Women’s NCAA Preview 2014

The VBM 2014 Women's NCAA Preview

After eight months of off-season and preseason training, the following powerhouse, noisemaking, and notable college volleyball teams will take the court this fall. They’ll battle through preseason tournaments and conference schedules but all the while, their eyes will be on the prize, the final four in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Dec. 18-20.

National runner-up Wisconsin graduated only one starter following its remarkable 2013 season; Washington’s AVCA Player of the Year Krista Vansant hopes to lead her team to glory in her senior year; and defending champion Penn State lost starters Katie Slay, Ariel Scott, and Deja McClendon but welcomes the highest-rated recruiting class in the country. Review the rosters, brush up on your stats, and decide for yourself who will top the charts this season.

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POWERHOUSES

NEBRASKA

2013 Record: 26-7
2013 Postseason: NCAA Regional Finals
Head Coach: John Cook (574-121; 21 years)
Key Losses: Morgan Broekhuis (Opp.), Brenna Lyles (DS), Kelsey Robinson (OH)
Newcomers: Annika Albrecht (Fr., OH/DS), Olivia Boender (Fr., OH), Maddie Haggerty (Fr., OH), Kira Larson (RS Fr., MB), Sydney Townsend (Fr., DS)
X-Factors: Mary Pollmiller (Sr., S), Kadie Rolfzen (So., OH)

Notes on Nebraska: Nebraska’s young squad didn’t miss a beat last season. Despite adding 10 new faces to the mix, the Huskers matched their 2012 record and advanced to the NCAA regional finals. Six of seven key contributors are back for more in 2014, including Third Team All-American Kadie Rolfzen (377k, 285d, 60b), Honorable Mention All-Americans Pollmiller (1,279a, 102k, 232d, 61b), and Meghan Haggerty (Jr., MB, 178k, 108b). Justine Wong-Orantes (So., L, 399d) and Amber Rolfzen (So., OH, 244k, 206d, 102b) return after breakout freshman campaigns and should continue to pace the defense from the backcourt and at the net, respectively. The loss of First Team All-American and Big Ten Player of the Year Robinson (530k, 396d, 78b) will leave a gaping hole in the Husker lineup, but this seasoned team has the talent and experience to once again pick up where they left off and contend for the title.

Coach Cook on the team: “I love this team, how hard they work and their passion for volleyball. Our leadership with Mary Pollmiller is exceptional. This team has a chance to be special in many ways, and we believe all four of our freshman will help us this fall. They have played on winning teams and will have a great opportunity to compete for playing time.”

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WASHINGTON

2013 Record: 32-3
2013 Postseason: NCAA Semifinals
Head Coach: Jim McLaughlin (406-130; 17 years)
Key Losses: Kylin Munoz (OH), Jenni Nogueras (S), Jenna Orlandini (L)
Newcomers: Crissy Jones (Fr., MB/OH), Courtney Schwan (Fr., OH), Tia Scambray (Fr., OH)
X-Factors: Kaleigh Nelson (Sr., OH), Lianna Sybeldon (Jr., MB), Krista Vansant (Sr., OH)

Notes on Washington: With six returning starters from last season’s NCAA semifinal team, this veteran Husky squad is chomping at the bit to hoist the trophy in 2014. Look for AVCA Player of the Year and First Team All-American Vansant (511k, 327d, 81b) and Third Team All-American Nelson (360k, 53d, 84b) to lead the charge with help from last season’s top blockers Melanie Wade (Jr., MB, 152k, 137b) and Sybeldon (232k, 151b). After sharing duties with now-graduated Nogueras (758a) last season, Katy Beals (Jr., S, 641a) should add consistency to the Huskies’ offense. Washington will likely call on their all-around expert Cassie Strickland (Jr., OH, 150k, 336d, 30b) to step up and replace the defensive contributions of starting libero Orlandini (487d). An offense-heavy incoming class adds more firepower to the front line and puts the Huskies in a great position to win the final match of the season.

