NCAA Division I Women's Volleyball Preseason Rankings: 11-20
Starting next Tuesday, we'll release a detailed preview of one top-10 team each day leading up to the start of the season on Friday, August 25.
The graduation of top offensive producers Abby Cole and Kelly Murphy and the transfer of defensive specialist Tiffany Clark will be a challenge for Michigan this fall, but a really solid sophomore class, which includes setter Mackenzi Welsh and top-100 class of 2016 outside hitter Sydney Wetterstrom, along with other key returners libero Jenna Lerg, middle Claire Kieffer-Wright, and outside Carly Skjodt will provide a solid core around which coaches Mark and Leisa Rosen can build.
In 2016, Mizzou was co-champion of the Southeastern Conference alongside Florida. Key returners include outside hitter Melanie Crow and middle Alyssa Munlyn, both of whom were named preseason All-SEC. The Tigers' biggest loss to contend with will be All-American outside hitter Carly Kan. Luckily, they add Missouri's 2016 high school player of the year outside hitter Leketor Member-Meneh, as well as Puerto Rico youth national team members Andrea Fuentes and Dariana Hollingsworth-Santana.
18. Ohio State
The Buckeyes defeated then-No. 1 Nebraska last fall, but went 10-10 overall in the Big Ten and lost to Wisconsin in the NCAA tournament regional semifinals. The graduation of All-American middle Taylor Sandbothe and libero Valeria Leon will be hurdles for Ohio State to overcome this year, but the Buckeyes return both starting outside hitters and setter/opposite Taylor Hughes. An opening-weekend battle with BYU will be the Ohio State's biggest test of preseason.
17. Michigan State
Michigan State might just be one of the more veteran teams in the Big Ten this year, returning five of their 2016 starters, including second team All-American middle blocker Alyssa Garvelink and Honorable Mention All-Americans outside hitter Autumn Bailey and setter Rachel Minarick. With a 13-7 conference record, MSU finished fifth in the Big Ten last season, and should once again contend for a spot in the top half of the toughest volleyball conference in the country.
The graduation of libero Amanda Benson was the biggest loss for the Ducks besides, of course, coaches Jim Moore and Stacy Metro, who resigned this spring and were replaced by assistant Matt Ulmer. A strong sophomore class will play a big role on the 2017 Oregon team, including defensive specialist Brooke Van Sickle, who will be the top candidate to replace Benson at the libero position.
15. Florida State
FSU head coach Chris Poole has touted this year's group of incoming freshmen as one of the top three recruiting classes of his head coaching career. Those newcomers will certainly need to be ready to contribute right away after the graduation of four starters. The Seminoles ended the 2016 season with a bang, upsetting Florida in the second round of the NCAA tournament before losing to eventual national champion Stanford in the regional semifinals. They won't have to wait long to test their 2017 squad against the Gators again, as the two teams will face off on September 12.
The Wildcats return their top five offensive producers, including All-American outside hitter Leah Edmond, who will be a sophomore this fall. Head coach Craig Skinner also brings in the highest-rated recruiting class in Kentucky volleyball history, featuring setter Madison Lilley, libero Gabby Curry, middle Kendyl Paris, and outside hitter Avery Skinner. The Wildcats came in just behind Florida in the SEC preseason coaches' poll, receiving six first-place votes to Florida's seven.
The Bluejays upset Kansas in the second round of the NCAA tournament last season, then took out Michigan in the regional semifinals before losing to Texas in the elite eight. This program on the rise should only get more formidable this year with the addition of 6-5 lefty opposite Steph Gaston and 6-4 middle Naomi Hickman. They return libero Brittany Witt, setter Lydia Dimke, and hitters Jaali Winters, Taryn Kloth, and Marysa Wilkinson.
12. North Carolina
Expect UNC, which upset Penn State and Wisconsin early last year, to once again be a program in contention for a top-10 ranking. Four starters from 2016 return, including ACC player of the year Taylor Leath and ACC freshman of the year Julia Scoles. Three in-state recruits will help deepen the UNC roster, and 6-7 setter/opposite Holly Carlton will be ready to make her collegiate debut after redshirting in 2016.
The Jayhawks made it to their first final four in 2015. That year, opposite Kelsie Payne and Ainise Havili were sophomores, and after a disappointing second round loss in the NCAA tournament last season, the now-seniors are ready to make another big push. Including Payne and Havili, Kansas boasts eight seniors on its 2017 roster, making them one of the most veteran teams in the Big 12. In the offseason, head coach Ray Bechard added transfers Mmachi Nwoke (Arizona State), Gabby Simpson (Colorado), and Taylor Alexander (Ole Miss), giving him even more options on an already stacked squad.
Watch Kansas take on Utah Valley, Long Beach State, and Montana at the Wolverine Invitational, August 31 - September 2, streaming LIVE on FloVolleyball.
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