We know September is nine months away, but we couldn’t help but start speculating about the who’s who of NCAA women’s volleyball in 2017.
A lot will change, of course, before the season officially begins, but here’s what we know now: Stanford won the National Championship with youth and will keep most of the team intact, while teams like Minnesota and Nebraska will lose more than a few top players, which could spell trouble for them down the line.
As teams start returning to their gyms for spring training, here’s a look at where the top programs might fall when the first whistle blows later this year.
- The 2016 national champions will be without AVCA First-Team All-American Inky Ajanaku in 2017, but most of the team will be back to contend for a top-title repeat, led by AVCA Coach of the Year John Dunning.
- Freshman of the Year and First-Team All-American Kathryn Plummer will be a player to watch. She led Stanford in kills and kills per set with 461 and 3.34, respectively.
- Third-Team All-American Merete Lutz will return as well. She switched from middle blocker to opposite hitter this season and finished with 2.29 kills per set.
- Stanford finished 27-7 (15-5 Pac-12).
- The national championship runners-up Longhorns will start the 2017 season bringing in a top recruiting class featuring Lexi Sun, the No. 1 recruit (per PrepVolleyball), as well as No. 2 Brionne Butler and No. 6 Ashley Shook.
- Texas’ biggest threat to upset Stanford would be All-American middle blocker Chiaka Ogbogu returning in 2017. (She was academically ineligible for 2016.)
- AVCA First-Team All-Americans Ebony Nwanebu, a junior, and Micaya White, a freshman, will return for the Longhorns in 2017.
- Texas finished 27-5 (14-2 Big 12).
- Although Minnesota finished in the Final Four, the Golden Gophers will lose quite a few seniors, including AVCA Player of the Year Sarah Wilhite.
- However, First-Team All-American and Big Ten Setter of the Year Samantha Seliger-Swenson will return in 2017. In her sophomore season, she had 1,465 assists and 11.63 assists per set, good for first and eighth in the nation, respectively.
- Minnesota finished 29-5 (17-3 Big Ten).
- The Huskies fell to Nebraska in the Elite Eight, but they’ll graduate only one senior and reboot with a young roster.
- AVCA First-Team All-American and Pac-12 Player of the Year Courtney Schwan and Second-Team All-Americans Crissy Jones and Bailey Tanner will return in 2017.
- The Huskies signed Lauren Sanders, a top middle blocker and Under Armour High School First-Team All-American, for the 2017 season.
- Washington finished 29-5 (16-4 Pac-12).
- The Huskers made it to the Final Four, falling to eventual No. 2 Texas, but they’ll graduate three high-performing seniors in Justine Wong-Orantes, Amber Rolfzen and Kadie Rolfzen.
- However, junior setter and AVCA Second-Team All-American Kelly Hunter will return in 2017. She ranked 17th in the country in assists per set with 11.24, and 20th in total assists with 1,315.
- Nebraska will also bring in two Under Armour High School First-Team All-Americans: Jazz Sweet and Chesney McClellan.
- Nebraska finished 31-3 (18-2 Big Ten).
- Although No. 5 Kansas was upset by Creighton in the NCAA Tournament second round, the Jayhawks topped their conference, winning the Big 12 Championship.
- AVCA First-Team All-American Kelsie Payne and Third-Team All-American Ainise Havili will return in 2017.
- Kansas will also return outside hitter Madison Rigdon, who was seventh in the country in aces with 54 and 12th in aces per set with 0.47.
- Kansas finished 27-3 (15-1 Big 12).
- The Badgers made it to the Elite Eight, but they’ll lose top players like four-time All-American Lauren Carlini and Second-Team All-American Haleigh Nelson.
- But Third-Team All-American freshman Molly Haggerty will return. She led Wisconsin with 385 kills and 3.41 kills per set.
- The Badgers will also bring in three Under Armour High School All-Americans for 2017: Sydney Hilley, Grace Loberg, and Mariah Whalen.
- Wisconsin finished 28-5 (17-3 Big Ten).
- The Bruins will lose four seniors before the 2017 season, but they’ll return AVCA Pacific South All-Region First Team honoree freshman Torrey Van Winden.
- UCLA will add at least three Under Armour High School All-Americans in 2017: Mac May, Jenny Mosser, and Emily Ryan.
- UCLA finished 27-7 (15-5 Pac-12).
- The Bluejays tied the school record for wins, won the Big East, and made it to the Elite Eight for the first time.
- AVCA Third-Team All-American setter Lydia Dimke will return in 2017. She ranked second in the country in total assists (1,454) and 12th in assists per set (11.36).
- Creighton finished 29-7 (18-0 Big East).
- Florida topped the SEC rankings but was upset by Florida State in the NCAA Tournament second round.
- AVCA Third-Team All-American Rhamat Alhassan, a middle blocker, will return in 2017. She ranked ninth in the country in hitting percentage with 0.416 and 11th in blocks per set with 1.45.
- The Gators signed outside hitter Paige Hammons, a MaxPreps All-American First-Team selection and Under Armour High School First-Team All-American.
- Florida finished 27-4 (16-2 SEC).
11. Penn State
- Ended season 24-10 (13-6 Big Ten) in the Sweet Sixteen, led by AVCA First-Team All-Americans juniors Simone Lee and Haleigh Washington.
- Finished 29-4 (16-2 WCC) in the Sweet Sixteen, led by WCC Freshman of the Year and AVCA Third-Team All-American McKenna Miller.
13. North Carolina
- Ended season 29-4 in the Sweet Sixteen. Posted a program-best ACC record of 19-1, led by AVCA Second-Team All-American sophomore outside hitter Taylor Leath.
14. Florida State
- Finished 26-6 (17-3 ACC) in the Sweet Sixteen.
- Ended season 24-11 (11-9 Big Ten) in the Sweet Sixteen.
- Finished 27-6 (16-2 SEC) in the Sweet Sixteen, led by AVCA Third-Team All-American junior Melanie Crow.
- Ended season 23-8 (15-3 SEC) in the NCAA Tournament second round, led by SEC Freshman of the Year and AVCA Third-Team All-American Leah Edmond.
- Ended season 17-14 (10-10 Big Ten) led by AVCA All-America honorable mentions junior Brandi Donnelly and sophomores Ali Bastianelli and Jordyn Poulter.
- Finished 23-6 (15-1 Big West) and in the NCAA Tournament second round.
20. Michigan State
- Ended season 25-9 (13-7 Big Ten) in the NCAA Tournament second round, led by AVCA Second-Team All-American junior middle blocker Alyssa Garvelink.
21. Ohio State
- Finished 22-13 (10-10 Big Ten) in the Sweet Sixteen, led by sophomore and AVCA Third-Team All-American setter Taylor Hughes.
- Ended season 20-15 (10-10 Pac-12) in the Sweet Sixteen.
- Finished 21-10 (13-7 Pac-12) and made it to the NCAA Tournament second round, led by sophomore and AVCA Third-Team All-American outside hitter Lindsey Vander Weide.
24. San Diego
- Ended season 24-6 (15-3 West Coast Conference) and earned a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
- Finished 2016 season 22-12 (9-7 Big 12), but made it to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in five years, led by junior outside hitter Katie Staiger.