Coach McLaughlin on the schedule: “We will have a lot of depth and competition at each position, so each day will count as we will have a number of questions that must be answered before we begin Pac-12 play.”

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PENN STATE

2013 Record: 34-2
2013 Postseason: NCAA National Champion
Head Coach: Russ Rose (1,125-177; 35 years)
Key Losses: Deja McClendon (OH), Ariel Scott (Opp.), Katie Slay (MB)
Newcomers: Lainy Pierce (Fr., DS), Ali Frantti (Fr., OH), Nia Reed (Fr., OH), Haleigh Washington (Fr., MB), Heidi Thelen (Fr., MB), Bryanna Weiskircher (Fr., S), Simone Lee (Fr., OH)
X-Factors: Nia Grant (Sr., MB), Micha Hancock (Sr., S)

Notes on Penn State: The Nittany Lions added another chapter to the already rich championship history of their institution by claiming the NCAA title last season. After quarterbacking her squad to a .305 hitting efficiency and blasting 82 aces, First Team All-American Hancock (1,425a, 289d, 74b) will once again terrorize opponents with her wicked jump serve and smooth setting. Honorable Mention All-American Grant (208k, 97b) will provide Hancock with a viable scoring option, as will Megan Courtney (Jr., OH, 297k, 301d, 87b). Keeping Hancock in-system will be returning libero Dominique Gonzalez (Sr., 416d) and defensive specialist Lacey Fuller (Sr., 141d); however, the Nittany Lions have big shoes to fill after the graduation of their All-American trio. Second Team All-American McClendon (378k, 363d, 77b) and First Team All-American Scott (383k, 103d, 94b) led the squad in kills last season, while Third Team All-American Slay (274k, 207b) paced Penn State’s block. Despite the loss of these three cornerstone players, a large incoming class will leave the Penn State roster as deep and talented as ever.

Coach Rose on the team: “We graduated three players who [together] achieved All-American recognition 10 times during their careers. We have a lot of young people coming in, and right now we’re just projecting what they’ll be able to do since we haven’t worked with them yet.”

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TEXAS

2013 Record: 27-3
2013 Postseason: NCAA Semifinals
Head Coach: Jerritt Elliott (372-94; 14 years)
Key Losses: Hannah Allison (S), Sarah Palmer (L), Bailey Webster (OH)
Newcomers: Tiffany Baker (RS Jr., OH), Mirta Baselovic (Fr., MB)
X-Factors: Haley Eckerman (Sr., OH), Chiaka Ogbogu (So., MB)

Notes on Texas: Despite their talent-packed roster featuring six All-Americans, the Longhorns’ back-to-back title dream was crushed by an underdog Wisconsin squad in the 2013 NCAA semifinals. Ten players are back for vengeance in 2014, including six starters and four All-Americans. Texas loses two key components of its offense in Second Team All-American Webster (376k, 71d, 67b) and Honorable Mention All-American Allison (801a), but last season’s leading scorer, First Team All-American Eckerman (447k, 274d, 44b), is back for her farewell season. Second Team All-American Ogbogu (146k, 91b) posted a head-turning freshman campaign last year and will only be tougher this season as she now has a full year of collegiate volleyball under her belt. Add Honorable Mention All-Americans Khat Bell (Sr., MB/OH, 188k, 76d, 137b) and Molly McCage (Jr., MB, 154k, 138b) along with starters Kat Brooks (Jr., DS, 134d) and Amy Neal (Jr., DS/OH, 48k, 237d, 14b) to the mix, and Texas has every opportunity to hook the 2014 title.

Coach Elliott on the schedule: “We try to schedule tough home matches, but it’s harder and harder to find top teams that want to play us in Austin. We have a great opening tournament in New Mexico to play in front of junior middle blocker Sara Hattis’ family, and we have matches against Florida, Nebraska, and Arizona on the schedule, too.”

