will have some questions to whether their strong regular season was a bit of a fluke. However, with the talent they have accumulated for 2017, they should remind people why they were a top-10 regular season team last year.
10. NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS – 121 points
- 2016: Sweet 16, #11 in final AVCA Poll, 29-4 (19-1, 1st in ACC)
- Returning Letterwinners/Starters (at least half of matches): 11/4
- Incoming Freshmen (UA All-Americans)/Transfers: 3 (0)/1
- Key Losses: RS Taylor Treacy (Two-time All-ACC First-Team)
- Key Returners: OH Taylor Leath (2016 AVCA Second-Team All-American), OH Julia Scoles (2016 AVCA All-America HM)
- Top Newcomers: RS/S Holly Carlton (Redshirted in 2016; 2016 HS UA Third-Team AA) and S Kendra Koetter (transfer from Georgia Southern)
- Other Notes: None
- Bottom Line: North Carolina dominated the ACC in 2016 en route to the number seven ranking for the NCAA Tournament, where they advanced to the Sweet 16. They lose setter Abigail Curry (All-ACC Second-Team) and right side Taylor Treacy, but return the ACC Player of the Year Taylor Leath at a loaded outside hitter position that includes Julia Scoles and Taylor Borup (2016 All-ACC Freshman Team). Middle blocker Taylor Fricano (All-ACC Second Team) brings experience in between the pins along with Sydnye Fields, who averaged a whopping 1.38 blocks per set, and 6’7″ senior Beth Nordhorn, who started 14 matches in 2016. Any lineup with Nordhorn and 6’7″ Holly Carlton should put fear into their opponents, as the opposite/setter redshirted as a true freshman and was a part of the 2017 U.S. Women’s Junior National Team this summer. If they can find a consistent setter, North Carolina could be a dark-horse come tournament time.