From Penn State at No. 1 to a surprise No. 10, VBM rates NCAA recruiting classes

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BYU freshman Heather Gneiting is a starting middle for the top-ranked Cougars.

Every year it seems the incoming talent in NCAA Division I women’s volleyball rises to another level.

The class of 2018 is no different.

Three weeks into the season, a number of freshmen are making huge impacts. To name just a few of many, Nebraska freshman setter Nicklin Hames, Florida freshman outside hitter Thayer Hall,  Minnesota’s Adanna Rollins, Texas’ Logan Eggleston, TCU’s élan McCall, and BYU’s Heather Gneiting.

You get the picture: Freshmen are continuing the recent trend of being difference-makers the second they step on a campus.

This is how this year’s recruiting classes shook out according to VolleyballMag.com’s panel of NCAA Division I coaches. Keep in mind our rankings take into account transfers and international players.

A quick synopsis shows the usual suspects at the top of the list with Penn State, Florida and Texas all receiving first-place votes for their classes. Florida checked in just seven points behind No. 1 Penn State and Texas was nine voting points behind the Gators for the second spot. Washington was seven points out of the third spot in our recruiting rankings.

In terms of trends, this year sees Penn State, Florida, Texas, Washington and Nebraska in the top five spots. Last year, it was Texas, Wisconsin, UCLA, Minnesota and Kentucky, while 2016 saw Stanford, Oregon, USC, North Carolina and Texas — giving coach Jerritt Elliott the distinction of being the only school to have a top-five class three years running (3, 1 and 5). Keep that in mind as the races to Minneapolis (this December) and Pittsburgh (December 2019 NCAA finals site) unfold.

recruiting classes, Penn State, Gabby Blossom, PSU, Nittany Lions, NCAA recruiting classes
Penn State freshman setter Gabby Blossom

No. 1 — Penn State Nittany Lions
Newcomers: Amanda Phegley (6-2, MB), Brooklynn Hill (5-8, DS), Jonni Parker (6-1, OH-S), Gabby Blossom (5-10, S), Jenna Hampton (5-7, DS), Serena Gray (6-2, MB), Bayleigh Hoffman (5-8, DS, Louisiana Monroe), Allyson Cathey (6-1, OH), Kaitlyn Hord (6-4, MB), Taylor Leath (6-3, OH, North Carolina)
Synopsis: Penn State picked up just a few folks here and in the process earned the No. 1
recruiting class in the country. A whopping seven of these newcomers were VolleyballMag.com Girls Fab 50 selections, while Hoffman is a transfer from Louisiana Monroe and Leath, a local product out of State College Area High School, is a graduate student who previously played at North Carolina. Hord is this week’s Big Ten freshman of the week.

No. 2 — Florida Gators
Newcomers: Thayer Hall (6-3, OH), Marlie Monserez (6-0, S), Riley Fischer (5-7, DS, Libero), Paula Cerame (5-8, DS-Libero), Lauren Dooley (6-6, MB), Haley Warner (6-2, RS).
Synopsis: The Gators hit it big with this class, which was one of three schools in this year’s
voting to earn first-place votes. “Our class brings lots of winning, high-level experience,
leadership and athletes who are ready to help Florida win its first national championship in
school history,” Gators associate head coach Shannon Wells said. Hall graduated high-school early and immediately immersed herself in Gainesville to get ready for the college game.
“Thayer Hall graduated early and has spent the last eight months preparing her body and mind to become an instant starter for us,” Wells said. “She has excelled at every level she has ever played.”
The 6-6 Texas native Dooley also graduated early and reported to Florida, while
Warner’s heavy arm and finesse shot selection also can find ways to contribute right away,
Wells noted.

No. 3 — Texas Longhorns
Newcomers: Jhenna Gabriel (5-8, S-Libero), Asjia O’Neal (6-3, MB), Sydney Petersen (5-4,
Libero), Katarina Luketic (6-2, OH), Logan Eggleston (6-2, OH)
Synopsis: While not large in numbers, the Longhorns’ 2018 class is impactful when it
comes to talent. O’Neal was one of the top recruits in the country coming out of the TAV club program in Texas, while Petersen and Eggleston also were Girls Fab 50 selections. Luketic played for the senior national Croatian team. One voter called O’Neal and Eggleston “two future All-Americans.” Gabriel was a three-time all-state performer in Hawaii.

No. 4 — Washington Huskies
Newcomers: Dani Cole (6-1, OH), Shannon Crenshaw (6-2, OH), Marin Grote (6-4, OH-MB), Claire Hoffman (6-2, OH), Ella May Powell (6-0, S)
Synopsis: This class further adds to the youth movement in Seattle. A quick glance at the
Huskies’ 2018 roster shows but one senior. Cole, Crenshaw, Grote and Powell all were 2018
VolleyballMag.com Girls Fab 50 selections. And as documented above, Powell already is making an impact for Keegan Cook’s crew.

