The American Volleyball Coaches Association has named the national women's volleyball player of the year since 1985. That year, Stanford senior middle blocker Kim Oden took home the honor, leaving the Cardinal program as the school record holder in career blocks, blocks in a single season, and blocks in a match.
Last year, it was Minnesota's senior outside hitter Sarah Wilhite who earned the honor, leading her team to the final four for the second consecutive year and ranking first in the Big Ten with 4.20 kills per set.
Who will be the 2017 AVCA National Player of the Year? We're of the opinion that it's never too early to start making guesses, so here are our picks for the 10 most likely candidates.
1. Simone Lee | Penn State | Senior | Outside HitterAs a freshman, Penn State's Lee played second fiddle to classmate and fellow outside hitter Ali Frantti. That year, 2014, Penn State won the championship but Lee saw limited court time. Fast-forward to last fall and Lee had become the go-to hitter for the Nittany Lions. As a junior, she earned First Team All-American honors after starting every match and leading the team with 503 kills. With Penn State's entire starting lineup returning for 2017, Lee might just have the pieces surrounding her to make it to Kansas City and build a case for the NPOY award.
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2. Ebony Nwanebu | Texas | Senior | OppositeThe most effective weapon on a team full of cannons, Nwanebu boasted a .379 hitting percentage in 2016 with 423 kills. Like Penn State, Texas also has the talent to add up to a national championship season, and if the Longhorns make it to Kansas City it will be in no small part thanks to senior Nwanebu. If she were to win the NPOY honor, the 2013 Freshman of the Year would be the sixth FOY to do so.
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3. Kathryn Plummer | Stanford | Sophomore | OppositeSpeaking of former Freshman of the Year that are in the running for this year's NPOY award, 2016 FOY Plummer led her Stanford squad to the national championship last year, terminating from both pins. Although she would be the sixth former FOY to win the POY honor, she would be only the third sophomore to do so, joining Nebraska setter Greichaly Cepero (2000) and Stanford opposite Bev Oden (1990).
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4. Courtney Schwan | Washington |Senior |Outside HitterThe Pac-12's 2016 Player of the Year led Washington and ranked seventh in the conference with 3.71 kills per set (438 total), in addition to boasting a .302 hitting percentage and leading the Huskies to a conference title. Over the summer, Schwan traveled to Europe with the U.S. Collegiate National Team where she earned the tournament MVP honor and the team went 13-0. If she were to win the NPOY award, she would be the second Husky to do so, after Krista Vansant, the 2013 AVCA National Player of the Year.
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5. Samantha Seliger-Swenson | Minnesota | Setter | JuniorOnly seven setters have ever earned the National Player of the Year honor, and only two did so in their junior seasons, so the odds are not in SSS's favor. That said, the Minnesota setter has what it takes to contend for the award: leadership, talent, athleticism, accuracy, and more. The biggest question mark may be how quickly she establishes a connection with the new Minnesota hitters after the graduation of the team's top three offensive producers.
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6. Rhamat Alhassan | Florida | Senior | Middle BlockerIf dominant Florida middle Alhassan were to win the National Player of the Year award, she would be the first middle to do so since Foluke Akinradewo in 2007. That year, Akinradewo hit .499, the second-best hitting percentage in NCAA history. For her part, Alhassan led the nation with a .458 hitting percentage as a freshman and boasts a .430 career hitting percentage -- fifth-best in NCAA history. Florida, which has struggled in the postseason as of late, will need to have its best season since Alhassan joined the roster in order for her to be in contention.
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7. Haleigh Washington | Penn State | Senior | Middle BlockerAs a middle, Washington faces the same roadblocks as Alhassan in pursuit of the NPOY award, namely that she only plays half of each match. That said, Washington's statistics have been impressive in her time at Penn State. She has led the team in hitting percentage all three years and was the top blocker in her sophomore and junior seasons. If Penn State has the fantastic season they by all accounts should, look for her to make the shortlist.
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8. Mikaela Foecke | Nebraska | Junior | Outside HitterFoecke burst onto the volleyball scene as a freshman in 2015 when she led Nebraska with 19 kills, hitting .385, in the Huskers' national championship victory over Texas, earning the tournament's Most Outstanding Player award. Although she was a bit quieter as a sophomore in 2016, she'll be shouldering a heavier load for the Huskers this season due to the graduation of three of the top five offensive producers.
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9. Micaya White | Texas |Redshirt Sophomore | Outside HitterWhite is another long-shot sophomore candidate, but don't count her. Of all the deadly hitters on the 2016 Texas squad, she was the most lethal, putting away 479 kills on 1,247(!) attempts. A true all-around player, White's contributions extend past her hitting -- she led the team with 25 aces, ranked second with 83 total blocks, and third with 263 digs. With the plethora of offensive options freshman setter Ashley Shook will have on the 2017 Texas squad, White's biggest roadblock will be getting enough sets to produce POY-level numbers.
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10. Taylor Leath | North Carolina | Redshirt Junior | Outside HitterThe past few seasons, North Carolina has been getting better and better, and so has its top outside hitter Taylor Leath. As a redshirt freshman, she played only in the front row, contributing 218 kills (hitting .206) to a very well-balanced UNC squad. Her redshirt sophomore season, she earned the right to play all six rotations and led the team with 374 kills (hitting .252) and ranked second on the team with 299 digs. If North Carolina and Leath both continue on their upward trajectories in 2017, the Pennsylvania native could enter in to the POY conversation.
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