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USC

2013 Record: 29-6
2013 Postseason: NCAA Regional Finals
Head Coach: Mick Haley (865-213; 29 years)
Key Losses: Natalie Hagglund (L), Alexis Olgard (MB), Sara Shaw (OH)
Newcomers: Brittany Abercrombie (Fr., OH), Jordan Dunn (Fr., MB), Lauryn Gillis (Fr., OH), Taylor Wheatley (Fr., OH)
X-Factors: Samantha Bricio (Jr., OH), Ebony Nwanebu (So., OH)

Notes on USC: USC benefitted greatly from the net presence of Third Team All-American Olgard (258k, 150b), the defensive prowess of First Team All-American Hagglund (656d), and the consistent play of Shaw (239k, 340d, 61b) over the last four seasons. Despite the graduation of this trifecta, USC’s roster should be as talented and deep as ever in 2014. Second Team All-American Bricio (422k, 331d, 61b) and First Team All-American Nwanebu (413k, 97b) are back after combining for almost half of the team’s total kills last season. Alice Pizzasegola (So., S, 701a) and Hayley Crone (Sr., S, 812a) will likely share setter duties. Hannah Schraer (Sr., MB, 159k, 116b) is the top returning blocker, having posted the second-most total blocks last season behind the now-graduated Olgard. A strong incoming class (ranked second in the nation) will challenge the returners and push this USC program to the next level.

Coach Haley on the team: “Our 2014 squad is talented, but young. In all, we have 10 underclassmen players, but I think this team should be able to provide plenty of offense. Ball-control skills will be the key to success. Junior Samantha Bricio, sophomore Ebony Nwanebu, and a host of freshmen who can score will be the highlight of this Trojan offense.”

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NOISEMAKERS

STANFORD

2013 Record: 27-6
2013 Postseason: NCAA Regional Finals
Head Coach: John Dunning (805-169; 29 years)
Key Losses: Rachel Williams (OH), Carly Wopat (MB)
Newcomers: Sarah Benjamin (Fr., DS), Sidney Brown (Fr., OH), Merete Lutz (RS Fr., MB), Ivana Vanjak (RS Fr., OH)
X-Factors: Inky Ajanaku (Jr., MB), Madi Bugg (Jr., S)

Notes on Stanford: Five Cardinal players earned All-American recognition after last season’s 27-6 record and NCAA Regional Finals appearance, and four of the five are back in 2014. Stanford loses half of their First Team All-American middle tandem in Wopat (315k, 156b), but her counterpart Ajanaku (291k, 148b) returns as a controlling force at the net. Second Team All-American Bugg (1,330a) will continue to run the offense after leading her squad to a .308 hitting efficiency in 2013. Honorable Mention All-Americans Kyle Gilbert (Sr., L, 544d) and Jordan Burgess (Jr., OH, 309k, 316d, 52b) along with consistent contributor Brittany Howard (Jr., OH, 304k, 294d, 79b) round out Stanford’s talented, veteran core. With 11 returning letter winners and four talented newcomers, the Cardinal should be able to replace the all-around play of Williams (306k, 286d, 78b) and compete for the title in 2014.

Coach Dunning on the schedule: “We scheduled as challenging a schedule as we could in preseason, playing Penn State, Illinois, Nebraska, Iowa State, San Diego, Duke, and so on. This type of schedule will undoubtedly prepare us for Pac-12 competition. Our conference will be even tougher than last year.”

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FLORIDA STATE

2013 Record: 26-8
2013 Postseason: NCAA Regional Semifinals
Head Coach: Chris Poole (706-272; 27 years)
Key Losses: Olivera Medic (OH), Ashley Neff (MB), Elise Walch (Opp.)
Newcomers: Gabby Dixon (Fr., Opp.), Milica Kubura (Fr., Opp.), Kacey Saunier (Fr., DS), Mercedes Vaughn (RS Jr., MB/Opp.), Cecilie Woie (Fr., DS), Kiara Wright (Jr., MB)
X-Factors: Katie Mosher (RS Sr., L), Nicole Walch (Jr., OH)