No. 5 — Nebraska Huskers
Newcomers: Brooke Smith (S, Kansas State), Mari Kurkova (S, Czech Republic), Lexi Sun (OH, Texas), Chen Abramovich (DS-L, Israel), Capri Davis (OH), Nicklin Hames (S), Megan Miller (DS-Libero), Callie Schwarzenbach (MB)
Synopsis: John Cook’s class is mixed with transfers, international newcomers and plenty of true freshmen talent. Smith played at Nebraska in 2015 and 2016 before moving to Kansas State last year. Kurkova played for the Czech Republic women’s national team in the FIVB World Grand Prix. Sun, of course, played at Texas last year and was an honorable-mention All-American selection. Abramovich played with the Israeli junior national team in 2016. Davis, Hames and Schwarzenbach all were Girls Fab 50 selections.
“All of them can play as freshmen,” said Cook. “We have some openings so hopefully they will compete. We recruited for each position. Chen was an added bonus who wanted to play in the U.S. An old football coach once said ‘If a dog is going to bite they will bite as a pup.’ Our freshmen class is a third of our team so they need to bring it.”

No. 6 — Oregon Ducks
Newcomers: Karson Bacon (6-4, MB), Chandlar Duff (6-2, MB), Taylor Borup (6-4, OH-RS), Brooke Nuneviller (5-11, Libero-OH), Kylie Robinson (5-10, S), Camryn Tastad (5-3, Libero).
Synopsis: Oregon and coach Matt Ulmer did themselves all sorts of favors with this class. Bacon, Duff, Robinson and Nuneviller — the starting libero who has had a strong start to the season — all were Girls Fab 50 selections. This is another team where youth rules the day; the Ducks have only four seniors on the roster this season. Borup is a junior transfer from North Carolina.

No. 7 — BYU Cougars
Newcomers: Heather Gneiting (6-4, MB) Whitney McEwan (6-3, MB), Madi Robinson (5-10, OH), Tayler Tausinga (5-8, S), Riley Lyman (6-0, OH, Snow College)
Synopsis: Gneiting and McEwan were VolleyballMag.com Girls Fab 50 selections.
“What I like most about this year’s recruiting class is the wide variety of positions we are bringing in,” said BYU coach Heather Olmstead. “We have two middles, two outsides and a setter. Each of them will get a chance to impact our 2018 team and make us better.”
Olmstead scooped up plenty of local Utah talent in Robinson (Lone Peak High School), Tausinga (American Fork High School) and Snow College transfer Lyman, who is a junior in eligibility.

No. 8 — UCLA Bruins
Newcomers: Sawyer Aigner-Swesey (5-7, DS-Libero), Kelsey Campeau (5-4, DS-Libero), Devon Chang (5-11, S), Lexi Hadrych, Hawley Harrer (6-1, OH), Kaitlin Kao (5-8, DS-Libero), Tristin Savage (6-7, MB)
Synopsis: The Bruins did quite well with this large class where Chang and Hadrych were Girls Fab 50 selections. UCLA has two main themes going with this group: 1) It’s almost exclusively home-grown with six of the seven newcomers hailing from the Golden State and 2) there is a large emphasis on defense. Savage, a 6-7 middle, comes from Dallas, Oregon and played for the DSK club team, while also earning all-state honors in equestrian.

No. 9 — North Carolina
Newcomers: Destiny Cox (6-1, OH-RS), Annabelle Archer (5-8, S), Hadden LaGarde (6-3, OH-RS), Erin Boone (6-1, RS-S), Ava Bell (6-2, MB-OH), Lauren Harrison (6-0, OH), Aristea Tontai (6-4, MB-RS, Coastal Carolina), Hunter Atherton (5-11, S, Nebraska), Skylar Wine (6-2, OH, Pacific)
Synopsis: Joe Sagula reloaded in a hurry with this class of eight that addresses needs across the net. Cox, a North Carolina product off to a strong start, and Texas product Bell were 2018 VolleyballMag.com Girls Fab 50 selections. Atherton played in 20 matches last season for national-champion Nebraska and is a redshirt sophomore in eligibility. Tontai played in 70 sets as a freshman for Coastal Carolina and is a native of Greece. Wine, a junior, played her first two seasons at Pacific.

recruiting classes, Auburn, Tatum Shipes
Auburn freshman Tatum Shipes

No. 10 — Auburn
Newcomers: Mica Allison (6-1, S), Bella Rosenthall (5-5, DS), Chesney McClellan (6-4, MB, Nebraska), Taylor Rowland (6-3, OH), Katie Persons (5-3, DS), Val Green (6-2, OH), Tatum Shipes (6-4, OH)
Synopsis: The Tigers are a newcomer to this space thanks to a stellar recruiting class that features two Fab 50 selections in Allison and Rowland, plus McClellan, a transfer from 2017 national-champion Nebraska. How impressed are folks with this class? There’s this from one of the voting panelists. “This class finally will give Auburn the chance to compete in the NCAA Tournament consistently for a while.”

Honorable mention — USC, Creighton, Minnesota, Michigan, Purdue

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