There are only two weeks remaining in the Division I women’s volleyball regular season and conference tournaments begin this week, so we’ll soon find out if some of these top-25 teams will be playing their best heading into the NCAA tournament or if flaws will be exposed.
Here are a few takeaways from the new AVCA coaches poll.
Biggest jump: Washington
The Huskies (17-9, 9-7) are the only team that rose by at least two spots in the new AVCA poll, following back-to-back ranked road wins against Southern California and UCLA. The Trojans might have been without their two leading scorers and All-American-caliber players, but a win is a win and there’s no doubt Washington will gladly accept its top-20 ranking and a five-spot jump just one week after re-entering the top 25.
The young team from Seattle has plenty of hitters to make some noise in the tournament.
Biggest drop: Michigan
Just two weeks after being ranked No. 12 in the AVCA poll, the Michigan Wolverines (19-8, 8-8) have dropped four more spots this week to No. 19 after home losses to Maryland in three sets and No. 6 Nebraska in four sets.
Michigan has fallen into a tie for seventh in the Big Ten with the Terrapins and has lost five of its last six since winning 17 of its first 20 games. The Wolverines have just one ranked team left on their schedule in Penn State, then three games they’ll certainly want to win to have confidence heading into the NCAA tournament.
Southern Cal drops just one spot
Take away any team’s top-two hitters and its starting defensive specialist and the dynamic of any match is completely different. Granted, players filling into spots are expected to play well, but taking away Khalia Lanier, Brooke Botkin and Reni Meyer-Whalley is incredibly difficult to overcome.
Now, the Trojans (19-8, 11-5) were still able to knock off then-No. 19 Washington State without those three, who are going through concussion protocol. That is absolutely worth some recognition and has to be encouraging for a Southern Cal team that came one game away from getting to the national semifinals last season. Getting Lanier, Botkin and Meyer-Whalley healthy is still the top priority for USC.
Stanford earns four more first-place votes
As long as BYU is undefeated, it’s difficult to justify putting the Stanford Cardinal (24-1, 16-0) ahead of the Cougars since they’re responsible for the Cardinal’s only loss. It still hasn’t stopped AVCA voters from showing how impressive they are with Stanford, garnering four more first-place votes this week and gaining 11 points on BYU.
With their win against Oregon and Oregon State this past week, the Cardinal clinched the Pac-12 — one of the strongest conferences in volleyball — with two weeks remaining. Stanford is that good. Anything short of a national championship for Kathryn Plummer and the Cardinal will be a disappointment at this point.
Why UCLA is still ranked
Arizona and UCLA also dropped four spots this week with Michigan. The Wildcats lost to Utah and UCLA lost to Washington State in four sets and were beaten handily by Washington in straight sets, both at home. At 12-11, 7-9 in the Pac-12 it’s worth wondering why the Bruins haven’t dropped out of the rankings yet this season. So here are a couple things that work in their favor.
For starters, they play in the Pac-12. Night in, night out there is great competition. They’ve also beaten potential NCAA tournament teams Baylor, San Diego, Arizona and at Washington. With games against Arizona, USC and bubble team Colorado remaining, the Bruins could rack up some key wins before the season ends.
Kick save and a beauty for Mac May pic.twitter.com/tLNmGWxEtU— UCLA Women's VB (@UCLAWomensVB) November 11, 2018
Other notable takeaways:
Other than Wisconsin moving up a spot into a tie with Penn State, there was no change in the top 12. Those teams are all contenders for being one of the final four teams to play in Minneapolis in mid-December. The team worth highlighting here is Purdue, which lost at Wisconsin and No. 3 Minnesota and didn’t move down in the poll. It’s win a couple weeks earlier against Penn State is still helping the Boilermakers.