Notes on Florida State: The addition of transfers Wright (USC) and Vaughn (College of Southern Idaho) adds experience to the Florida State gym and will help the Seminoles pick up where they left off last season despite the graduation of Medic (197k, 386d, 51b) and Honorable Mention All-Americans Elise Walch (330k, 60d, 72b) and Neff (225k, 174b). After decisively leading the Seminoles’ offensive efforts last season, Honorable Mention All-American Nicole Walch (447k, 297d, 61b) headlines the strong core of returning starters. Hailey Luke (So., S, 605a) and Sarah Wickstrom (Sr., S, 854a) are back after sharing setting duties in the Seminoles’ 6-2 offensive system last season. Both will remain in the mix and vie for court time in 2014. Mosher (506d) will continue to lead the back row, while Sarah Burrington (RS So., MB, 226k, 149b) should once again see time in the middle.

Coach Poole on the team: “Overall, I believe this will be one of the most talented groups of players that I have ever coached at one time. The athleticism on this team is going to be outstanding and give us an opportunity to match up physically with any team we play.”

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PURDUE

2013 Record: 23-12
2013 Postseason: NCAA Regional Finals
Head Coach: Dave Shondell (237-131; 11 years)
Key Losses: Carly Cramer (L), Rachel Davis (S), Hilliary Fox (OH/DS), Catherine Rebarchak (OH)
Newcomers: Christina Ambrose (Fr., OH), Danielle Cuttino (Fr., MB), Carissa Damler (Fr., DS), Lydia Dimke (Fr., S/OH), Ashley Evans (RS Fr., S), Kaisley Fisher (RS Jr., MB), Burgundy Price (FR., DS), Linnea Rohrsen (Fr., DS), Azariah Stahl (Fr., OH)
X-Factors: KiKi Jones (Sr., MB), Val Nichol (Sr., S/OH)

Notes on Purdue: The Boilermakers fought their way through an incredibly tough Big Ten conference to earn an NCAA tournament berth and made the most of it with an NCAA Regional Finals appearance. The returning nucleus is talent-packed and highlighted by Third Team All-American Nichol (363k, 790a, 234d, 85b), an all-everything player, and Honorable Mention All-American Jones (281k, 159b). The graduation of several key players, including defensive dandies Cramer (493d) and Fox (346d), all-around weapon Rebarchak (304k, 56d, 78b), and setter Davis (659a, 252d), will leave Purdue with significant holes in their lineup. A slew of returners led by Annie Drews (Jr., OH, 244k, 33d, 72b), Sam Epenesa (Jr., OH, 267k, 96d, 51b), Amanda Neill (Jr., DS, 245d), and Faye Adelaja (RS So., MB, 176k, 146b) along with a large incoming class should help the ease the blow and help keep the Boilermakers in the top half of the Big Ten.

Coach Shondell on the schedule: “Our conference will be extremely strong again. There may not be a real juggernaut in the eyes of the prognosticators, but rather 10 or 11 teams with the necessary talent to earn NCAA bids. I will be surprised if anybody runs away with the Big Ten title. I expect a real dog-fight in 2014.”

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WISCONSIN

2013 Record: 28-10
2013 Postseason: NCAA National Runner-Up
Head Coach: Kelly Sheffield (301-122, 13 years)
Key Losses: Annemarie Hickey (L)
Newcomers: Kelli Bates (Fr., OH), Taylor Fricano (RS Fr., OH), Erin Juley (RS Jr., S), Romana Kriskova (Jr., OH)
X-Factors: Lauren Carlini (So., S), Ellen Chapman (Sr., OH)

