With many of the top programs graduating the majority of their starting lineups, there are many unknowns still when it comes to the 2018 NCAA Division I women’s volleyball season, but that doesn’t mean we’re above starting to speculate about what’s in store for volleyball fans come next fall.
Here are our way-too-early 2018 rankings.
After a 2017 season in which they won the Pac-12 title and returned to the Final Four, Stanford is only graduating one player. Merete Lutz was second on the team in kills in her redshirt senior season, but the Cardinal are in a good position to fill her role.
AVCA National Player of the Year and 2017 Cardinal kills leader Kathryn Plummer will once again be key to Stanford’s success in 2018, as will setter Jenna Gray, libero Morgan Hentz (the only libero to make the first-team All-America list), and middle Audriana Fitzmorris, all of whom will still only be juniors.
Kevin Hambly, for whom 2018 will mark his second season in Palo Alto, brings in two recruits with plenty of size and physicality in 6-foot-3 middle blocker Holly Campbell and and 6-2 opposite Mackenzie Fidelak.
The Longhorns didn’t make the Final Four this year for the first time since 2011, but don’t expect them to stay down long. Jerritt Elliott’s 2017 recruiting class featured the No. 1 recruit in the nation, and Lexi Sun should continue to come into her own in her sophomore season. Setter Ashley Shook will also continue to build her relationship with her hitters.
Texas loses an important trio of contributors in opposite Ebony Nwanebu, libero Cat McCoy, and 2017 Big 12 Player of the Year, middle blocker Chiaka Ogbogu, but as always, Texas’ depth is impressive. Brionne Butler, who redshirted in 2017, will make her freshman debut next fall, and she’ll be joined in the middle position by Asjia O’neal, the class of 2018’s No. 2 recruit.
Yes, the reigning national champs are losing a lot with the graduation of setter Kelly Hunter, middle blocker Briana Holman, and six-rotation outside hitter Annika Albrecht, not to mention rock-solid defensive specialist Sydney Townsend, but if we learned anything this year, it was never count out Nebraska.
John Cook brings in a fantastic group of recruits, including the class of 2018’s top setter Nicklin Hames, springy hitter Capri Davis, and 6-5 middle blocker Callie Schwarzenbach. Two-time NCAA Tournament most outstanding player Mikaela Foecke will be heading into her senior season, and opposite Jazz Sweet will only keep getting better as she heads into her sophomore year.
With Penn State and Michigan State losing even more from their starting lineups, Nebraska has a good chance to earn yet another Big Ten title.
Nebraska’s biggest league challenger for 2018 will be Wisconsin. The Badgers lose six-rotation outsides Kelli Bates and Lauryn Gillis, but freshman outside Grace Loberg came into her own at the end of the 2017 season and will do well as a starter in 2018. With any luck, Molly Haggerty, who took a medical redshirt in 2017 after having back surgery, will be back to 100 percent come the fall.
Of course, 6-8 middle Dana Rettke will also play a big role on the 2018 Wisconsin squad, and she’ll be joined by 6-7 freshman opposite Julia Wohlert. Sydney Hilley ran the offense with confidence and skill in 2017 as a freshman, and she’ll only get more comfortable after another spring season.
Wisconsin’s upset of Nebraska during the 2017 Big Ten season provided a glimpse of what this team can do, so watch out for the Badgers in 2018.
The Wildcats had their best season ever in 2017. They’ll have a big challenge on their hands to replace their graduated middles Kaz Brown and Emily Franklin, but with outside hitter duo Leah Edmond and Avery Skinner returning, along with setter Madison Lilley, coach Craig Skinner has a good core of talent to build on.
Gabby Curry should be well prepared to step in for graduated libero Ashley Dusek after filling in at the position early in the 2017 season when Dusek was injured. The Wildcats also lose opposite Darian Mack, but Brooke Morgan — who started at opposite toward the end of the season — played exceptionally well for Kentucky in the tournament and will likely earn the starting nod on the right side.
The 2017 season was not Minnesota’s best. Losses to Michigan State, Purdue, and Illinois kept the Gophers out of the running for the Big Ten title, but with young talent in many starting positions, they showed serious promise and should only get better in 2018.
Setter Samantha Seliger-Swenson will be a senior in 2018, and she’ll have offensive weapons Alexis Hart, Stephanie Samedy, and Regan Pittman at her disposal. Hugh McCutcheon brings in a group of four rock stars in his 2018 recruiting class, which should help to fill the holes left by the graduation of middle Molly Lohman and libero Dalianliz Rosado. Incoming freshman CC McGraw will be a candidate for Rosado’s starting libero spot, with Lauren Barnes providing the stiffest competition.
Outside hitter Adanna Rollins could very well beat out Jasmyn Martin for the OH2 spot opposite Alexis Hart. McCutcheon has called Rollins “one of the most complete six-rotation outsides” he’s ever seen.
BYU, which went 28-2 in the regular season and advanced to the Sweet 16 in 2017, graduates only one starter as it heads into 2018.
