Five storylines ahead of the opening weekend of NCAA women’s volleyball

Girls’s volleyball opens its 2021 season with one long-asked query already having been answered earlier this 12 months: When would the SEC win its first NCAA championship on this sport? Kentucky did it in April. That concluded the strangest of volleyball seasons, all attributable to COVID-19.

Usually a fall sport with its championship in December, volleyball’s 2020 season as an alternative was a patchwork unfold throughout eight months and two calendar years. Some conferences, together with the ACC, SEC and Large 12, had matches in 2020, whereas others such because the Large Ten and Pac-12 did not start play till January 2021.

The season led to Omaha, Nebraska, with a pared-down NCAA event area of 48 — which did not sit properly with volleyball’s coaches and gamers — and complaints in regards to the high quality of apply courts and different event circumstances that echoed related points delivered to mild a month earlier on the NCAA girls’s basketball event in San Antonio.

Now, 4 months later, the trail to the 2021 championship begins. The favorites embody names you count on, led by preseason Nos. 1-4 Texas, Wisconsin, Kentucky and Washington, which had been the semifinalists this spring. The Large Ten and Pac-12, every with six groups within the AVCA preseason rankings, stay the powerhouse leagues and can have a lot to do with who advances to the semifinals in Columbus, Ohio, Dec. 16-18.

Listed here are 5 storylines to comply with as the ladies’s volleyball season launches this weekend.

1. Can Kentucky repeat its championship?

Kentucky’s championship did not come out of the blue — forgive the pun — but it surely additionally wasn’t the consequence many anticipated. The Wildcats had been a very good program knocking on the door of the ultimate 4 for a very long time beneath coach Craig Skinner, and so they went into this system’s twenty second NCAA event final spring having misplaced only one match. However traditionally, they had been carrying the burden of “nearly” with them: The SEC beforehand had 11 appearances within the closing 4, led by Florida’s eight. However no nationwide championship.

Kentucky did not play with any of that weight, although. Led by setter Madison Lilley, the American Volleyball Coaches Affiliation’s nationwide participant of the 12 months, Kentucky received 3-1 wins over Washington and Texas within the nationwide semifinals and closing.

Three senior starters from final season aren’t returning, though the NCAA allowed gamers to have an additional 12 months to account for the affect COVID-19 had on the 2020-21 season. Lilley and libero Gabby Curry have completed their school careers. Exterior hitter Avery Skinner transferred to her dwelling state of Texas to play her closing season at Baylor, the place her father, former NBA participant Brian Skinner, performed collegiately.

Nevertheless, do not write off the Wildcats. They return 11 letter winners, together with kills chief Alli Stumler and blocks chief Azhani Tealer. The largest place query for the Wildcats is setter, which might be dealt with by senior Cameron Scheitzach and freshman Emma Grome.

Amongst nonconference matches, they’ve journeys to Wisconsin and Louisville, and visits from USC and Stanford. They may conclude regular-season play with back-to-back matches at dwelling in opposition to SEC rival Florida, which is ranked No. 6 within the preseason ballot.

2. Will one other program’s lengthy quest finish with an NCAA title?

Kentucky broke by, however Wisconsin and Florida are nonetheless ready. The Badgers have misplaced the NCAA championship match 3 times, most just lately in 2019, and the Gators twice, most just lately in 2017. Wisconsin and Florida met within the elite eight final season, with the Badgers successful 3-2. The applications are nonetheless perennial nationwide contenders that deliver loads to the game, however you wish to see each get an opportunity to have the final word celebration.

Wisconsin misplaced simply as soon as final season, however on the worst time: The Badgers had been swept by Texas within the nationwide semifinals. They convey again the dynamic duo of 6-foot-8 center blocker Dana Rettke and setter Sydney Hilley, each taking part in their fifth season. Wisconsin is the unanimous decide to win the ultra-difficult Large Ten, which they did final 12 months at 15-0 and in 2019 at 18-2.

