2022 NCAA volleyball season primer

August 26, 2022

After three runner-up finishes, Wisconsin’s volleyball program lastly gained its first NCAA championship, defeating five-time champion Nebraska in a five-set thriller final December.

Can the Badgers repeat?

Gone are All-Individuals Sydney Hilley and Dana Rettke, however the Badgers, ranked third within the preseason AVCA Coaches Ballot, return a formidable lineup that options Devyn Robinson and Julia Orzol.

Forward of them are the top-ranked Cornhuskers, who boast a formidable roster headlined by Lexi Rodriguez and Kenzie Knuckles, and No. 2-ranked Texas, which returns All-American outdoors hitter Logan Eggleston.

Two ACC groups reached the ultimate 4 final 12 months, however neither of them — Louisville and Pitt — made it to the championship. Can both one break by means of and turn out to be the league’s first nationwide champion?

Which gamers will stand out this season? Who would be the 4 groups that make it to the ultimate 4 in Omaha? And which one would be the final one standing? Our analysts and specialists make their predictions for the 2022 season.

What’s the largest storyline getting into the season?

M.A. Voepel: Can Texas win an NCAA title 10 years after its final championship? Not making an attempt to rub any salt into the injuries of Longhorns followers, however there might not be a program in any school sport that has been within the working for extra championships that it did not win than Texas volleyball. On one hand, you need to give this system numerous credit score for being so constantly within the combine. Alternatively, it is received to be irritating to the Texas devoted that they’ve simply two championships: in 1988 and 2012. This 12 months, as is nearly all the time the case, the Longhorns are favored to make what can be their 14th journey to the ultimate 4. They’re stacked with expertise, together with switch center blocker Kayla Caffey, who beforehand performed for Missouri and Nebraska. Will it’s the Longhorns’ 12 months once more?

Missy Whittemore: The most important storyline this season is the transfers. Lots of them are fairly gifted, but in addition a few of them are additionally fifth- and sixth-year gamers, so they’re additionally skilled. Groups might need to work by means of some chemistry points early within the season, however I believe finally, that provides groups a bonus over the course of an extended season.

Sam Gore: Along with the switch portal, it is a mixture of tales that can be answered because the season progresses. Will the Massive Ten be as dominant on the court docket because it seems on paper? The convention, coming off an all-Massive Ten closing, is loaded with elite expertise but once more. Additionally, can the ACC preserve the momentum it gained final 12 months with two nationwide semifinalists and turn out to be a perennially high league?

Courtney Lyle: Similar to each different sport, the switch portal has drastically modified collegiate volleyball — it’s uncommon now to see a crew with none transfers. This season, I’ve my eyes on how transfers can immediately change a crew’s possibilities at making a deep match run. Texas went out and raided the switch portal, including a giant arm in Madi Skinner from Kentucky, a center in Kayla Caffey from Nebraska (beforehand at Missouri) and defensive specialist Zoe Fleck from UCLA (whom I am an enormous fan of). I can not wait to see how Texas incorporates them into its bodily model of play.

Holly McPeak: Texas seems to be the most important beneficiary of latest expertise from the switch portal, gaining six new gamers on their roster, specifically Caffrey, Fleck, setter Jenna Ewert from Colorado and Skinner. However the query stays: Will Texas be capable of discover the chemistry and belief to win all of it? In the meantime, Nebraska returns 5 starters, and regardless of the lack of Caffrey achieve Kaitlyn Hord from Penn State within the center. With a brand new beginning setter and new center blocker, they might have a brand new look that can be thrilling to see come collectively.

Paul Sunderland: No query it is the variety of elite gamers which have modified jerseys through the portal. One key addition could make all of the distinction on the subject of competing for a championship. Kaitlyn Hord at Nebraska and Madi Skinner at Texas are the headliners, however there are too many who will change their new groups’ fortunes. Past that, I’m wondering if Louisville and Wisconsin can keep within the hunt given all their losses, particularly at setter. Each play a difficult nonconference schedule, so we will see early.

Katie George: I am with Paul, maintaining monitor of the huge variety of distinguished transfers can be tough and seeing how gamers instantly affect their new groups can be fascinating. I imagine the highest groups within the ACC will stay nationwide powers regardless that all three applications, Louisville, Pitt and Georgia Tech, mentioned goodbye to key gamers. I will be curious to see if the Pac-12 can have a resurgence of elite stage play. Washington stays in step with one of the crucial completed senior lessons within the nation on the helm. How will Wisconsin deal with life after Dana Rettke?

Jennifer Hoffman: All eyes are on Louisville. Graduating a flooring normal like Tori Dilfer can be laborious to exchange, and the Cardinals would be the speak after such a historic season. Talking of inauspicious losses, what does Wisconsin seem like after graduating such a core group of gamers?

Which regular-season match are you most trying ahead to watching?

