We are 12 weeks away from the first week of the 2018 Division I women’s volleyball season. With that being said, it’s time for VolleyMob’s Way-Too-Early 2018 Preseason Top 25.
Since these rankings are early and we don’t necessarily have the full picture in terms of recruiting and transfers still to come, most of this is based on experience and starters returning. As we move closer to the fall, we will update our rankings as needed. Until then, we released five teams at a time this week, leading to the culmination of #1-5 today.
1. STANFORD CARDINAL
- 2017 Finish/Rank: Final Four, #4 in final VM Top 25
- 2017 Record: 30-4 (19-1, Pac-12)
- Starters Likely Returning for 2018: 5 + Libero
- Key Returners: OH Kathryn Plummer (2017 AVCA Player of the Year, Two-time AVCA First-Team AA), S Jenna Gray (2017 AVCA First-Team AA), L Morgan Hentz (2017 AVCA First-Team AA), MB Audriana Fitzmorris (2017 AVCA Second-Team AA), MB Tami Alade (2017 AVCA All-America HM), OH Meghan McClure (2017 Pac-12 Freshman Team)
- Key Losses: RS Merete Lutz (Four-time AVCA Second/Third-Team AA)
- Bottom Line: Stanford will have to overcome the loss of Lutz, who was their best attacker in the Final Four loss to Florida, but even then Lutz started in 16 matches with Kate Formico as a DS starting 14. They also have an incredible amount back with experience now playing in two Final Fours and winning a title. In 2015 Nebraska won it all but lost in the Final Four in 2016 before winning it in 2017. The Cardinal have followed the first two years of that path and should have a great chance to repeat as the soon-to-be junior class of Plummer-Gray-Hentz may represent the best player in the country at each position. Two talented middles add to it as well in Alade and Fitzmorris.
2. MINNESOTA GOLDEN GOPHERS
- 2017 Finish/Rank: Sweet 16, #8 in final VM Top 25
- 2017 Record: 28-6 (15-5 Big Ten)
- Starters Likely Returning for 2018: 5
- Key Returners: RS Stephanie Samedy (2017 AVCA First-Team AA), S Samantha Seliger-Swenson (Three-time AVCA AA, 2017 Second-Team), OH Alexis Hart (2017 AVCA Third-Team AA)
- Key Losses: MB Molly Lohman (2017 AVCA All-America HM)
- Bottom Line: Minnesota does lose a solid middle in Molly Lohman and libero Dalianliz Rosado, who’s been an underrated aspect of the defense the past few years, but has five starters back in what could potentially be another Final Four trip. Overall though, their five starters returning should make them an elite offense with Seliger-Swenson facilitating the attack. Stephanie Samedy should be a National Player of the Year candidate too. They should have plenty of depth after they owned seven freshmen and four sophomores this past season and still had a strong year. A new mix of talented freshman joins the bunch as well with head coach Hugh McCutcheon always hitting the recruiting trail hard.
3. NEBRASKA CORNHUSKERS
- 2017 Finish/Rank: National Champions, #1 in final VM Top 25
- 2017 Record: 32-4 (19-1, Big Ten)
- Starters Likely Returning for 2018: 2 + Libero
- Key Returners: OH Mikaela Foecke (2017 AVCA Second-Team AA), OH Jazz Sweet (2017 Big Ten Freshman Team), MB Lauren Stivrins (2017 Big Ten Freshman Team)
- Key Losses: S Kelly Hunter (Two-time AVCA AA, 2017 First-Team), OH Annika Albrecht (2017 AVCA Second-Team AA), MB Briana Holman (2017 AVCA All-America HM)
- Bottom Line: The Huskers lose four senior starters off of 2017’s National Championship roster, including three who earned some sort of All-America recognition. The most notable is legendary setter Kelly Hunter, who shared NCAA Tournament MOP with Mikaela Foecke. They struggled a bit early in the year when she was hurt, but on the bright side they have more experience playing without her now. Don’t let the two returning starters fool you though as Nebraska had eight first year players led by Stivrins and Sweet. Many of those youngsters didn’t start but saw valuable match experience. For example, Sweet only started six matches but was the first pin player off the bench and played in every match as a high-level option. They also tack on yet another great recruiting class and former top recruit and Texas transfer Lexi Sun. After wondering how good they could be in retooling last year, we put our trust in John Cook and put them at #3.
4. WISCONSIN BADGERS
- 2017 Finish/Rank: Sweet 16, #14 in final VM Top 25
- 2017 Record: 22-10 (11-9 Big Ten)
- Starters Likely Returning for 2018: 4 + Libero
- Key Returners: MB Dana Rettke (2017 AVCA First-Team AA, Freshman of the Year), S Sydney Hilley (2017 AVCA All-America HM), MB Tionna Williams (2017 AVCA All-America HM)
- Key Losses: None with award recognition
- Bottom Line: Wisconsin brings back a strong four starters plus the libero, but still has to overcome some losses as they bid farewell to a pair of solid players in Lauryn Gillis and Kelli Bates. However, with seven freshmen and five sophomores in 2017, the Badgers will be much more experienced and have a Player of the Year candidate in Rettke at the forefront. The wild card in it all is the return of Molly Haggerty, who was a 2016 AVCA All-America Third Team selection and the Big Ten Freshman of the Year before missing 2017 with a back injury. Madison Duello and Grace Loberg, who surged late in the season, should help round out what should be one of the more complete teams in the country and could easily win the Big Ten.
5. BYU COUGARS
- 2017 Finish/Rank: Sweet 16, #9 in final VM Top 25
- 2017 Record: 30-3 (17-1 WCC)
- Starters Likely Returning for 2018: 5 + Libero
- Key Returners: OH Veronica Jones-Perry (2017 AVCA Third-Team AA), L Mary Lake (2017 AVCA All-America HM), OH McKenna Miller (2017 AVCA All-America HM), S Lyndie Haddock (2017 WCC HM), MB Kennedy Redding (2017 WCC Freshman Team)
- Key Losses: MB Cosy Burnett (2017 AVCA All-America HM)
- Bottom Line: The Cougars were likely underseeded by the tournament committee this past season but for the second straight year almost upended their Sweet 16 host and fell short in a fifth. The 2018 team could be the one that breaks through and challenges for a National Championship similar to 2014, as they return six of their seven starters with three who earned some sort of All-America status. Veronica Jones-Perry could emerge as a Player of the Year candidate too on a team that has plenty of other options. They’ll need Redding to progress in year two as BYU loses yet another productive middle, but if she makes a jump along with highly recruited Taylen Ballard in year two, they should be one of the top teams in the country.