Notes on Wisconsin: The Wisconsin Badgers are back on the map. Under the leadership of new head coach Kelly Sheffield, the program posted their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2007 and blazed their way to the title match. With just one impact player graduating—starting libero Hickey (482d)—the Badgers are in position for another standout season in 2014. Second Team All-American Carlini (1,472a, 131k, 372d, 104b) returns to set the offense and has an arsenal of weapons at her disposal, including Honorable Mention All-American Chapman (512k, 136d, 63b), undersized fireball Deme Morales (Sr., OH, 406k, 403d, 39b), and utility player Courtney Thomas (Sr., OH, 311k, 214a, 362d, 101b). Last season’s blocking leaders Haleigh Nelson (So., MB, 252k, 164b) and Dominique Thompson (RS Sr., MB, 389k, 147b) round out the experienced front line. Additionally, 2012 starter Julie Mikaelsen (RS Sr., OH) returns to the mix after a broken foot kept her sidelined last season. With its strong returning lineup and experienced incoming class (featuring two transfers, Juley and Kriskova from Long Beach State and Virginia Commonwealth, respectively), this team could once again find itself on championship court in December if it can replace Hickey’s defensive contributions.

Coach Sheffield on the team: “Most everyone returns from last year’s roster, along with the new kids that are coming in and the injured players that were out last year and that are finally healthy. We should have a little more depth and options this year.”

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OREGON

2013 Record: 20-12
2013 Postseason: NCAA Second Round
Head Coach: Jim Moore (331-170; 17 years)
Key Losses: Lauren Plum (S), Ariana Williams (MB)
Newcomers: Taylor Agost (Fr., OH), Marine Hall-Poirier (Fr., OH), Alex Hojnar (Fr., DS), Maggie Scott (Fr., S), Frankie Shebby (Fr., OH)
X-Factors: Martenne Bettendorf (Jr., OH), Liz Brenner (Sr., OH)

Notes on Oregon: The Ducks fell off the deep end last season after making a big splash in 2012 and advancing to the NCAA championship match. With the help of one of the top recruiting classes in the nation and the return of six veteran players, Oregon should get back on track this season. Outside hitters Second Team All-American Brenner (514k, 347d, 41b) and Bettendorf (301k, 163d, 36b) are back after chalking up the first and third-most kills last season (nearly half of the team’s total kills). Canace Finley (Jr., Opp, 245k, 31d, 95b) tabbed the team’s fourth-most kills last season and will continue to score points from the opposite. At the graduation of Plum (52k, 1,019a, 236d, 29b), Shellsy Ashen (Sr., S, 379a, 198d) will be in the conversation for starting setter. The Ducks will have to find a way to overcome the loss of top-blocker Williams (333k, 104b), but Tatum Norton (Jr., DS, 199d) and Amanda Benson (So., L, 502d) are back to pick up balls that sneak past inexperienced blockers.

Coach Moore on the schedule: “It’s as challenging a schedule as we’ve ever had. Playing three Big Ten teams and going to Hawaii for a tournament before conference play is about as big as it gets.”

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NOTABLES

KENTUCKY

2013 Record: 22-9
2013 Postseason: NCAA Second Round
Head Coach: Craig Skinner (202-85; nine years)
Key Losses: Whitney Billings (OH), Jessi Greenberg (DS), Alexandra Morgan (MB)
Newcomers: Sharay Barnes (RS Fr., OH/MB), Kaz Brown (Fr., MB), Ashley Dusek (Fr., DS), Emily Franklin (RS Fr., MB), Darian Mack (Fr., OH)
X-Factors: Morgan Bergren (Jr., S), Anni Thomasson (So., OH)

Notes on Kentucky: The Wildcats posted a 22-9 record and clawed their way to the second round of the NCAA tournament before falling to a strong Michigan State team. Kentucky loses two key players in last season’s top hitter Second Team All-American Billings (406k, 312d, 83b) along with top blocker Honorable Mention All-American Morgan (236k, 135b). The Wildcats will likely look to all-around contributors Thomasson (242k, 251d, 43b) and Lauren O’Conner (Sr., OH, 220k, 37d, 51b) to step up and carry more of the offensive weight, while Sara Schwarzwalder (Jr., MB, 143k, 95b) has potential to take over at the net. Veteran setter Bergren (1,215a, 130k, 192d, 77b) returns to help smooth the transition as new players take on impact roles with help from back-row mainstay Jackie Napper (Sr., L, 443d). If the Wildcats can figure out a way to pick up where they left off last season, they will be ready to roar in 2014.

