NCAA volleyball: Recaps, AVCA poll, a conference-by-conference breakdown

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Lauren Tharp of Kentucky gets the pancake against Stanford/Grant Lee, UK Athletics

Pre-conference play is mostly in the rear-view mirror. There are a few non-conference matches this week as play within the 32 NCAA Division I women’s volleyball leagues gets under way, not the least of which are two Big Ten matches, five in the Pac-12, and four in the SEC on Wednesday. 

In this roundup we catch up on what happened Sunday and Monday and then take a brief look at every conference heading into this new phase of the season.

If you didn’t keep up with the more than 550 matches Thursday-Friday-Saturday, read our NCAA roundup with all the news and notes.

And for more, don’t miss our weekly video gathering with Salima Rockwell, Jenny Hazelwood, and Emily Ehman, where we cover the week past, the week ahead, and have a ton of fun doing it.

And if you plan on watching any matches — there are 16 more Tuesday — we’ve got the viewing link in our Volleyball TV & Streaming Listings.

AVCA TOP 25

1-2-3-4-5 stayed the same — Texas, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Pittsburgh, Louisville — in this week’s AVCA Division I Coaches Top 25 Women’s Poll. 

Washington moved up a spot to No. 6, while Kentucky and Purdue are tied for No. 7. Minnesota is ninth and Baylor No. 10. 

BYU is up four spots to No. 11, while Nebraska dropped from sixth to No. 12. No one dropped out. Click here for the complete list.

Azhani Tealer of Kentucky powers through the Stanford block/Grant Lee, UK Athletics

SUNDAY, MONDAY

The big one Sunday was Kentucky’s five-set victory over visiting Stanford, a match that was worthy of December as Kentucky hit .304 and the Cardinal .306. Madi Skinner lit up Stanford with a career-high 24 kills, an ace, and 14 digs in the 20-25, 25-20, 25-19, 22-25, 15-10 victory. Skinner had the last three kills of the match. Azhani Tealer had 18 kills, hit .412, and had two aces and five blocks, one solo. Allie Stumler had 10 kills, an ace, a block, and 15 digs. Emma Grome had three kills with one error in four tries, 58 assists, two blocks, and seven digs. 

Caitie Baird had 21 kills for Stanford and hit .302 to go with an assist, an ace, 11 digs, and four blocks, one solo. Kendall Kipp had 18 kills, hit .429, and had four blocks and five digs. Sami Francis had 12 kills, a block, and two digs, and Kami Miner had two kills, 54 assists, an ace, four digs, and five blocks, one solo … 

Ohio State (10-0) swept at Notre Dame on Friday, but then Sunday at home grinded out a 25-17, 20-25, 25-20, 23-25, 15-9 victory. Ohio State, which hit .212, had five players with 11 or more kills, 15 by Mia Grunze. Notre Dame (3-7) hung in despite hitting .115. Caroline Meuth led the Irish with 16 kills, three blocks, and five digs … 

Syracuse improved to 11-1 with a four-set win over South Alabama as Marina Markova had 19 kills and hit .417 to go with two assists, an ace, five digs, and a block. The Orange hit .398 … Florida ended the preseason 6-4 with a sweep of Coastal Carolina as the Gators hit .370 … Mississippi State (9-3) swept the SWAC’s winless Jackson State as the Bulldogs hit .622. Seven State players had four or more kills … Parker Webb had 19 kills for Portland State in its four-set win over Gonzaga. She hit .340 and had two assists, an ace, eight digs, and five blocks … 

There were three Colonial matches as James Madison beat Delaware in five, Towson beat Hofstra in four, and Northeastern swept William & Mary. JMU improved to 8-2 overall, 2-0 in the CAA as Miette Veldman had 17 kills, an assist, 11 digs, and two blocks, one solo. Lani Mason had 18 kills for Delaware (5-6, 0-2) … Towson (13-1, 1-1) lost to Hofstra (7-6, 1-1) a day earlier. This time, four Tigers had 10 or more kills, 15 by Fay Bakodimou, who hit .324 and had an assist, two aces, a block, and 19 digs … Six players had four or more kills for Northeastern 6-6, 2-0) as William & Mary (3-4, 0-2) hit .085 … 

In the Metro Atlantic, Fairfield swept Saint Peters, Niagara beat Siena in four, Canisius did the same to Marist, and Rider also beat Quinnipiac in four. Fairfield (7-6, 2-0) hit .381 against St. Peter’s (1-2, 0-2) … Niagara improved to 5-6, 2-0, while Siena is 0-12, 0-2 … Canisius (2-9, 2-0) was winless until beating Marist (5-8, 0-2) … Morgan Romana had 17 kills, an ace, nine digs, and three blocks, one solo, as Rider (3-8, 1-1) gained a split with Quinnipiac (2-9, 1-1) …  

