By Mike Miazga
In this year’s VolleyballMag.com women’s top recruiting classes poll, one thing is evident.
The rich are getting richer.
Panelists for the Class of 2016 rankings — this year comprised of nearly 20 NCAA Division I women’s coaches — were clear in their voting: The nation’s elite programs cornered the market on elite incoming freshmen.
Of the 10 teams on this year’s list, eight have a place in the American Volleyball Coaches Association 2016 top 25 preseason poll and five find themselves in the top 10. And those 10, which account for securing about 60 percent of the players chosen to the VolleyballMag.com Fab 50 list, also have a combined 18 NCAA titles to their credit.
Stanford was the near unanimous choice and the runaway first-place finisher with 57 percent more voting points than second-place Oregon.
Also of note is the No. 4 entry in the rankings North Carolina. Veteran UNC coach Joe Sagula secured himself an impressive 2016 class and his peers certainly felt the same way.
No. 1 Stanford
2016 recruits: Audriana Fitzmorris (6-6, MB, St. James Academy, Overland Park, Kan., Invasion), Jenna Gray (6-1, S, St. James Academy, Overland Park, Kan., Invasion), Morgan Hentz (5-9 DS-Libero, Notre Dame Academy, Park Hills, Ky., NKYVC), Caitlin Keefe (5-11, DS, Marymount, Los Angeles, Calif., Sunshine VBC), Michaela Keefe (6-2, OH, Marymount, Los Angeles, Calif., Sunshine VBC), Kathryn Plummer (6-6, S-RS, Aliso Niguel, Aliso Viejo, Calif., T-Street)
The skinny: Not much explanation needed with this haul — wow! Fitzmorris was the 2015 Volleyballmag.com girls’ high school player of the year and teamed with Gray in leading St. James Academy out of Kansas to tremendous success over the last few years. Fitzmorris, Gray, Hentz, Michaela Keefe and Plummer are all 2016 Volleyballmag.com Fab 50 picks, while Hentz and Plummer were 2015 Volleyballmag.com girls’ high school All-American first-team selections. “This is a class we have been looking at for a long time,” said Stanford coach John Dunning. “When last year’s seniors (on the 2015 roster) came in, they had a big impact. We knew from experience that when they leave that is better be a good year in recruiting for us. We are lucky to have a lot of really good students who are also great volleyball players in this class and who were very interested in Stanford. It needed to be a class for us that can make an impact and I definitely believe it will.”
No. 2 Oregon
2016 recruits: Willow Johnson (6-3, RS, Notre Dame, Phoenix, Ariz., AZ Storm), Jolie Rasmussen (6-2, OH, Canyon Crest Academy, San Diego, Calif., San Diego VBC), Ronika Stone (6-3, MB, Valley Christian, San Jose, Calif., Vision), Brooke Van Sickle (5-9, Libero, Battle Ground, Wash.,Excel NW VBC )
The skinny: A total of eight voting points separated the Nos. 2-5 classes in this poll with coach Jim Moore’s Ducks getting the nod at No. 2 with this four-player elite group. Johnson, Rasmussen and Stone were 2016 Fab 50 selections, while Johnson and Stone earned 2015 Volleyballmag.com girls’ high school All-American honorable mention accolades. Van Sickle and Stone were 2015 Under Armour All-American first-team picks, while Rasmussen, whose sister plays at Minnesota, was an Under Armour second-team pick. Johnson, the daughter of MLB Hall of Famer Randy Johnson, was a USA Today All-American first-team pick and has high school state and club national titles to her credit. “Ronika Stone probably is the one that is jumping out most at people,” Moore said. “However, Brooke is maybe the best volleyball player of all of them. Willow probably is the best right-side in the country and it’s great she is left-handed. Jolie is physical and very special. Those four kids are going to step in and make a big impact on this program. They have all the talent in the world and we think they are going to be very special, but they haven’t played here yet. How they handle adversity will determine how good they really are going to be.”
No. 3 USC
2016 recruits: Imani Davis (6-3, MB, All Saints Episcopal, Fort Worth, Texas, TAV), Raegan LeGrand (5-10, OH, Papillion La Vista South, Papillion, Neb., Nebraska Juniors), Daley Krage (6-4, RS, St. Charles North, St. Charles, Ill., Club Fusion), Khalia Lanier (6-2, OH, Xavier College Prep, Phoenix, Ariz., AZ Storm)
The skinny: Another elite recruiting class for longtime Trojans coach Mick Haley. Lanier was rated the top player in the Class of 2016 by a panel of NCAA Division I coaches who participated in the 2016 Volleyballmag.com Fab 50 voting. Lanier also was the 2015 Gatorade national player of the year. Lanier and Davis were Fab 50 selections, while LeGrand was a 2015 Volleyballmag.com girls’ high school All-American second-team pick. Krage was an elite high school and club player in the Chicago suburbs. “All four freshmen could earn a starting spot in the lineup this year,” said Haley. “Khalia highlights a great class and Reagan is everything that was advertised. Daley adds size and power to the opposite position and Imani has grown to 6-6 and will challenge in the middle.”
