Way-Too-Early 2018 VM Top 25 (#11-15): Illinois Could Challenge Top Dogs in Big Ten

  0 Derek Johnson | May 30th, 2018 | Big Ten, College - Women's Indoor, News, Pac 12, Rankings

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 will release five teams at a time this week, leading to the culmination of #1-5 on Friday.


  • 2017 Finish/Rank: Sweet 16, #20 in final VM Top 25
  • 2017 Record: 23-11 (12-8 Big Ten)
  • Starters Likely Returning for 2018: 6
  • Key Returners: MB Ali Bastianelli (2017 AVCA Third-Team AA), S Jordyn Poulter (2017 AVCA Third-Team AA), OH Megan Cooney (2017 Big Ten Freshman Team)
  • Key Losses: L Brandi Donnelly (2016 AVCA All-America HM)
  • Bottom Line: The rugged Big Ten has shown favor to experienced-laden teams. For instance look no further to last year with Nebraska, Penn State and Michigan State making runs in the NCAA Tournament. Illinois could be like the Spartans this year as a Big Ten dark horse after last season they had just one senior on the roster compared to nine freshman. They also had three juniors and three sophomores. Unfortunately, the one senior lost was Donnelly, who missed the award stage after missing matches with injury. Her team-best 4.44 digs per set were vital though. They also lose their second best blocker in middle Tyanna Omazic to transfer. Still, with so much returning and a strong end to 2017, the Fighting Illini are a team to watch in 2018.


  • 2017 Finish/Rank: Sweet 16, #15 in final VM Top 25
  • 2017 Record: 21-11 (12-8 Pac-12)
  • Starters Likely Returning for 2018: 4 + Libero
  • Key Returners: MB Madeleine Gates (2017 AVCA Second-Team AA), L Zana Muno (2017 AVCA All-America HM), OH Mac May (2017 Pac-12 Freshman Team & HM), OH Jenny Mosser (2017 Pac-12 Freshman Team)
  • Key Losses: S Sarah Sponcil (2017 AVCA All-America HM), OH Reily Buechler (2017 Pac-12 First-Team)
  • Bottom Line: The Bruins lost several impact performers heading into 2017 after making the Elite Eight in 2016, but re-tooled with a strong freshman class and a big transfer addition. That transfer, Sponcil, was great in a position change to setter and helped push the Bruins back to the Sweet 16. They’ll have a hole to fill at that same spot now and also lose Buechler, but have plenty of options back at the front of the net to pair with Muno in the back. The combination of the returning talent should make for a better UCLA in 2018 as the battle between the Los Angeles schools could determine a top-two finish in another loaded version of the Pac-12.


  • 2017 Finish/Rank: Second Round, RV in final VM Top 25
  • 2017 Record: 18-12 (10-10 Pac-12)
  • Starters Likely Returning for 2018: 5*
  • Key Returners: MB Ronika Stone (2017 All-Pac-12 First Team), OH Jolie Rasmussen (2017 Pac-12 HM), OH Lindsey Vander Weide (2017 Pac-12 HM)
  • Key Losses: RS Taylor Agost (2017 AVCA All-America HM)
  • Bottom Line: Oregon had a rough end to 2017, but the start showed some of the potential they have when they upended Nebraska. They go through some losses, but a big core of the team progresses to pair with a yet another strong recruiting class. Pegging the amount of returning starters is difficult because they had eight players log 13 or more starts. Of that group, six players return. Seven of the eight started more than half of the team’s matches and five of those return. If you just take the top six for matches started, five are back as well. Regardless of the number, they’re on pace to have eight upperclassmen to mix with the new faces, giving them a high ceiling for 2018.


  • 2017 Finish/Rank: Second Round, #13 in final VM Top 25
  • 2017 Record: 25-8 (14-6 Pac-12)
  • Starters Likely Returning for 2018: 1+*
  • Key Returners: MB Lauren Sanders (2017 Pac-12 Freshman Team)
  • Key Losses: RS Carly DeHoog (2017 AVCA Third-Team AA), L Tia Scambray (2017 AVCA All-America HM), OH Courtney Schwan (2017 AVCA All-America HM), OH Crissy Jones (2017 Pac-12 HM), S Bailey Tanner (2017 Pac-12 HM)
  • Bottom Line: The number of returning starters is complicated for Washington, who with a rash of injuries had 11 players start eight or more matches. That makes things difficult in distinguishing who to count as a returning starter, but if you base it on the top six then just one returns in Sanders (who tied for the team-lead with 32 starts). Again though, Shayne McPherson, Kara Bajema, Destiny Julye and Avie Niece combined for 38 starts and all return, so realistically its a much more experienced team than that ‘one starter’ indicates. A big-time recruiting class in 2018 joins the group along with Maryland transfer Samantha Dreschel, creating a talented but challenging group of players for Keegan Cook to coach up.


  • 2017 Finish/Rank: Second Round, RV in final VM Top 25
  • 2017 Record: 21-12 (11-9 Big Ten)
  • Starters Likely Returning for 2018: 4 + Libero
  • Key Returners: OH Carly Skjodt (2017 AVCA Third-Team All-American)
  • Key Losses: MB Claire Kieffer-Wright (2017 AVCA All-America HM)
  • Bottom Line: Michigan began 2017 ranked, hit a rut in the middle and didn’t recover until season’s end when they won five straight including three over ranked opponents. There will still be questions if it was just a hot finish as opposed to turning the corner, especially when adding in the loss of Kieffer-Wright. However, the combination of Skjodt, other solid returners like Cori Crocker (2.07 kills per set, .313, 0.96 blocks per set) and company paired with a solid recruiting class and transfer MB/RS Katarina Glavinic gives the Wolverines big aspirations in 2018.

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