Sure, the NCAA Tournament serves as the ultimate competition between the best college volleyball teams in the country. But with only 64 of the 330-plus Division I teams being included in the big dance, plenty of talented players get left out.
Let’s reflect on the extraordinary seasons of some of those players we won’t be seeing in the 2019 tournament.
Cal, Georgia Tech, Green Bay, and South Dakota were the last four teams left out of the bracket, and those teams’ rosters featured plenty of all-stars.
For Cal, there was junior middle Preslie Anderson, who ranks 14th in the country with a .402 hitting percentage — good for second-best all-time at Cal — and added a team-high 98 blocks. Her teammates junior outside Mima Mirkovic (325 kills, .242, 20 aces, 289 digs, 42 blocks) and sophomore middle Lauren Forte (209 kills, .336, 78 blocks) joined Anderson on the All-Pac-12 Team.
Georgia Tech had the top two most efficient hitters in the ACC in Kodie Comby (.440) and Kayla Kaiser (.394). For that matter, among all Division I players, Comby ranks second only to Western Kentucky’s Lauren Matthews in hitting percentage.
GT setter Matti McKissock topped the assists-per-set category in the league with 11.16 and was named ACC setter of the year. And freshman Julia Bergmann, who led the team with 370 kills, earned the ACC freshman of the year title.
A loss to Milwaukee ended the season of Green Bay and its extraordinary outside hitter Taylor Wolf. Wolf led Green Bay to a 21-9 overall record and was named Horizon League offensive player of the year for the second consecutive season. She ranked 21st among all DI players with 4.54 kills per set.
South Dakota, which went undefeated in its regular-season Summit League slate but lost in the conference tournament semifinals, has a number of stars, including Summit League defensive player of the year libero Anne Rasmussen, the conference’s top freshman Elizabeth Juhnke, and the setter of the year Madison Jurgens, who ranked sixth nationally in assists per set.
And the list goes on.
One of the nation’s statistical leaders will miss out on the tournament. That’s Charlotte’s Yumi Garcia, who concluded her senior slate with 6.47 digs per set. She also set a league record for digs in a season with 725 and was named the Conference-USA libero of the year for the third season in a row.
Loyola Maryland’s Katie Forsythe (6.17 digs per set, No. 3 nationally) and Taylor Horsfall of Tulsa (6.12 digs per set, No. 4 nationally) — the American Athletic Conference libero of the year — join Garcia as the top liberos to miss the big dance. Of course, you could also add Fordham senior Morgan Williams to that list. The Atlantic 10 named her libero of the year, and she set seven program records this season, tying an eighth, and finished the year with 641 digs (6.05 digs per set).
When it comes to the top blockers in the country, the tournament won’t include Utah Valley’s Makaila Jarema, who trailed only VCU’s Jasmin Sneed in the national blocks per set stats with 1.65; Santa Clara’s Taylor Odom, who ranked No. 3 with 1.63; and Boise State’s Jessica Donahue, who clocked in at No. 5 with 1.51 blocks per set.
One of the best offensive players we won’t see in action on Thursday or Friday is Columbia’s Chichi Ikwuazom. The Ivy League player of the year ranks third in the country with a .438 hitting percentage and fourth in kills per set (5.32). Another is Emma Granger of Robert Morris. The NEC player of the year had an all-around great year, leading her team to an undefeated regular conference season and ranking sixth nationally with 1.50 blocks per set.
There’s also Ohio Valley Conference player of the year Rachel Giustino of Murray State, who ranks third among all DI players with 5.34 kills per set, and Syracuse’s Polina Shemanova — she’s fifth overall and first in the ACC with 5.09 kills per set. And don’t forget Coastal Carolina outside hitter Anett Nemeth, the Hungarian who finished her season seventh in DI with 4.90 kills per set and was the 2019 Sun Belt player of the year.
