Plenty of top NCAA women’s programs excited about newcomers

Paige Hammons of Sacred Heart in Louisville was the Kentucky "Miss Volleyball" and won a state title

As is evidenced by the recent release of the women’s top recruiting classes, the talent level streaming into NCAA Division I programs is at an all-time high.

And while our list spotlighted only the top 10 recruiting classes in the nation (as voted on by a panel of D-I coaches), many other D-I programs will reap the benefits of their signees for the next four years. Here’s a quick sampling.

Quality over quantity: We start in Gainesville, Fla., where the University of Florida has only two incoming recruits in Paige Hammons and Macy Phillips, but both have the Gators’ staff beyond thrilled.

“Although our class is very small this year, it fits exactly what we need,” Florida associate head coach Shannon Wells said. “In Paige, we are getting an athlete who only knows how to win and at all levels. She passes like a libero and has the IQ to be able to score points from all over the court, even if she isn’t the biggest and most physical. Paige has the potential to step onto the court and help us right away. Macy will continue to add ball control to the back row.”

Hammons, a 6-2 outside hitter, played for Sacred Heart Academy and KIVA in Louisville. She is a 2017 Girls Fab 50 selection as well as a 2016 girls high school All-American first-team selection. Phillips is a 5-8 libero out of Merritt Island (Fla.) Christian High School.

Making the most of it: Veteran Penn State coach Russ Rose brought in only two scholarship players and both figure into the long-range plans in Happy Valley.

Cami May is a 6-3 middle blocker out of Houston Juniors and a 2017 Girls Fab 50 selection. Michaela Putnicki is a 6-1 outside hitter from Colorado Juniors and a graduate of Lewis-Palmer High School in Monument, Colo.

“We had a small class with only two scholarships in play and like the contributions and potential of Cami May, who came in mid-year, and Michaela Putnicki, who is a Colorado Gatorade Player of the year,” Rose said. “Cami is going to be a good player at the net and Michaela is a solid six-rotation player who will be able to assist us this year with her ball-handling skills.”

Immediate assistance: Pittsburgh coach Dan Fisher calls his incoming freshman class “the most decorated class we have brought in yet.”

Kayla Lund and Chinaza Ndee are two who could pay dividends in a hurry for the Panthers.

“Both Kayla and Chinaza are expected to make an immediate impact and could earn a starting spot in the lineup this fall,” Fisher said. “Kayla is one of the best outside hitters in the country and Chi brings versatility to play multiple positions at a high level.”

Lund is a six-rotation outside hitter who prepped at Sacred Heart Academy in Flintridge, Calif., and played for San Gabriel Elite.

Ndee, also an outside hitter, is from Jersey Village, Texas, played in high school at The Kinkaid School and is a product of Houston Juniors.

Early signee: Michigan also did not have a large recruiting class. The Wolverines will welcome Canadian Kiara Shannon and walk-on liberos Jacqueline DiSanto and Natalie Smith to the fold.

Shannon is a 6-2 middle blocker-outside hitter from Oshawa, Ontario, where she played at Maxwell Heights Secondary School. She played for the junior Canada team in 2015 and for Team Ontario the past three years.

“We got a very early commitment from Kiara and she’s a middle blocker we really like,” Michigan coach Mark Rosen said.

Rosen added this about Shannon at the time of her signing: “She’s a very versatile middle blocker and she comes with a lot of experience in the Canadian national team program. I think she’s going to come in and be very competitive right away. She’s a bit undersized but very athletic and dynamic, which is what we look for in the middle. I think she’s going to fit right into our system and the way we play.”

DiSanto is a 5-5 libero who graduated from Menlo-Atherton (Calif.) High School and is a product of the Encore VBC, while the 5-7 Smith prepped at Boswell High in Weatherford, Texas, and played club at Tejas.

Love of the game: BYU coach Heather Olmstead likes the versatility of her recruiting class, as well as the awareness it has of the Cougars’ history.

Olmstead welcomes Taylen Ballard, Allison Stapleton, Sara Hamson and Sydnie Martindale to Provo.

“Our class is very diverse in that we have a few kids who can play multiple positions,” Olmstead said. “Taylen, Alli and Sara all are physically gifted volleyball players who will up the level in our gym immediately. I like how competitive they are, how much they love BYU and want to add to the rich tradition of BYU volleyball. We are looking forward to getting them in the gym.”

Ballard, an outside hitter, is a 2017 Fab 50 selection who played at Clovis (Calif.) High School and for the Tsunami club. Stapleton is an outside-right side from Richland, Wash., while Hamson, from Pleasant Grove, Utah, also is a right-side hitter. Her sister, who also starred in basketball at BYU, led the Cougars to the 2015 NCAA-title match in volleyball. Martindale is a JUCO transfer from Snow College and is from Heber, Utah.

Excitement is an understatement: That most certainly would be true for Purdue coach Dave Shondell, who can’t wait for his incoming class to arrive.

That group includes setter-outside Hayley Bush, outside hitter Caitlyn Newton, libero Jenna Otec and defensive specialist Julianna Reisinger.