And in the Patriot League on Sunday, Loyola Maryland swept Navy — beating the Mids for the first time since 2009 — and Holy Cross swept Lafayette. Loyola (9-3, 1-0) hit .303 as Abby Hamilton led with 12 kills, an assist, two blocks, and three digs. Navy is 4-6, 0-1 … Leena Deegan had 15 kills as Lafayette (4-6, 1-1) hit .337 against Holy Cross (1-12, 0-2) …

In the lone match Monday, Miajavon Coleman had 21 kills and 16 digs as Coppin State beat UMBC.

CONFERENCE BREAKDOWN

AMERICAN ATHLETIC — Houston came out of the preseason 10-2, but don’t be fooled by UCF being 7-5. The Knights are always the team to beat. And UCF has the best player in the conference, senior outside McKenna Melville.

The first match is Thursday when Memphis is at SMU. There are five matches Friday. 

ACC — This should be a three-team race between Louisville, Pittsburgh, and Georgia Tech, but if Notre Dame can play the way it did Sunday against Ohio State, make it a foursome. North Carolina came through the preseason unbeaten, and, for that matter, Miami, Syracuse, Duke, Wake Forest, Florida State all had only one or two losses. 

The first match is Wednesday when Syracuse goes to Boston College. Teams better be open for business from the get-go, because Friday there are seven matches, including Pitt at North Carolina, Florida State at Notre Dame, and Miami at Louisville.

ASUN — North Florida came out of the preseason a surprising 11-1 and Jacksonville State is 10-3. Lipscomb (3-7) took its lumps, but never count the Bison out and know that FGCU and Kennesaw are always right in the chase.

Conference play begins with a full slate Friday and that includes FGCU at Lipscomb.

AMERICA EAST — Only New Hampshire (7-6) came out of the preseason with a winning record.

ATLANTIC 10 — Dayton (6-5), Saint Louis (7-6) and Rhode Island (8-7) had winning preseason records. Dayton is always the team to beat and boasts the league’s best in two-time player of the year Jamie Peterson. Conference play begins Friday.

BIG 12 — Texas and Baylor. Everyone else is playing for third place. 

Who will emerge from the group that includes West Virginia, Kansas State, Texas Tech, Iowa State, and Oklahoma?

The list of stars for top-ranked Texas is long, from Logan Eggleston to Brionne Butler to Skylar Fields to Asjia O’Neal. Baylor, ranked 10th, has has a star-studded roster led by Yossiana Pressley and Avery Skinner. While Texas is 8-0, don’t be fooled by Baylor’s 5-3 record. 

Conference play starts Wednesday. Baylor doesn’t play until it goes to Kansas State on Saturday, while Texas, interestingly, plays Wednesday at Rice of Conference USA. Rice upset Texas two years ago this week, and then last spring beat the Longhorns again. Texas plays its first Big 12 match a week from Thursday when West Virginia visits Austin.

BIG EAST — Another year, another battle between Creighton and Marquette. Creighton, which beat Kentucky, came out of the preseason 12-1, losing only to Nebraska. Marquette is 9-2 and features Savannah Rennie, who has the most incredible story in the history of NCAA volleyball.

St. John’s, with Rachele Rastini, could get in the mix again this year. Conference play begins Friday.

BIG SKY — Northern Colorado, at 8-3 is the only team to come out of the preseason with a winning record. But Weber State, which lost in five to BYU, is likely the team to beat. The Wildcats are 5-5 with other losses to Utah and Kansas State. 

Conference play begins Tuesday with Montana State at Montana and five matches on the Thursday schedule.

BIG SOUTH — High Point is always the team to beat. Could this be the year for the Fighting Camels of Campbell? High Point and newcomer North Carolina A&T came out of the preseason with winning records. NC A&T boasts an NCAA Tournament victory, although it occurred when Rice had to forfeit last spring. Conference play begins Tuesday.

BIG TEN — Good luck sorting out the B1G. Second-ranked Wisconsin is so talented and deep. Nebraska is better than a team that finished preseason with three losses. Ohio State seems ready to take its place among the nation’s elite on a regular basis. Don’t bet against Penn State, of course, nor Minnesota, nor Purdue. 

Play starts Wednesday with Illinois at Iowa and Nebraska at Northwestern. There are five matches Friday, including Ohio State at Purdue in the first upper-tier showdown of the season. 

BIG WEST — This league got beat up in the preseason after taking all of last year off because of COVID. Only CSU Bakersfield (7-1), UC Irvine (7-3), and Long Beach State (6-5) have winning records. But Long Beach is coming off that victory over San Diego. Look for Hawai’i to lead the way, with Cal Poly, Long Beach, UC Santa Barbara, and UC Davis to be in the hunt.

Play begins Tuesday with UC Davis at UC Riverside. Hawai’i visits UC Riverside on Thursday. 

CONFERENCE USA — Everything begins with Western Kentucky, 11-1 after losing only to unbeaten Ole Miss and beating Notre Dame, Kansas, and St. John’s. UTEP is tough and came out of the preseason 10-2 with wins over Arizona, Northwestern, and NM State. Don’t worry about Rice at 5-4, either. The Owls, who have the best player in the conference in Nicole Lennon, will be in the mix.

The league schedule gets under way on Friday. 

COLONIAL — The CAA actually began league play this past weekend and Hofstra got things off with a bang by upsetting previously unbeaten and favorite Towson. Towson won the next day and is 13-1. James Madison, off to a 2-0 start by beating Delaware twice in five sets, will challenge. Elon and Northeastern are also 2-0. Conference play continues Saturday.

HORIZON — Wright State (8-4), Robert Morris (7-5) and Oakland (6-5) are the only teams to make it through the preseason with winning records. Defending champion Wright State beat Michigan State and Dayton, while Milwaukee beat Cincinnati and Notre Dame. Conference play begins Friday.

IVY LEAGUE — The Ivy took last year off because of COVID. We featured the conference last month. 

Princeton, Yale, and Penn are likely the teams to beat, but the Ivy is a league that did not take advantage of the extra year given by the NCAA. Things get under way Friday with Penn at Princeton as one of the three first matches.

METRO ATLANTIC — Every year the rest of the conference chases Fairfield and this season should be no exception. Rider and league preseason player of the year Morgan Romano expect to challenge. Conference play begins Saturday, 

MID-AMERICAN — Bowling Green dominated last season, but Ball State is 10-2 this fall, while Toledo is 9-3. This conference beats up on each other like few others. Western Michigan plays Eastern Michigan on Thursday and then there’s a full slate Friday. 

MEAC — Howard is always the team to beat, but NC A&T, which has since moved to the Big South, won the league last spring. For that matter, Florida A&M is gone, too, now in the SWAC. Delaware State came out of the preseason 12-1 and was the only MEAC team with a winning record. Play begins Friday with four matches, including Howard at Delaware State.

MISSOURI VALLEY — Illinois State won the league last year and is the coaches’ choice to do it again. But the Redbirds are 4-8 after the preseason, while Evansville (10-1), Valparaiso (9-2), Missouri State (9-3), Drake (5-3), and Loyola (7-5) all have winning records. Evansville’s Alondra Vazquez is among the nation’s leaders in kills. 

Play begins Friday and the first matches include Illinois State at Northern Iowa, which may be 5-8 but is always in the mix. Five of UNI’s losses were to teams that played in last spring’s NCAA tourney.

MOUNTAIN WEST — This league should be really fun this season. Boise State, which we featured last week, is 11-1, New Mexico may have turned the corner and stands 9-2, and so does last year’s champ, UNLV. Utah State and Wyoming are both 8-4, San Jose State is 6-4, and don’t count out Fresno State (4-4) or perennial contender Colorado State (4-5). Colorado State has wins over Oregon State and NC State, lost in five to unbeaten North Carolina, and played unbeaten Colorado tough twice last week.

The schedule begins Friday with a lot on the line from the start, including Boise State at Colorado State and Fresno State at New Mexico.

NORTHEAST — Sacred Heart, the perennial winner, is 6-5 and the only team to come out of the preseason with a winning record. The Pioneers have wins over Fairfield and Dartmouth. Conference play begins Friday.

OHIO VALLEY — Morehead State won the league last year, upset Creighton in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, and is the choice of the coaches to win again. Morehead is led by outside Olivia Lohmeier, a VolleyballMag.com honorable-mention All-American. Look for Southeast Missouri to be in the mix. Tennessee State came out of the preseason 8-1, while Eastern Illinois is 7-3, after going 3-26 in 2019 and 2-14 last spring. Conference play begins Friday with five matches, including Morehead State at Austin Peay and Southeast Missouri at Tennessee State.

PAC-12 — League play begins Wednesday with five matches that will set the tone early as Washington, last year’s winner, is home for Utah, unbeaten Colorado goes to Washington State, Stanford is home for Cal, Oregon is home for Oregon State, and USC goes to UCLA. 

Washington is the team to beat, but Stanford has shown that it is already pretty tough with a lot of room to grow. The questions: Is Colorado for real? Is Oregon as good as its 9-1 record? Is this the year for UCLA? Is Utah the team that beat Nebraska or lost to Boise State and BYU?

PATRIOT — Play is already under way. See the Sunday-Monday results above for more. American is perenially the team to beat, but Army won it all last spring. Colgate, led by VolleyballMag.com honorable-mention All-American graduate-student Alli Lowe, was the coaches’ pick to win the conference. American was second and Army third in the poll.

SEC — The league is hoping that Kentucky’s NCAA title last spring has trickle-down effect on what is annually a two-team battle between the Wildcats and Florida. If nothing else, 10 of the 13 teams had winning records in the preseason, not the least of which is 11-0 Ole Miss. 

Auburn is 8-1, Arkansas is 9-2, and South Carolina and Tennessee 8-2.

There are four matches Wednesday, including Ole Miss at Auburn. Mississippi State goes to Florida on Thursday for back-to-back matches, and Kentucky opens Friday when Missouri visits.

SWAC — Perennial favorite Alabama State sat last spring out and the title went to Jackson State. JSU was awarded a victory and the NCAA bid that went with it when Arkansas-Pine Bluff had to forfeit because of positive COVID tests.

This season, the coaches picked Alabama A&M to win, with Alabama State second and JSU third. And conference play, which begins Friday, can’t start soon enough: Newcomer Florida A&M, which left the MEAC, is the only league team with a winning record in the preseason, 8-4. The rest of the 11 teams are a combined 7-98.

SOCON — UNCG came out of the preseason 11-2 and The Citadel is 4-2. No other Southern Conference team got above .500, including a shocking 1-10 for Samford. Samford, which has won the last three titles, was picked by the coaches to win the league again.

Furman plays at Wofford on Wednesday to get things going and there are four more matches Friday.

SOUTHLAND — It’s a new look SLC with the two best teams year in and year out, Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston, along with Abilene Christian and Lamar gone to the WAC. 

That leaves Houston Baptist and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi as the probable teams to beat. 

Conference play begins Wednesday when Tarleton plays at UIW with four more matches Saturday.

SUMMIT — Two-time defending champion South Dakota was picked by the coaches to win the league, one that staged one of the best conference battles of last spring between the Coyotes, Denver, Kansas City, and Omaha. The Summit also has some of the best players much of the country hasn’t discovered, including Kansas City’s Melanie Brecka, South Dakota’s Elizabeth Juhnke, and Denver’s Lydia Bartalo.

Conference play begins Thursday.

SUN BELT — Coastal Carolina and Texas State are again picked to win the respective divisions, but neither team is what we expected this year. Coastal had the best season in league history last year, but lost star Anett Nemeth, a VolleyballMag.com third-team All-American, to a knee injury in the conference tournament match, a loss to Texas State. And Texas State is currently without injured VolleyballMag.com honorable-mention All-American Emily DeWalt, not only the setter but the best player in the league. But Texas State has the next best player in outside Janell Fitzgerald. 

In the preseason, Georgia Southern and Troy in the East both went 9-3, while Arkansas State and Little Rock of the West both went 9-3. 

Play begins with six matches Friday, including Little Rock at Coastal and Texas State at Troy.

WAC — This should be a really fun new-and-expanded WAC season. 

The WAC split into divisions with the addition of four Southland Conference teams, always powerful Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston, and Abilene Christian, and Lamar. They are joined in the Southwest Division by UT Rio Grande Valley and Tarleton.

The West Division should be something else, with perennial favorite NM State, last year’s surprise winner Utah Valley, and surging Grand Canyon (8-1) in the preseason.

Conference play begins Thursday.

WEST COAST — BYU is eventually headed to the Big 12, so enjoy the BYU-San Diego-Pepperdine battles for as long as they last. In the latest AVCA poll, BYU is No. 12, Pepperdine No. 23, and USD 25th. Expect Loyola Marymount and Saint Mary’s to challenge. 

The WCC is loaded with big-time players, including BYU setter Whitney Bower, a VolleyballMag.com third-team All-American last spring, and BYU’s Kenzie Koerber, a Utah transfer, and Pepperdine’s Rachael Ahrens, both fourth-team VBM All-Americans last spring, 

Conference play begins Thursday.

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