Coach Skinner on the team: “We feel that this group is very hungry and is looking forward to the season. We will have healthy competition in several positions. The balance of youth and experience on the roster will add to our success and exciting style of play.”

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BYU

2013 Record: 24-7
2013 Postseason: NCAA Regional Semifinals
Head Coach: Shawn Olmstead (73-20; three years)
Key Losses: Jessica Jardine (OH), Kathryn LeCheminant (MB)
Newcomers: Jaiden Achermann (Fr., DS), Cosy Burnett (Fr., OH), Danelle Parady (Fr., OH), Aspen Potter (Fr., MB), Alohi Robins-Hardy (Fr., S/OH), Malery Wahlin (Fr., S), Camille Walker (Fr., OH)
X-Factors: Alexa Gray (Jr., MB/OH), Jennifer Hamson (RS Sr., Opp.), Tambre Nobles (Sr., OH)

Notes on BYU: The Cougars welcome back seven starters from last season’s 24-7 squad that bested Hawaii and advanced to the NCAA Regional Semifinals, including their starting setter and top-two offensive weapons. Third Team All-American Gray (477k, 86d, 83b) is the lone 2013 All-American returning to the court for BYU, but the under-decorated Nobles (416k, 329d, 68b) is perfectly capable of dismantling teams and swinging for points. Camry Godfrey Willardson (Jr., S, 1,313a) returns after leading the Cougars to a .262 hitting efficiency last season, while Tia Withers Welling (Sr., DS, 325d) and Ciara Parker (Jr., DS, 462d) will continue to prowl behind the 10-foot line collecting digs. The loss of LeCheminant (241k, 148b) and Jardine (138k, 103d, 55b) at the net is a blow to BYU’s offense, but the Cougars will benefit greatly from the return of 6'7" 2012 First Team All-American opposite Hamson who red-shirted the 2013 season in order to focus on her basketball career.

Coach Olmstead on the schedule: “Our preseason schedule is an opportunity for us to prepare ourselves for competition in the WCC. We will be competing against teams from very strong conferences and also competing against teams that played in the NCAA tournament. We look forward to 2014.”

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ILLINOIS

2013 Record: 18-15
2013 Postseason: NCAA Regional Semifinals
Head Coach: Kevin Hambly (114-51; five years)
Key Losses: Courtney Abrahamovich (DS), Jennifer Beltran (L)
Newcomers: Matti Bielfeldt (Fr., MB), Brandi Donnelly (Fr., DS), Allison Palmer (RS So., S/DS)
X-Factors: Jocelynn Birks (RS Jr., OH),
Liz McMahon (Sr., OH)

Notes on Illinois: A battle-tested, veteran Illini squad will take the court this fall. Fourteen players from last season’s NCAA Regional Semifinals squad are back, while just two—Honorable Mention All-American libero Beltran (526d) and serving specialist Abrahamovich (50d, 20 aces)—have graduated. Third Team All-American Birks (500k, 278d, 76b) along with Morganne Criswell (Sr., OH, 250k, 56d, 36b) and McMahon (391k, 72d, 100b) should continue to put up big offensive numbers for the Illini, while middles Anna Dorn (RS Sr., MB, 111k, 109b) and Maddie Mayers (RS So., MB, 164k, 118b) will once again lock down the net. Alexis Viliunas (Jr., S, 1,220a, 50k, 322d, 49b) will remain in the mix for starting setter. Danielle Davis (So., DS, 192d) and Ali Stark (RS Jr., OH, 24k, 231d, 21b) were impact players for the Illini in the backcourt last season, and they will need to stay consistent to help Illinois compensate for the loss of Beltran and ease the transition to a new starting libero.

Coach Hambly on the team: “We have more quality players returning this year and we have more depth than we have had at Illinois since I was here. If we can stay relatively healthy, and the players compete and work hard, we could have an extremely competitive team. It will be up to the group to decide what they want to be.”