Voepel: We’re all the time desirous to see Nebraska vs. Minnesota, however these Massive Ten powers do not meet till Nov. 26. So let’s choose an earlier match: Stanford at Nebraska on Sept. 13. The Cardinal gained three NCAA titles between 2016 and 2019, however then noticed the commencement of the most effective lessons in program historical past. That was adopted by a 2-8 season vastly restricted because of COVID-19, after which a 19-11 document final 12 months that ended with a second-round loss to Minnesota. Stanford begins the season ranked No. 14 and can be going by means of a really difficult non-conference schedule that features Texas, Louisville, Penn State, Minnesota and Nebraska. We’ll have a good suggestion earlier than the Pac-12 season begins whether or not the Cardinal are actually again to elite standing.

Whittemore: Look no additional than opening weekend to search out nice matches like Texas at Ohio State on Friday and Saturday. Will probably be fascinating to see how Texas’ transfers come collectively towards an Ohio State crew that has been on the verge of one thing nice over the previous two seasons but underwhelmed in postseason play. It is an excellent nonconference match that may very well be used as measuring stick to match expertise all year long.

Gore: Past the apparent nationwide championship rematch between Wisconsin and Nebraska, I am very intrigued by the primary two matches of the common season between Texas and Ohio State. Texas seems to be unimaginable on paper, however after some noteworthy offseason additions, will the Longhorns play effectively collectively and be capable of have a historic season? Ohio State is now among the many greatest applications within the nation, and a win or two towards Texas early may very well be a launching pad to large success.

Lyle: Nebraska vs. Wisconsin. Who does not love a nationwide title rematch? Nebraska-Wisconsin has turn out to be such a key match over the previous few years within the Massive Ten, made extra dramatic by the five-set nail biter within the nationwide championship. They face off on Oct. 26 and Nov. 25, and also you guess I will be watching.

McPeak: Louisville-Nebraska on Sept. 27 needs to be a robust check for Louisville. The Cardinals misplaced just one match final season, and the Cornhuskers are the preseason favourite.

Sunderland: I will take any match between Nebraska, Wisconsin and/or Minnesota. It does not matter if it is in Lincoln, Madison or Minneapolis. The expertise, teaching elites and sellout crowds all make these can’t-miss matches. The query, although, turns into, when are different Energy 5 conferences going to duplicate the Massive Ten’s attendance numbers and ambiance? Positive, there are some exceptions (Texas), however nobody comes near matching the Massive Ten as an entire.

George: I am biased, however the instate rivalry between Louisville and Kentucky by no means disappoints. Two seasons in the past Kentucky gained its first nationwide championship. Final December, Louisville appeared in its first nationwide semifinal. The Cardinals journey 60 miles down the street to Lexington on Sept. 14. Each applications have offensive firepower and wonderful defenses. This can be an early season check that may inform us so much about every crew transferring ahead. No. 3 Wisconsin at No. 1 Nebraska on Nov. 25 goes to be an electrical atmosphere. It’s going to be a revenge match given they will have already met a month earlier than. It might even have Massive Ten title implications on the road. Shall I proceed?

Which newcomer will make the most important affect in 2022?

Voepel: As with different sports activities, transfers have turn out to be a significant component in volleyball, and they’ll play a giant function in who wins the 2022 title. However taking a look at freshmen, I am desirous to see Nebraska center blocker Maggie Mendelson, a part of the Huskers’ stellar rookie class and a two-sport standout. That is sadly one thing we see much less and fewer of in Division I, however hopefully the 6-5 Mendelson will be capable of excel for the Huskers in volleyball and basketball. She has an opportunity to make an affect from August by means of March for Nebraska sports activities.

Whittemore: With Nebraska No. 1 within the preseason ballot, I believe essentially the most impactful newcomer may very well be Kaitlyn Hord. She may be essentially the most coveted switch of the offseason. Her means to anchor the center for Nebraska might go a great distance in figuring out if the Massive Purple will play for a nationwide championship of their dwelling state once more this 12 months.

Gore: Hord was a three-time All-American and four-time all-Massive Ten center blocker at Penn State. She was one of the crucial environment friendly hitters within the Massive Ten, hitting .440 in 2019, .421 in 2020 and .394 in 2021. She completed with 522 profession blocks, and her worthwhile expertise underneath Russ Rose, one of many best school volleyball coaches of all time, will affect Nebraska, which misplaced Lauren Stivrins, Callie Schwarzenbach and Kayla Caffey.

McPeak: At Texas, there are a selection of the transfers that may make a big effect, however chemistry with all the brand new gamers within the gymnasium stays an enormous query. Ewert will make a push on the beginning setter place and battle with Saige Ka’aha’aina-Torres. The beginning setter can be a giant issue if Texas can truly win all of it this 12 months.

Sunderland: Mckenna Wucherer is a 6-foot-1 freshman outdoors hitter who will play six rotations for the Golden Gophers and has already gotten reward from coach Hugh McCutcheon. She can be paired with Jenna Wenass, who broke out final 12 months. Different freshmen to control are the 2 middles at Nebraska, Maggie Mendleson from Utah and Bekka Allick from Lincoln.