No. 4 North Carolina
2016 recruits: Taylor Borup (6-4, OH, Loudon Co., Leesburg, Va., Metro VBC), Holly Carlton (6-7, S-RS, Potomac Falls (Va.), Metro VBC), Katharine Esterley (6-2, MB, Chapel Hill, N.C., Triangle VBC), Mariah Evans (5-10, S, Lewis Palmer, Colorado Springs, Colo., Colorado Juniors), Mia Fradenburg (5-6, DS-Libero, Cardinal Gibbons, Raleigh, N.C., Triangle VBC), Greer Moseman (5-6, DS-Libero, Torrey Pines (San Diego, Calif., Coast VBC), Julia Scoles (6-1, OH, South Iredell, Statesville, N.C., Carolina Juniors).
The skinny: North Carolina graduated five seniors, four of whom 27th-year coach Joe Sagula noted were essentially four-year starters. Thus, the Tar Heels needed to replenish the cupboard and did so exceptionally with this class. Borup, Carlton and Scoles were 2016 Fab 50 selections and Scoles earned 2015 Volleyballmag.com girls’ high school All-American honorable-mention accolades. “We have seven total players who have played on high-profile club teams and accomplished a lot in their high-school careers,” said Sagula. “Julia and Taylor ranked among the Top 10 opposite hitters in the nation and Holly is one of the top two setter-right sides. Mia was the MVP on a state-championship team and Mariah set her team to back-to-back state championships. Greer played for Torrey Pines, which is consistently ranked one of the Top 10 high-school programs in the country.” Sagula sees the freshman group fitting into his system rather nicely. “We liked the 6-2 system, which means one of the incoming setters—Holly or Mariah—will have to play. Both middle blocker spots are open, so Katharine will compete for playing time and add depth. Possibly the biggest void is our six-rotation player. Julia and Taylor have done it at a very high level and we see them competing for that spot. Mia and Greer will add depth to our serve-receive and passing core. With the graduation of Heather Gearhart, we will be looking for someone who can help us in a variety of ways as she did.”
No. 5 Texas
2016 recruits: Orie Agbaji (6-2, MB, Oak Park, Kansas City, Mo., Club North), Riley Fisbeck (6-1, S, La Grange, Texas, Houston Juniors), Claire Hahn (5-5, Libero, Westlake, Austin, Texas, Austin Juniors), Autumn Rounsaville (5-5, Libero, Dripping Springs, Texas, Austin Performance), Blair Westerlund (6-3, MB, Brentwood Christian, Round Rock, Texas, Austin Juniors)
The skinny: Another super-impressive class here that joins a Longhorns squad that reached the NCAA final last season. Agbaji, one of four in-state recruits in this class, was rated the No. 4 senior in the Class of 2016 by a panel of NCAA Division I coaches who voted on the Volleyballmag.com Girls Fab 50. Agbaji, Rounsaville and Westerlund were Fab 50 selections, while Agbaji also earned 2015 Volleyballmag.com girls’ high school All-American honorable mention status. “Orie is a big-time athlete. She is very physical, touching around 10-8,” Texas coach Jerritt Elliott told www.texassports.com, the school’s athletics website. “She has the ability to be really good in front of the setter and behind. We think he has a great upside-her work ethic stands out to me. She is determined to be great.” Agbaji has been named the Big 12 Conference preseason freshman of the year.
No. 6 UCLA
2016 recruits: Madeleine Gates (6-3, MB, La Jolla, Calif., Coast VBC), Kylie Miller (5-11, S, Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., Forza1 VBC), Jamie Robbins (6-1, OH, Laguna Beach, Calif., TStreet VBC), Savvy Simo (5-10, DS-Libero, Torrey Pines, San Diego, Calif., Wave VBC), Torrey Van Winden (6-3, MB, Vintage, Napa, Calif., Five Starz VBC).
The skinny: Bruins coach Mike Sealy went up and down the Golden State to secure this Top 10 class. Gates, Miller and Van Winden all were 2016 Volleyballmag.com Fab 50 selections, while Gates, Miller and Simo all can be found in the 2015 Volleyballmag.com girls’ high school All-Americans presentation. “We picked up for players who can make an immediate impact in four positions with Kylie at setter, Torrey at opposite, Madeleine in the middle and Savvy as a defensive specialist,” said Sealy. “They all can play physically and mentally at the necessary level to be successful right away. The class as size and skill.” Sealy also likes Robbins versatility. “Jamie is left-handed good utility pickup for our program.”