Bush, from Union, Ky., is a product of the NKYVC program, while Newton is a 6-1 outside from Terre Haute, Ind., and played club at Crossroads of America. Otec comes from Rockwood Thunder of Missouri, while Reisinger played at Santa Maragarita Catholic in California and played club at Laguna Beach and A4. Bush’s sister, Ashley, is a setter at Northwestern University.

“They are full of energy and determination,” Shondell said. “They will raise the level of intensity and toughness of our culture. Our team takes tremendous pride in ball control and this foursome will dramatically enhance that aspect. As a coach, you know the value of high-character players and Purdue volleyball just got better with the signing of Hayley, Jena, Caitlyn and Julianna.”

Shondell labels Newton “One of the most underrated recruits to ever arrive on the Boilermaker campus. She has been impressive during the spring season.” The coach added Otec and Reisinger both are highly touted ball-control players who will compete for playing time right away. Shondell said Bush is a “superb athlete and leader in the setting position.”

Desert dandies: Arizona coach Dave Rubio felt his class last year was arguably the best he’s ever put together during his tenure in Tucson. He also holds this year’s recruiting class in high regard.

It includes the likes of 2017 Fab 50 pick Katie Smoot (6-1, RS-OH, Belmont, Calif.) and 2016 girls’ high school All-American first-team pick Candice Denny (6-2, MB) out of perennial prep powerhouse Archbishop Mitty (San Jose, Calif.), along with 6-2 OH Pagie Whipple (West Salem, Ore.).

“On paper, it’s one of the best classes we’ve had in maybe 10-15 years,” Rubio said. “Last year’s class was arguably the best class we’ve ever signed and that was mostly based on potential, but this class is full of kids who are skilled and have been playing volleyball for a very long time and can play volleyball at a very high level. They add aptitude and physicality that we need.

“The ability to play right away was a big reason we were able to get their attention and ultimately sign them. We feel we have the perfect mix of players this year to couple with the kids we brought in last year.”

Decorated class: Baylor added two high-school All-Americans to its roster in Houston-area standout Yossi Pressley, who ranked 26th in the country in kills according to one statistical service and is a 2017 Fab 50 selection, as well as setter Hannah Lockin (6-1, West Des Moines, Iowa).

“We picked up strength, size and power at every position,” said Baylor coach Ryan McGuyre. “Yossi was the top outside hitter in Houston and one of the top hitters in Texas and ranked 26th in the country in kills. Hannah is a tall, physical setter.”

Baylor also added during the early signing period last fall 6-6 left-handed-hitting Marieke Van der Mark, along with Taylor Marburger (5-5, setter-libero, McAllen, Texas).

Incoming height: Creighton coach Kirsten Bernthal Booth, the VBM 2016 national coach of the year, added not only height but high-character players to her roster.

Naomi Hickman checks in at 6-4, while Steph Gaston is 6-5.

“I like that we will again be bringing size into our gym, which I think at the highest level is important,” Bernthal Booth said. “I like that all three of our incoming players are high-character, great-culture young women. For our program, that is equally important to what they do physically. They also are winners, either on their high-school or club teams.”

The only one: Oregon needed to add only one recruit to its 2017 roster and new Ducks head coach Matt Ulmer thinks he got quite a find in Hawaii native and defensive specialist Kyra Hanawahine, who played at Kamehameha High School in Honolulu.

“Kyra will add a steady presence in the back row for us and great energy as a defensive player,” Ulmer said.

Sudden impact: Ohio State coach Geoff Carlston thinks players in his 2017 class will see the court sooner rather than later, lauding its diversity and depth.

“Lauren Witte, Jasmin Koonts and Hannah Gruensfelder are impact players right away,” he said. “Our recent addition of Megan Carr, the experience and IQ of Becca Mauer and the athleticism of Ayanna Swan round out an exciting class for us.”

Witte is a 6-2 middle blocker from Mentor, Ohio (Lake Catholic High School) and the Eastside Cleveland Juniors club. Gruensfelder is a 5-6 defensive specialist from Weldon Spring, Mo., who played club for St. Louis CYC and Rockwood Thunder. Mauer is a 5-9 setter from Jersey Village High School in Houston and is a product of the Texas Tornadoes and Houston Junior. Swan is a 6-2 outside hitter from Richmond (Va.) VBC.

Koonts is a transfer from Arizona State. The 6-2 Houston native is a junior middle blocker who has 42 matches worth of collegiate experience. Carr graduated high school early and spent a semester at Butler before heading to Ohio State where she will be a freshman defensive specialist. She’s a product of the Munciana Volleyball Club.

Raising the bar: The goal of any recruiting class is to have players who will contribute sooner rather than later. Western Kentucky coach Travis Hudson sees his recruiting class as one that will up the ante in the gym.

“We have put together a very well-rounded class that should raise our level in every facet of the game,” he said. “Taylor Bebout, Hallie Shelton and Darby Music all are very skilled at their positions and are proven winners and Kayland Jackson is one of the most exciting athletes in the 2017 class.”

Of particular note, Jackson is a dual-sport athlete who was an Indiana high-school state champion as a track-and-field hurdler.



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