A loss to Montana State in the Big Sky quarterfinals ended not only the season, but the career of three-year Sacramento State starter Sarah Davis. The Arizona native ranked in the top-10 nationally in four categories: first in attacks (1,711), third in attacks per set (13.16), seventh in kills (542), fifth in points (617).
The season also came to an end for ASUN player of the year Cortney VanLiew of Florida Gulf Coast, 2018 and 2019 America East player of the year Jenna Bridges of Hartford (4.70 kills per set, .349), and MEAC player of the year Zoe McBride of Morgan State, who averaged 4.83 kills per set, the eighth-best average in the country. Northwestern State’s Hannah Brister earned the Southland player of the year award and set a single-season program record with 478 kills in 2019. Her 4.81 kills per set average ranks her 11th among all players.
Ohio’s Tia Jimerson had 1.34 blocks per set, 4.17 points per set, hit .337, and was named both the Mid-American player and co-defensive player of the year, but it wasn’t enough to lead her team to a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
A few great freshman won’t get a chance at the NCAA Tournament.
Rider’s Morgan Romano, the MAAC rookie of the year, had 4.59 kills per set and 534 total kills, while Jackson State’s Jylen Whitten garnered both the player and freshman of the year awards in the SWAC (385 kills, 31 aces, 268 digs).
How about setters? Sophomore Lily Heim of SMU garnered the American Athletic’s top postseason honor for a setter thanks to a fantastic season in which she collected 11.72 assists per set (No. 8 nationally), topping the 50 assists mark in 10 matches this year.
NC A&T’s Edie Brewer not only serves as one of the team’s setters in a 6-2, collecting 643 assists, she also ranks second on the roster with 313 kills and 281 digs. The junior recorded eight triple-doubles this season, good for second among all DI players.
The only player with more triple-doubles? Southern Illinois’ Rachel Maguire, who had a whopping 13, which broke school career and single-season records, and became the first player in program history to collect more than 300 kills, 500 assists, and 300 digs in the same season: 310 kills, 611 assists, and 349 digs to be exact. Oh, and add to that 33 aces and 58 blocks.
Seven Big Ten teams made the tournament, the most of any conference, but that doesn’t mean every one of the league’s top performers will continue to play.
Among the best to miss out on the national postseason are Maryland middle Katie Myers and outside Erika Pritchard, Northwestern’s Temi Thomas-Ailara and Nia Robinson, and Ohio State’s Gabby Gonzales and Jenaisya Moore. Indiana sophomore Breana Edwards also had a great year, scoring a team-high 361 kills and breaking the program record for kills in a match with 39 against Maryland on November 15.
Six SEC teams earned spots in the tournament, but LSU wasn’t one of them. Tiger opposite Taylor Bannister ended the year with 438 kills, 4.29 per set, securing a spot on the All-SEC Team for the third season in a row. She ranked first in the league with 4.82 kills per set in conference action.
Tennessee’s Tessa Grubbs was the only Volunteer to be included on the All-SEC Team. The senior finished her career with 1,413 kills, ranking fourth among players in the conference with 438 total kills this season.
Pac-12 stars we won’t see again this year include outside Paige Whipple and middle Devyn Cross of Arizona, outside Justin Spann of Colorado, and middle Ronika Stone of Oregon.
The ACC’s best player to miss out on the national postseason is redshirt freshman Lauren Harrison of UNC. The outside hitter ranked third in the league with 3.80 kills per set and totaled a team-high 350 kills.
Emily Hill finished the year second in the Big 12 with 4.23 kills per set. The Texas Tech senior secured a spot on the All-Big 12 Team and penned her name in the program’s record book, ranking fifth all-time with 491 kills and second with 1,445 attacks. She is one of just four Red Raider volleyball players to collect 1,000 career digs and 1,000 kills.
Finally, Louisville is among the 64 teams competing for a national championship, but its star outside hitter, only senior, and four-year starter Melanie McHenry won’t be on the floor. On October 16, she suffered a season-ending knee injury and is therefore among this list of best players not playing in the tournament.