Texas, Wisconsin, UCLA top VolleyballMag.com top recruiting classes

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Sydney Hilley, who joined Wisconsin in January, sets for the Badgers during a spring match/Wisconsin photo

How can you tell if a sports team is setting itself up for success?

An easy way is to check the recent additions to the roster. As we present the 2017 VolleyballMag.com women’s top recruiting classes, voted on by a panel of distinguished NCAA Division I coaches, let’s take things a bit further and look at the past two classes.

This year, the top five are Texas, Wisconsin, UCLA, Minnesota and Kentucky.

Stanford, Oregon, USC, North Carolina and Texas had the top five positions in 2016.

UCLA was fifth a year ago. Minnesota was No. 8. Nebraska stayed in the top 10, after being No. 6 last year.

The biggest jump occurs with Wisconsin, which went from an honorable-mention position last year to the No. 2 class in 2017 thanks to five VolleyballMag.com Fab 50 selections, including setter Sydney Hilley, ranked as the No. 3 recruit in the country by VolleyballMag.com.

Kentucky also was an honorable-mention school in 2016 and shoots up to No. 5 this year thanks to coach Craig Skinner bringing in three VolleyballMag.com Fab 50 picks, including standout setter Madison Lilley, who VolleyballMag.com has ranked as the No. 5 recruit in the class of 2017.

Illinois moved into the top 10 after an honorable-mention nod in 2016 and Maryland did the same, going from the honorable-mention category last year to No. 9 this year.

This year’s voting was quite decisive on the top five schools. Texas ran away with the top position thanks to having the top two recruits in the country as ranked by VolleyballMag.com (Lexi Sun and Brionne Butler), plus a high-ceiling setter in Sports Performance VBC alum Ashley Shook.

Wisconsin was a clear-cut choice at No. 2, while five voting points separated No. 3 UCLA and No. 4 Minnesota.

Here’s an in-depth look at the top 10 classes in the country.

Incoming Texas setter Ashley Shook

1. Texas

Incoming players: Lexi Sun (6-2, OH), Brionne Butler (6-3, MB), Ashley Shook (6-2, S), Olivia Zelon (5-6, Libero).

VBM Analysis: Not too hard to figure out who the No. 1 recruiting class this year is. Coach Jerritt Elliott and staff snagged a dandy with Sun, Butler and Shook, all of whom earned VolleyballMag.com Girls Fab 50 distinction, with Sun and Butler ranking Nos. 1 and 2 in the class, respectively. Sun, the Gatorade girls high school national player of the year, also was named the 2016 VolleyballMag.com girls’ high-school player of the year.

Butler and Zelon started school at Texas in January and trained with the team during the spring. Zelon went to Palisades Charter High School and is a Santa Monica, Calif., native who clubbed at SCVC.

“This is an impact class,” Elliott said. “All of these players will be ready to step in and compete for starting positions. This is arguably one of the best recruiting classes we’ve ever had at Texas on paper.”

2. Wisconsin

Incoming players: Sydney Hilley (5-11, S), Grace Loberg (6-3, OH), Dana Rettke (6-8, MB), Mariah Whalen (6-1, OH), Danielle Hart (6-3, MB), Riley Bell (5-7, DS), Nicole Shanahan (6-1, MB).

VBM Analysis: The runner-up spot to Texas also was pretty clear cut among VolleyballMag.com voting panelists. The Badgers have the No. 3 recruit in the class in Champlin, Minn., native Hilley, as well as Fab 50 selections Loberg, Rettke, Whalen and Hart (Wisconsin has five total Fab 50s). Bell was the final addition to the class and prepped at Neuqua Valley High School in Naperville and played for Sports Performance out of the Chicago western suburbs.”

The thing that jumps out to me most about this class coming in is it is full of players who really want to learn and they aren’t afraid to put the work in,” Wisconsin coach Kelly Sheffield said. “They love being in the gym. That’s what I hear over and over again from their previous coaches and it’s what I’m seeing from the players that have graduated early and are already here.”

3. UCLA

Incoming players: Mackenzie May (6-3, OH), Alexis Light (6-5, OH), Jenny Mosser (5-11, OH), Emily Ryan (6-5, MB), Anne Crouch (5-9, OH-Libero), Katie Jacobs (5-9, S), Sabrina Smith (6-4, MB).