George: Elia Rubin is a freshman outdoors hitter at Stanford. Kevin Hambly expects Rubin to have a direct affect. She has nice poise and ball management and may play all the way in which round if wanted. Averi Carlson, a freshman setter at Baylor, is arguably one of the crucial versatile gamers within the nation and is superb at placing her teammates in prime place to attain. Raquel Lazaro transferred to Louisville from USC and has large footwear to fill. The Cardinals run to the nationwide semifinal final season was led by setter Tori Dilfer, who’s now competing for Staff USA. Louisville nonetheless has a plethora of offensive weapons … can Lazaro step in and maintain a well-oiled machine working at a excessive stage? After 4 years at Georgia Tech, Matti McKissock traveled to UCLA for her fifth collegiate season. She’s a veteran setter with regional closing expertise. She is artful and fiery, which can be good for the Bruins.

Who will win nationwide participant of the 12 months?

Voepel: Dynamic outdoors hitter Logan Eggleston of Texas was an All-American and powerful candidate for NPOY final season. The Longhorns as a crew look like much more gifted this season, so we’ll see if that helps or hurts her possibilities on the award.

Whittemore: Logan Eggleston. She has a golden alternative with an additional 12 months at Texas. She has all the time been the glue, and if she may also help the brand new core of gamers gel, it might lead to a giant payoff.

Gore: Julia Bergmann of Georgia Tech. Coming off a first-team All-American season and an impactful efficiency with the Brazilian nationwide crew over the summer time, the 6-foot-5 Bergmann appears primed to dominate the NCAA this season. Final 12 months, she averaged 4.44 kills and a couple of.61 digs per set, hit .284, had 67 blocks and totaled a team-best 36 aces. She’s arguably essentially the most full participant within the nation.

Lyle: Eggleston is my entrance runner for participant of the 12 months. Her all-around recreation is powerful. She will be able to put up eye-popping numbers from the pins and her serve causes nightmares for passers. Talking of passing, she will try this too. There isn’t a query she is going to affect how far the Longhorns go within the postseason.

McPeak: Eggleston has been the most effective 6-rotation gamers within the nation over the previous three years, and with a robust supporting solid round her this season, I anticipate her to dominate.

Sunderland: Eggleston does all of it and could be the frontrunner, however with a lot expertise and firepower surrounding her, maybe her numbers can be down. After all, that is not all the time a nasty factor. If Washington has a giant 12 months, it will likely be due to Ella Might Powell, who was the Pac-12 setter of the 12 months twice. The Huskies had run final 12 months earlier than falling to Texas after main 2-0. Lastly, if Madi Kubik takes her recreation up a pair notches and the Huskers have the season they hope for, she’ll be within the dialog.

George: It is laborious to guess towards Eggleston. The 2-time first crew all-American averaged 4.72 factors per set, which is simply ridiculous. She does all of it for Texas, at a really excessive stage. If she leads the Longhorns to the nationwide semifinals or closing, I do not suppose anybody argues along with her profitable this award.

Hoffman: A participant that performs for Texas. The Longhorns are loaded and Eggleston is on the highest of the record for participant of the 12 months, however Texas’ Achilles’ heel has been passing. Zoe Fleck fixes that. I say the 2 of them share the title.

What 4 groups will make it to Omaha and who’s the final crew standing?

Voepel: Nebraska, Texas, Washington, Louisville, and the Huskers will triumph of their dwelling state once more.

Whittemore: Ohio State’s younger superstars are actually upperclassmen who’re prepared to interrupt out. Texas has an excessive amount of expertise to disclaim. Do not sleep on Washington out of the Pac-12; with Ella Might Powell working the offense, the Huskies are all the time within the hunt. And Nebraska can be motivated to play for a championship at dwelling. Bear in mind, the Huskers beat Texas for the title in 2015. Will historical past repeat itself?

Gore: I am solely snug selecting two: Nebraska and Texas. The sport is so deep and plenty of groups have reputable paths to the nationwide semis. I will exit on a limb right here, although, and say Texas reclaims the title (however do not maintain me to it).

Lyle: Nebraska, Ohio State, Texas and Wisconsin, with Texas profitable all of it.

McPeak: I imagine Stanford will shock some groups this 12 months. Kendall Kipp can dominate on the suitable pin, and Kami Miner is likely one of the elite setters within the nation. With Caitie Baird and Sami Francis on the opposite pins, Stanford has an opportunity to make a giant put up season push. Past the Cardinal, I believe Nebraska, Texas and Louisville spherical out the ultimate 4.

Sunderland: Nebraska and Texas are the 2 favorites. After that, there are such a lot of unknowns. I might see Stanford, Washington, Louisville, Minnesota and Wisconsin making closing 4 runs.

George: It is laborious to think about Nebraska not enjoying in Omaha come December or hoisting the trophy. I believe Texas, Louisville and Minnesota might all be a part of the Huskers. Louisville, now having skilled a closing 4, can be higher for it. My darkhorse can be Ohio State. Again-to-back Candy 16 losses nonetheless sting. If the Buckeyes can get previous the spherical of 32, I believe they might shock some folks. That’s, in the event that they get by means of the gauntlet of convention play wholesome.

Hoffman: My guess is pretty much as good as yours. I can not watch for Omaha.

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