With San Diego losing much more, the Cougars should dominate their conference next fall, and once again challenge for a deep postseason run. Coach Heather Olmstead adds a pair of recruits, including Under Armour First-Team All-American Heather Gneiting, a 6-3 middle/opposite.
Veronica Jones-Perry and McKenna Miller will once again be a deadly one-two punch on the left side, while libero Mary Lake will continue to absolutely dominate on defense and serve receive.
In 2016, Oregon had one of the top recruiting classes in the nation. Next fall, when those athletes will be juniors, the Ducks once again bring in one of the top-ranked groups of incomers, and the combination of talent could be magical.
Yes, the Ducks will have to make up for the graduation of kills-leader Taylor Agost, but they’ve got Kylie Robinson, one of the top setters in the class, coming in, along with big hitters Karson Bacon and Chandlar Duff. Incoming freshman libero Camryn Tastad was a First-Team Under Armour All-American and will certainly make a different for the Ducks when it comes to ball control and defense.
Lindsey Vander Weide, Willow Johnson, Ronika Stone, and Jolie Rasmussen will be deadly once again, and will become more sophisticated in their offensive decisions as they begin their junior seasons.
GAME TIME. The Ducks and Cougars are underway in the #NCAAVB second round! #GoDucks— Oregon Volleyball (@OregonVB) December 3, 2017
Stream: ESPN3 and https://t.co/Zl102L45vL
Listen: 88.1 FM w/ @ItsTyratime
Stats: https://t.co/WYQJuz5QSg pic.twitter.com/12qCoypNIl
Illinois started to figure it out toward the end of the 2017 season, beating Minnesota late in the Big Ten slate, and then knocking off Hawaii and Washington in the NCAA tournament.
Heading into 2018, the Fighting Illini are only losing one starter, libero Brandi Donnelly. Morgan O’Brien should be ready to step into that role after filling in for Donnelly during an injury early in the 2017 season.
Jordyn Poulter is one of the most skilled setters in the country, and she’ll be dishing the rock to pins Jacqueline Quade, Megan Cooney, and Beth Prince. Defensively, Ali Bastianelli will once again put up one of the most impenetrable blocks in the nation with Tyanna Omazic playing opposite her.
10. Penn State
The 2018 Penn State starting lineup will showcase a lot of new faces. Russ Rose will have to fill five starting positions with bench players or newcomers. Luckily, the 38-year head coach has the top recruiting class in the country, and will have plenty of young talent to choose from.
With two elite setting recruits coming in — First-Team Under Armour All-Americans Gabby Blossom and Jonni Parker — in addition to two elite middle blockers, the biggest question mark for Penn State will be at the outside hitter position. Simone Lee and Ali Frantti are both graduating, and there are no outsides in the incoming group.
Nia Reed, who got occasionally playing time this fall, will be a redshirt senior next fall and could pull a Shainah Joseph and make a big impact in her final season. Michaela Putnicki is the only other outside hitter on the roster, so we wouldn’t be surprised to see an announcement of a transfer pin hitter headed to State College.
Rose will also have to find a replacement for associate head coach Salima Rockwell, whoannounced her decision to leave the college game shortly after the conclusion of the 2017 season.
The big test for the Trojans will be how well they can weather the drama of their head coach Mick Haley being fired and adjust to whomever the athletic department hires to replace him.
We also have to consider the possibility that, with Haley gone, some players could choose to transfer, but assuming everyone except the four graduating starters returns in the fall, USC could still be dangerous.
Khalia Lanier played a huge role on the 2017 team with 511 kills, and she’ll have to take even smarter and harder swings next fall with No. 2 and No. 3 offensive producers Brittany Abercrombie and Niki Withers graduating.
Incoming freshman Brooklyn Schirmer should help carry the offensive load, however. A member of the youth national team, Schirmer hits a very heavy ball and is more than capable of starting right away.
Florida had their best season in over a decade in 2017, but will suffer heavy losses heading into 2018.
Graduating seniors Shainah Joseph, Rhamat Alhassan, and Carli Snyder made up three of the top four offensive producers this season. Also gone is libero Caroline Knop.
There are some key returners for the Gators, however. Six-eight middle Rachael Kramer will be a junior next fall, and setters Ali Monserez and Cheyenne Huskey also return.
Mary Wise’s 2018 recruiting class might just be one of her best, as it includes the 2018's top player Thayer Hall, as well as setter Marlie Monserez (younger sister of Ali), 6-6 middle Lauren Dooley, opposite Haley Warner, and liberos Riley Rischer and Paula Cerame.
Florida will be young but full of potential in 2018.
UCLA was young in 2018, and only graduates Reily Buechler and Sarah Sponcil — but those are big losses.
In some of UCLA’s biggest matches this fall, Buechler put the team on her back, and Sponcil did a fantastic job of running the offense in her first and only season as a Bruin. Come 2018, new leaders will have to step up, and young hitters Jenny Mosser and Mac May will have to find a higher level of consistency.