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KANSAS

2013 Record: 25-8
2013 Postseason: NCAA Regional Semifinals
Head Coach: Ray Bechard (273-217, 16 years)
Key Losses: Catherine Carmichael (OH), Caroline Jarmoc (MB), Jaime Mathieu (DS), Erin McNorton (S), Brianne Riley (L)
Newcomers: Addison Barry (Fr., DS), Claire Carpenter (Fr., DS), Kayla Cheadle (Fr., MB), Ainise Havili (Fr., S), Tori Miller (Fr., DS), Kelsie Payne (Fr., MB), Madison Rigdon (Fr., OH)
X-Factors: Chelsea Albers (Sr., OH), Sara McClinton (Sr., OH)

Notes on Kansas: Led by their duo of All-American seniors—Third Team All-American Jarmoc (382k, 97d, 144b) and Honorable Mention All-American McNorton (1,517a, 46k, 262d, 62b)—the Jayhawks posted a 12-4 Big 12 record and advanced to the NCAA Regional Semifinals in 2013. At the graduation of McNorton, incoming freshman Havili or returner Maggie Anderson (5a, 2k, 18d, 10 aces) will vie for the role of starting setter. The return of Honorable Mention All-Americans Albers (339k, 293d, 110b) and McClinton (354k, 41d, 38b) along with Tiana Dockery (Jr., OH, 196k, 81d, 40b) should help soothe the growing pains associated with introducing a new setter to the offense. Kansas also bids adieu to back-row staples Riley (555d) and Mathieu (292d) as well as steady contributor Carmichael (228k, 38d, 36b), but Tayler Soucie (So., MB, 232k, 135b) returns to the net after tallying the second-most blocks on the squad last season.

Coach Bechard on the schedule: “I think we’ve got to prepare our team to become what we want to be—a team that can advance in the NCAA tournament and have success in the Big 12 Conference. I don’t think you can do that unless you really step outside your comfort zone a little bit and play some of these teams that will be a challenge early on.”

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DUKE

2013 Record: 28-5
2013 Postseason: NCAA Second Round
Head Coach: Jolene Nagel (535-283; 26 years)
Key Losses: Elizabeth Campbell (OH), Chelsea Cook (MB), Ali McCurdy (L)
Newcomers: Nicole Elattrache (Fr., S/DS), Emma Paradiso (Fr., S), Anna Kropf (Fr., MB), Cadie Bates (Fr., OH)
X-Factors: Maggie Deichmeister (Sr., S), Jeme Obeime (Sr., OH), Emily Sklar (Jr., OH)

Notes on Duke: After suffering an upset to American in the second round of the NCAA tournament last season, the Blue Devils and their five returning starters are hungry for a deep post-season run in 2014. Third Team All-American Sklar (405k, 222d, 43b) will likely continue to lead all scorers with help from her Honorable Mention All-American setter Deichmeister (1,297a, 43k, 264d, 70b). While Sklar leads the team in kills, she is by no means the Blue Devils’ sole weapon. Honorable Mention All-American Obeime (376k, 79d, 42b) and Jordan Tucker (So., MB, 222k, 109b) add dimensions to Duke’s offense. The graduation of decorated defender Honorable Mention All-American McCurdy (593d) leaves a hole in the Blue Devils’ defense, but Sasha Karelov (So., DS, 265d) is back after a strong freshman campaign and could very well step into the libero position in 2014. Duke lost its top blocker Cook (256k, 133b) to graduation and its third-best hitter Campbell (304k, 255d, 95b) to Ohio State.

Coach Nagel on the schedule: “Our ACC schedule is different from years past since we no longer have travel partners. Due to the distance between matches, we have some split weekends which is new to us. The ACC schedule is a grind due to the competitiveness within our league, but that makes for very exciting matches.”

**Correction: The original version of this article stated that setter Alice Pizzasegola was not playing at USC this season. Pizzasegola is, however, playing and sharing setting duties with senior Hayley Crone.**

Originally published in October 2014

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