No. 7 Florida
2016 recruits: Morgyn Greer (6-3, OH, Dripping Springs, Texas, Austin Jrs.), Allie Gregory (5-6, DS-Libero, Assumption, Louisville, Ky., KIVA), Chanelle Hargreaves (5-4, DS, Wharton, Tampa, Fla., Tampa United VBA), Cheyenne Huskey (6-2, S, Columbus, Texas, Texstar/Houston Skyline), Darrielle King (6-3, MB, DeSoto, Texas, TAV), Rachael Kramer (6-8, MB, Desert Vista, Phoenix, Ariz., Aspire VBC), Camille Nieves (5-7, DS, Montverde, Fla., Top Select VBA), Mia Sokolowski (6-3, OH, Tucson, Ariz., Zona VBC)
The skinny: This is the biggest incoming freshman class in coach Mary Wise’s long tenure at the school. Florida also has the most 2016 Volleyballmag.com Fab 50 selections this year with six. That group includes Greer, Gregory, Huskey, King, Kramer and Sokolowski (who enrolled at UF in January). Another addition to the team is CK Knop (5-8, DS) who transferred from the University of Michigan where she played two seasons. Knop played club at San Gabriel Elite. “These recruits will be a big part of our short-term and long-term plans,” said Wise. “This class, with its talent and size, has the chance to be one of the most special groups to play here.”
No. 8 Minnesota
2016 recruits: Alexis Hart (6-0, OH, Truman, Independence, Mo., Invasion), Brittany McLean (6-1, OH, Rosemount, Minn., Northern Lights VBC), Regan Pittman (6-5, MB, St. Thomas Aquinas, Overland Park, Kan., KC Power VBC), Lauren Litzau (5-8, DS-Libero, Greendale, Wis., Milwaukee Sting).
The skinny: The Golden Gophers packed a powerful punch with this four-player class. Hart, McLean and Pittman all were 2016 Volleyballmag.com Fab 50 selections. Pittman, a sliver medalist with the U.S. girls’ youth national team, was the MVP of the Under Armour all-star match during last year’s AVCA convention. She joined Hart and McLean as Under Armour All-American first-team selections. “Alexis and Brittany bring both athleticism and experience to aid them in competition for Big Ten player of the year and Olympian Daly Santana’s vacated position at the pin,” Minnesota assistant coach Laura Kasey said. “Regan adds size and a wicked arm to a very talented core of middles. Lauren brings a high volleyball IQ to our backcourt to round out the class that in a few short days of preseason has already shown an impressive capacity to learn and improve.”
No. 9 San Diego
2016 recruits: Peyton Douglass (5-6, Libero, Mead, Spokane, Wash. Renovator VBC), Thana Fayad (6-2, OH, Oak Bay, British Columbia, Canada), Megan Jacobsen (6-2, MB, Bellarmine Prep, Tacoma, Wash., Kent Juniors), Allyson Eylers (6-1 S, Highland, Gilbert, Ariz., Aspire VBC), Anna Newsome (5-9, S, Joaquim Blume, Barcelona, Spain), Megan Priest (5-8, Libero, Oak Ridge., El Dorado Hills, Calif., NCVC)
The skinny: Two interesting names in this group are foreign players Fayad and Newsome “These two are much further along than most freshman,” longtime San Diego associate head coach Brent Hilliard said. “Thana has a chance to be the best outside hitter to ever come through San Diego. She is a full six-rotation player who can hit out of the front and back row. Anna played in the top level of the Italian Serie at 18 years of age. She has been setting athletes almost twice her age and is more developed then 99 percent of the setters coming into college.” San Diego is also high on Douglass, a libero from a lesser-known Washington club. Jacobsen will help the team in the middle. “She’s the best middle-hitting prospect we have had in a long time,” said Hilliard. “She can hit hard off one or two feet and has an internal battery that already is tops on our team.” Eylers can set and play the right side, while Priest will help on the defensive end. “This is the best class we’ve had in over a decade,” said Hilliard.
No. 10 Nebraska
2016 recruits: Hunter Atherton (6-0, OH-S, Coffman, Dublin, Ohio, Mintonette), Lauren Stivrins (6-5, MB, Chapparral, Scottsdale, Ariz., AZ Storm)
The skinny: The defending national champions have a small but powerful class here. Both Atherton and Stivrins were 2016 Volleyballmag.com Fab 50 picks and Atherton was honored in the 2015 Volleyballmag.com girls’ high school All-Americans presentation. “Lauren is a big-time middle blocker who adds size, speed and a championship mindset to our team,” said Nebraska coach John Cook. “Hunter is a very athletic setter who flies around the court.” Atherton enrolled at Nebraska in January and Cook noted she has developed well in the Husker Power program, the school’s strength and conditioning arm. Also of note on the transfer front, Nebraska picked up 2014 first-team All-American middle blocker Briana Holman (6-1, junior) via transfer from LSU. She sat out last season per NCAA transfer rules.
Honorable Mention: Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Wisconsin