Wisconsin begins this weekend internet hosting the Large Ten/Large 12 Problem in Madison, dealing with TCU on Friday and No. 10 Baylor on Saturday. One other key nonconference matchup might be in opposition to visiting Kentucky on Sept. 10. Florida is picked second behind the Wildcats within the SEC however has essentially the most gamers (4) on the preseason all-conference staff. The Gators return six starters, led by exterior hitters T’ara Caesar and Thayer Corridor, their factors leaders from final season. The Gators will get some sturdy nonconference exams: From Aug. 31 to Sept. 15, they’re going to face No. 21 Stanford, No. 7 Minnesota, No. 10 Baylor twice and in-state rival Florida State.

3. Will seniors who’re returning for a fifth 12 months have a huge impact?

Completely. Eight of the 9 seniors on final season’s AVCA All-American first staff are again: Wisconsin’s Rettke and Hilley, Skinner (was at Kentucky, now at Baylor), 2020 Pac-12 participant of the 12 months Dani Drews of Utah, 2020 Large Ten participant of the 12 months Stephanie Samedy of Minnesota, Washington’s Samantha Drechsel, Baylor’s Yossiana Pressley and Nebraska’s Lauren Stivrins. The one one not returning is Kentucky’s Lilley.

Nevertheless, for No. 1 Texas the important thing gamers are seniors this season (not fifth 12 months): 2020 Large 12 participant of the 12 months Logan Eggleston and Brionne Butler, who had been each first-team All-People, and Jhenna Gabriel, a third-team All-American. Additionally again are juniors Skylar Fields, Asjia O’Neal and Molly Phillips, who with Eggleston and Butler composed the Longhorns’ 5 prime level scorers final season. Briefly, Texas is loaded.

The Longhorns went by a Large Ten gauntlet within the NCAA event final season, beating Penn State, Nebraska and Wisconsin in succession. Then they took the primary set in opposition to Kentucky within the championship match and appeared on their technique to this system’s third NCAA title. However the Wildcats received the following three units, and the Longhorns had been left with one other NCAA event frustration. This season, although, they’re proper again on the prime.

4. Will nine-time NCAA champion Stanford bounce again?

In fact, as a result of it is Stanford. For non-volleyball followers, we’ll make this analogy: Seeing Stanford begin with “No. 21” subsequent to its title is like seeing that for Alabama soccer. Till final season’s unranked end, the Cardinal had by no means been ranked decrease than No. 19 (in 2000) within the closing AVCA ballot and had completed out of the highest 10 solely six instances complete in 37 seasons of the rankings, which started in 1983.

However final season was the proverbial excellent storm: The Cardinal had misplaced the famous person senior class that led them to a few NCAA titles within the earlier 4 years. And due to COVID-19 restrictions, Stanford performed simply 10 matches, ending 2-8. It was the primary time because the NCAA event started for girls’s volleyball in 1981 that Stanford did not make the sphere; now the one program that has been to each event is No. 12 Penn State.

That is about as shut as Stanford will get to “rebuilding,” picked to complete fourth within the Pac-12 behind Washington, UCLA and Oregon and with only one participant, junior reverse hitter Kendall Kipp, on the preseason all-conference staff. However with Kipp and 6 different gamers who had been with this system when it received the 2019 nationwide championship, plus an inflow of youthful expertise, Stanford probably will not take too lengthy to climb again as much as its extra acquainted perch.

5. What affect will the information NIL guidelines have on the game?

Though the Athletes Limitless indoor league launched in the US this previous 12 months, American volleyball gamers largely have to go abroad to play professionally and make a dwelling. The prospect to generate profits by title, picture and likeness may assist a few of them financially, although, earlier than leaving school.

Nebraska is an effective instance. The five-time NCAA champion Huskers are extraordinarily widespread, with the names of prime gamers acknowledged statewide. That may make them particularly interesting to Nebraska-based companies. Fifth-year Nebraska senior Lexi Solar, as an example, now has offers with clothes and jewellery corporations, the latter based mostly in Omaha.

What number of endorsement alternatives volleyball gamers get are more likely to correlate loads with how a lot consideration the applications obtain of their areas of the nation. However for a sport that is at all times trying to get slightly extra consideration nationally, NIL offers cannot harm. | 5 storylines forward of the opening weekend of NCAA girls’s volleyball


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