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Callan Sheridan and Jeff Donley | August 8, 2019

6 early volleyball matches to watch to start the 2019 season

The top women's volleyball players to watch in 2019

The women's volleyball season is nearly upon us, so we picked some of the most exciting early matchups for the 2019 season that you won't want to miss. Conference play, championship rematches and showdowns between non-conference rivals highlight our list. 

WOMEN'S VOLLEYBALL: Championship infoStats

1. Creighton at Nebraska — Aug. 30 

Before Nebraska gets a shot at redemption over Stanford, the Huskers face off against Creighton in what will be a huge rivalry match in volleyball-crazed Nebraska. Creighton has dominated Big East play for some time now, winning the regular season and championship titles for the fifth straight year last season. The Bluejays ended the season in the second round of the NCAA tournament and ranked No. 13 in the AVCA poll. Creighton’s squad has some older players — four seniors, three juniors — compared to Nebraska, but of course the Huskers have seen consistent competition at the highest level of play.  

Last meeting: Sep. 6, 2018 

The last time these two teams met was a little over a year ago, early in the 2018 season. Then No. 6 Nebraska handed No. 14 Creighton a 3-2 loss in five sets. The Bluejays held an early lead in the match, taking the first two sets 25-22 and 25-19 before the Huskers rebounded and held out for three straight set wins — 25-18, 25-22 and 15-10. That matchup was the first time ever that ranked Creighton and ranked Nebraska volleyball teams competed. 

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2. Minnesota at Texas — Sep. 4

Texas has a hot schedule to open up 2019 action. That includes Northern Iowa, USC, Stanford, — and our featured rival Minnesota — all within about a week of one another. Both teams competed in the 2018 NCAA championship tournament, although each fell before semifinals — Minnesota in the third round and Texas in quarterfinal play. Minnesota and Texas were nearly unbeaten in conference play last season, both with just one loss. The Gophers are losing a star in four-time All-American and Big Ten Player of the Year Samantha Seliger-Swenson, but will gain top-ranked commits Ellie Husemann and Shea Rubright. Texas, in the meantime, awaits the arrival of 6’2” OH Skylar Fields, who topped VolleyballMag.com’s Fab 50 for the class of 2019. 

Last meeting: Sep. 8, 2017

It’s been two years since these powerhouse teams met, when then-No.1 Minnesota took a 3-1 win over then-No.5 Texas. Texas and Minnesota tied for kills in the match (with 61 apiece) but Minnesota outblocked the Longhorns 12 to 9 — the first time UT had been outblocked that season. 

3. Stanford at Nebraska — Sep. 18

Get your popcorn ready, we’ve got an NCAA national title rematch game. Stanford and Nebraska are two of the most decorated teams in NCAA DI volleyball, and particularly successful in recent history. Since 2015, Stanford and Nebraska have been the only teams to win the national championship, trading title wins each year. The Cardinal look poised for another year of success, returning a stacked roster. Senior OH standout Kathryn Plummer is coming off back-to-back AVCA Player or the Year Awards and is joined by setter Jenna Gray and Morgan Hentz — all first team All-American selections last year. The Cardinal also return second team All-American Audriana Fitzmorris and honorable mention Meghan McClure. Oh, and the freshman recruiting class is slated to be No. 1 in the nation. Nebraska will bring on top recruit Madi Kubik as an outside hitter and returns Lauren Stivrins, honorable mention All-American Nicklin Hames, and former top recruit Lexi Sun, who's play heated up late in the season for the Huskers. These teams are both good, and a look at their playing history shows well matched competitors, too — Stanford holds the slight all-time advantage with seven wins and six losses to Nebraska.

Last meeting: Dec. 15, 2018 

The last meeting between these two teams was as high-stakes as DI volleyball can get, with a national championship on the line. In what would be Stanford’s eventual eighth national title match, Nebraska battled to stay in the competition and drove the title match to five sets. After splitting the first two sets, Stanford dominated the third and was well on its way to a title when the Huskers found new life and won nine of the first 10 points to start the fourth set and extended the match to a fifth. Back-and-forth attacks from both teams had fans on the edge of their seats, when Stanford electrified with a 5-1 run. Three points later, Stanford’s Meghan McClure delivered the winning point to give the Cardinal the title. 

2018 TITLE: Stanford wins No. 8 | Bracket Highlights

4. BYU at Utah — Sep. 19

This match will be a big non-conference contest starting the 2019 season for BYU. The Cougars remain a bit of a question mark for the season still, as the team lost Roni Jones Perry and their starting setter Lyndie Haddock Eppich. Returning, though, are All-Americans Mary Lake, Heather Gneiting and McKenna Miller, as well as Kennedy Eschenberg to offset the losses. For their part, Utah returns outside hitter Dani Drews, who led her team with 522 kills in 2018, as well as redshirt senior Berkeley Oblad who saw her senior season cut short from injury, and a good amount of players returning from 2018’s young team. With a season of experience under their belt, 2019’s matchup could be a competitive match to watch.

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Last meeting: Dec. 1, 2018 

After meeting just one time before, the in-state rivals faced off against each other in the second round of the 2018 NCAA tournament. The No. 4 seed BYU team had 54 team kills to take down Utah 3-0 and advance to the team's seventh-straight round of 16 appearance. The Cougars swept Utah in three sets (25-16, 25-21, 25-18) as Roni Jones-Perry added 20 kills on a .471 hit percentage and Danielle Stetler was a defensive stop for her team with 12 digs. 

5. Washington at USC — Oct. 4

Keep an eye on this Washington vs. USC matchup. Stanford will likely take the Pac-12, but look for Washington or USC to be in the race for second. USC and Washington both saw NCAA tournament action last season as USC played to the second round and Washington bowed out in the third round. The Trojans add five freshmen to their roster as well as graduate libero Abril Bustamante, but their key returning players will be outside hitters Brooke Botkin and Khalia Lanier, and setter Raquel Lazaro. Washington's roster features experienced players Kara Bajema, