On Friday, 250 days after Dana Rettke ripped a ball to the floor and Wisconsin won the national championship, there will be NCAA volleyball.
And what a different NCAA volleyball season this promises to be.
It can be summed up simply by saying that it’s all about who left and who transferred (a list of Power 5 transfers follows).
Take Wisconsin, for example.
The Badgers lost Rettke, as good of a middle who has ever played the college game. It also lost setting great Sydney Hilley, like Rettke a VolleybalMag.com first-team All-American. But don’t cry for the Badgers. They were ranked No. 1 in the Big Ten coaches’ preseason poll and No. 3 in the AVCA coaches national preseason poll, and there’s a good chance their top offensive player could be a transfer. Sarah Franklin, a 6-foot-4 outside hitter who was third in the Big Ten last year in kills, transferred in from Michigan State.
There are a few other programs that will have a say in things — think Texas, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Washington and Stanford — but all conversations start with the Big Ten, where Nebraska, Minnesota and Ohio State will join Wisconsin as contenders for the NCAA title.
Nebraska, which lost to Wisconsin in the NCAA title tilt, lost both middles, moved its All-American setter to defensive specialist, and yet the Huskers are No. 1 in the AVCA poll. Gone are All-Americans Lauren Stivrins and Kayla Caffey, but in their place is Kaitlyn Hord, an All-American middle who transferred from Penn State.
Minnesota (No. 3 in the B1G poll and No. 5 in the AVCA) graduated its best player in Stephanie Samedy but took in four transfers, including Michigan State middle Naya Gross, who led the Spartans in blocks and was fourth in kills.
Ohio State is the Big Ten outlier, No. 4 in the league poll and No. 7 in the AVCA.
Talent-laden and experienced Ohio State, however, holds one of the early-season keys to NCAA Tournament seeding. That’s because the Buckeyes play host to Big 12 powerhouse and AVCA No. 2 Texas. Though they shouldn’t, first-week matches between teams like this ultimately have a big impact on seeding. And this is as good as it gets anywhere Friday.
So, speaking of Texas, which we featured earlier this month, don’t get caught in the revolving door. Texas lost a fabulous pin hitter in Skylar Fields, now a senior at USC, but don’t cry for the Longhorns, either. Lose a pin hitter, gain another in All-American in Kentucky’s Madisen Skinner. And there’s plenty more, including the transfer after last season of UCLA All-American libero Zoe Fleck to Texas and then the stunner of the preseason, when Caffey left Nebraska and chose Texas. The Longhorns also picked up Cal middle Bella Bergmark and Colorado setter Jenna Ewert, and both could start.
Louisville lost its two best players, setter Tori Dilfer and middle Anna Stevenson, and both are in the national-team gym. But the Cardinals did not lose the confidence of other coaches — they’re the top pick in the ACC and No. 4 in the AVCA poll. Complementing a tremendous returning group and a strong freshman class is USC transfer Raquel Lazaro, a Spanish graduate-student setter who is more than capable of running the show.
Then there’s Louisville’s ACC rival Pittsburgh, No. 6 in the AVCA and, like Louisville, a national semifinalist last December. Pitt, it could be argued, got so far in 2021 because of transfers, but that hardly makes the Panthers unique. One of the key transfers returning is middle Serena Gray, and she’s joined by 6-5 Iowa transfer Courtney Buzzerio, a grad-student right side who made the All-ACC preseason team. Pitt also added two outside hitters who will be in the mix, Julianna Dalton from Washington State and Cam Ennis from Texas A&M.
Washington was picked to win the Pac-12 and is No. 8 in the AVCA, and, like Ohio State, is going old school: No transfers. Washington has had transfers in the past, but no one has left the Huskies since Keegan Cook took over as head coach in 2015.
Stanford, which we featured earlier this week, was picked second in the Pac-12, and also has a couple of transfers. But UCLA, picked third in the conference and No. 12 in the AVCA, is a transfer hub.
UCLA, as mentioned, lost Fleck to Texas. But don’t cry for the Bruins. Mackenzie Cole, a grad-student libero, transferred from Duke. Lauren Forte, a middle who played two years at Cal and then two years at Florida, where she was a VBM honorable mention All-American last year, is a grad student at UCLA. Georgia Tech setter Matti McKissock, another VBM HM, is a grad-student setter who will run the show.
A few random thoughts before getting to the list of transfers.
— Is Baylor, which seemingly lost everyone, really worthy of a No. 16 AVCA ranking?
— Does anyone hit harder than Georgia Tech’s Julia Bergmann, who powered up for the Brazilian national team this summer in Volleyball Nations League?
— How impactful will another transfer, Zoe Weatherington, be at Penn State?
— The most underrated player in the nation is BYU setter Whitney Bower.
— The second-most underrated player in the nation is UCF OH McKenna Melvile, who led the nation in kills last season.
— The third-most underrated is Hawai’i middle Amber Igiede.
— If you haven’t seen Emily Ehman’s Twitter account and her breakdown of the top 20 players in the Big Ten, you need to: @emilyehman.
— We’re probably all, myself included, sleeping on Kentucky.
— For that matter, don’t sleep on the WCC.
— Is this the year some SEC team other than Kentucky or Florida goes far into the SEC Tournament?
— Yay to changing sides.
— Other players not always in the spotlight we love to watch include: Utah OH Madelyn Robinson, Wright State L Jenna Story, South Dakota OH Elizabeth Juhnke, NM State OH Katie Birtcil and Western Kentucky MB Lauren Matthews, who hit a nation-leading .480 last year.
— The NCAA Division I Women’s Volleyball Championship will be in Omaha December 15-17. Which means there are 94 days until Selection Sunday!
Simply awesome, been so looking foward to today! Love the shout-out for one of many players & teams I will be following: the SD Coyotes (featuring Juhnke)!!