VBM Analysis: May Light, Moser and Ryan all are VolleyballMag.com Fab 50 selections. May was named the 2016 Gatorade Iowa high school player of the year. Crouch, Jacobs and Smith inked during the spring signing period. Crouch, from San Francisco, most recently played club at Encore. Jacobs played at Legacy VBC in Valencia, Calif., while Smith also is an Encore product out of the Bay Area (Campolindo High in Moraga). 

“In our 2017 class we have physical kids who play the game at a high level,” UCLA coach Mike Sealy said. “We are bringing in three high-level pin hitters, two long, talented middles, a setter and a defensive specialist. All seven athletes have a viable role in the future of the program.”

Stephanie Samedy

4. Minnesota

Incoming players: Lauren Barnes (5-6, DS), Sydney Kleinman (6-2, OH), Jasmyn Martin (6-3, OH), Sara Nielsen (5-11, S), Stephanie Samedy (6-2, OH), Alice Zeimann (6-0, OH).

VBM Analysis: The voting panel of Division I coaches had UCLA and Minnesota neck-and-neck for the third and fourth spots. Samedy, out of the Orlando, Fla., area, is the No. 4 ranked recruit in the Class of 2017. Samedy, Martin (MN Select club) and Nielsen (Sports Performance) all are Fab 50 selections. Barnes and Nielsen played on the same high school team in the Chicago western suburbs (Benet Academy in Lisle), while Kleinman is a product of the Skyline Juniors club out of Dallas. Zeimann is a New Zealand native and is regarded as that country’s best junior indoor and beach player. One observer tabs Samedy as the best athlete in the class who “likely will have the biggest impact of the 2017 class on the collegiate game and break the mold of how collegiate women play the opposite position.”

Minnesota assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Laura Kasey added, “We added a very complete class by position, talent, athletic potential and character. Stephanie has only scratched the surface of her ability to play the whole game and has already shown she can absolutely dominate from anywhere on the court. Jaz and Sydney will reinforce our pins and develop into multifaceted collegiate outsides as the past two Big Ten players of the year have under Hugh’s tutelage. Sarah, Lauren and Alice all possess the ball control, talent and work ethic to bring the level of play in our gym up another notch.”

5. Kentucky

Incoming players: Madison Lilley (5-11, S), Avery Skinner (6-1, OH), Gabby Curry (5-9, Libero), Kendyl Paris (6-2, MB).

VBM Analysis: Lilley is the No. 5-ranked recruit in the class, while Skinner (no relation to head coach Craig Skinner) and Curry are 2017 Fab 50 selections. Paris was a first-team all-state selection in 2016 out of Hilliard (Ohio) Davidson High School. Skinner is the daughter of former NBA veteran Brian Skinner.

“Our 2017 class is not just a great group of athletes, but a great group of people,” Skinner said. “They have quickly become part of our culture throughout the recruiting process and have fully embraced the values and goals of the program. Their athleticism speaks for itself. We are looking forward to meshing their talents in with our returning players. They all have been winners on the court and will compete hard to help elevate this program to new heights.”


6. Nebraska

Incoming players: Hayley Densberger (5-9, DS-Libero), Jazz Sweet (6-3, OH), Samantha Slaughter (6-1, OH-MB), Anezka Szabo (6-3, OH), Chesney McClellan (6-4, MB).

VBM Analysis: Sweet and McClellan are 2017 Fab 50 selections. Densberger comes from the VCNebraska club and was coached by former Husker Maggie Griffin. Slaughter and Szabo both are out of South Dakota and the Kairos Elite club. Szabo is the daughter of Brett Szabo, who played for the Boston Celtics in the 1990s. Sweet and Szabo both are left-handed hitters.

“This class has potential,” Nebraska coach John Cook said. “Jazz and Chesney have a chance to play right away.” Cook added this back in November when the class originally was announced: “It’s a big recruiting class, but we are graduating four seniors. The upside potential for this class is huge. We’ve addressed the positions we need. We feel like we got one at each position and that was really important. All these student-athletes are embracing the opportunity to play at Nebraska. They are going to thrive off the expectations, the environment and the culture we have and add to it. They understand what the program is about. I feel like we’re sitting on lots of potential through their development as they go through the program.”