Already a strong defensive team, UCLA adds freshmen libero/defensive specialists Kelsey Campeau and Sawyer Aigner-Swesey, as well as six-rotation outside hitter Lexi Hadrych. They’ve also got elite setter Devon Chang coming in ready to take over the offense.
The Wolverines finished the 2017 regular season with five consecutive wins, three of them over ranked teams. With a top-10 recruiting class, coach Mark Rosen will seek to carry that momentum into 2018.
He’ll be without middle Claire Kieffer-Wright and pin hitters Adeja Lambert and Katharine Mahlke, but Michigan will return kills leader Carly Skjodt, setter MacKenzi Welsh, and libero Jenna Lerg.
In the incoming class, the Wolverines have 6-3 middle Kayla Bair, setter Erin O’Leary, and outsides Paige Jones, Abbey Malinowski, and Grace Persson.
The Team, the Team, the Team. pic.twitter.com/TeNQHYMK7Q— Michigan Volleyball (@umichvball) December 22, 2017
Washington’s starting lineup is going to be decimated due to the graduation of outside hitters Courtney Schwan and Crissy Jones, middle blocker Marion Hazelwood, opposite Carly DeHoog, setters Bailey Tanner and Jade Finau, and outside hitter/libero Tia Scambray, so we don’t expect the Huskies to come out of the gate dominating.
That said, Keegan Cook has a solid group of newcomers making their way to Seattle, including one of the top setters in the class: Ella May Powell.
Returning talent also includes Avie Niece, Kara Bajema, Lauren Sanders, and Destiny Julye, all of whom made significant offensive contributions in 2017.
16. North Carolina
North Carolina suffered injuries left and right during the 2017 season and far under-achieved the high expectations many had for the Tar Heels.
With a strong recruiting class coming in — and hopefully all injuries healed — UNC should come back strong in 2018. The Tar Heels will be without middle Beth Nordhorn and versatile front-row hitter Taylor Fricano, but they’ll return star outside hitter Taylor Leath, middle Katharine Esterley, and 6-8 setter Holly Carlton; Julia Scoles and Mariah Evans — both of whom took a medical redshirt in 2017 — should be back in action.
Joe Sagula is also welcoming a strong recruiting class, headlined by 6-2 outside hitter Destiny Cox, who hails from nearby Carrboro.
Congratulations @katharineest, the new Carolina freshman record holder for block assists (124) and blocks per set (1.44)!! She also finished top 10 overall in both categories! #goheels pic.twitter.com/lX8Ko8gY6Y— Carolina Volleyball (@UNCVolleyball) November 25, 2017
Colorado loses some firepower with the gradation of Stephanie Shadley, Anna Pfefferle, and Joslyn Hayes, but they’ll return both starting outsides in Alexa Smith and Frankie Shebby, along with setter Brynna DeLuzio and libero Gabby Carta-Samuels.
The Buffs finished fifth in the Pac-12 standings in 2017, and with other top teams in the conference losing some major contributors to graduation, they are in a good position to rise even higher next fall.
For the 1st time in CU history, a pair of Buffs earned AVCA All-America honors.— Colorado Volleyball (@CUBuffsVB) December 13, 2017
Read all about it: https://t.co/IuPUcuJerw
With Lydia Dimke running the offense the past two years, Creighton has achieved great things, and replacing the graduated setter will be the Bluejays' biggest challenge in 2018. Freshman Jaclyn Taylor has announced her decision to transfer to Nebraska-Omaha, and as of yet there are no setters in head coach Kirsten Bernthal Booth’s 2018 class. Bernthal Booth may look for a last-minute commitment from an incoming freshman, or put the feelers out for a transfer.
Top offensive producers Jaali Winters and Taryn Kloth will return, however, and libero Brittany Witt will be a junior next fall.
Bernthal Booth brings in a good group of offensive-minded players in outside hitters Keeley Davis and Jaela Zimmerman, opposite Kari Zumach, and middle Annika Welty.
Who is Purdue without four-year starting setter Ashley Evans and top hitters Danielle Cuttino and Azariah Stahl?
Six-five opposite Sherridan Atkinson, who came up so big for the Boilermakers this season, will have to be a leader on next year’s team. Caitlyn Newton, who started on the outside when Cuttino moved to the middle midway through the season, and Blake Mohler will also have to step into bigger roles as head coach Dave Shondell figures out a lineup that works.
Perhaps some of the five incoming freshmen will make their way into the starting rotation as well. The 2018 class includes quite a bit of height, with 6-4 middle Jael Johnson, 6-3 middle Grace Cleveland, and 6-3 outside hitter Garrett Joiner.
20. Cal Poly
Cal Poly burst onto the volleyball scene in 2017, recording its best ever overall record at 27-3 and winning the program’s first Big West title.
They’ll have to replace starting setter Taylor Nelson and their third- and fourth-highest offensive producers Raenn Greisen and Savannah Niemen. Torrey and Adlee Van Winden, the No. 1 and No. 2 kills leaders, will be back, however, and head coach Sam Crosson is bringing in some good young talent with his 2018 recruiting class.