7. Illinois

Incoming players: Kylie Bruder (5-11, S), Megan Cooney (6-4, OH-RS), Emily Hollowell (6-3, OH), Kylie Kuyava-Deberg (6-4, OH), Marijke Van Dyke (6-1, OH), Tyanna Omazic (6-1, MB), Morgan O’Brien (5-8, DS), Lexie Smith (5-7, DS), Emmaline Winters (5-7, DS).

VBM Analysis: The Fighting Illini, now under the direction of new coach Chris Tamas, who was an assistant at Nebraska last season, have restocked the cupboard with this large incoming class. Bruder, O’Brien, Smith and Walters all were added during the spring signing period. Bruder is from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and played for the Ocean Breeze club. She was the 2014 state player of the year runner-up. O’Brien is from the Chicago northern suburb of Libertyville and played club at Sky High. Smith played for Texas Advantage, while Walters played at Huntington Beach (Calif.) High School. Deberg, Van Dyke and Omazic are 2017 Fab 50 selections. Cooney (KC Power club) helped lead her Shawnee Heights (Kan.) High School team to a 2016 state title, while Hollowell played for Texas Advantage as a junior and helped her squad win a junior national title in 17 Open. She played for Dallas Arsenal this past season.

8. Florida State

Incoming players: Mariah Brim (6-6, RS), Adrian Ell (6-2, S), Tiana Jackson (6-2, MB), Taryn Knuth (6-3, MB), Deja Williams (6-2, MB).

VBM Analysis: Coach Chris Poole welcomes a class that has two Fab 50 selections in Knuth and Williams. Knuth, out of the IPVA club in Iowa, was the starting middle blocker on the U.S. junior national team, while Williams is a product of the A5 club out of Atlanta. Brim prepped at Aquinas High School in Overland Park, Kan., while Ell played for Archbishop McNicholas in Cincinnati. Jackson graduated early out of Fort Zumwalt North in Missouri and trained with the Seminoles during the spring season. 

“This 2017 class has a lot of physical potential, both in size and athleticism,” FSU coach Chris Poole said. “We will need some of these freshmen to be on the court and ready to compete this year after graduating our seniors from 2016.”

9. Maryland

Incoming players: Samantha Drechsel (6-4, OH-RS), Erika Pritchard (6-2, OH), Jada Gardner (6-1, MB), Chloe Prejean (5-9, S), Sam Burgio (5-10, DS-Libero), Lexi Alden (6-2, OH).

VBM Analysis: Dreschel, Pritchard and Gardner are 2017 Fab 50 selections. Alden, Burgio and Dreschel enrolled in January and trained with the team during the spring season. Prejean, out of Clear Spring, Md., was a spring signing-period addition. Burgio was the Gatorade New York player of the year in 2015. Alden, out of the Wisconsin Volleyball Academy, broke the Waukesha Catholic Memorial career kills record.

“This class brings our program both talent and depth, but more importantly, experience playing at a high level,” said Maryland coach Steve Aird. “We bring in players who have played for some of the best club programs in the country, while others have gone on to win multiple state championships with their high-school programs. We know they are wired to embrace challenges. We have some lofty goals for this program and we’re looking forward to this class getting to work.”

10. Stanford

Incoming players: Kate Formico (5-9, DS), Meghan McClure (6-0, OH), Blake Sharp (5-11, OH), Sidney Wilson (6-0, OH).

VBM Analysis: McClure helped her Santa Margarita High School team win the CIF-SS Division I title last fall and is a 2017 Fab 50 selection. Formico, the cousin of both former Stanford star Kerri Walsh Jennings and former UCLA standout Taylor Formico, helped her Archbishop Mitty High School team out of San Jose, Calif., win three state titles. Sharp is out of the Absolute VBC and played at Miramonte High School in Orinda, Calif. Wilson hails from Toronto, where she helped her Havergal College team win the provincial title for the first time in school history this past fall.

“This group will add depth to our roster and bring an energy to practice every day,” new Stanford coach Kevin Hambly said. “The thing that impresses me the most about the group is its serve-receive and ability to play defense at a high level. I’m looking forward to getting them in the mix with the returning players.”

Honorable Mention: Arizona, Baylor, Creighton, Iowa, LSU, Michigan State, Ohio State, Oregon, Penn State, Utah.

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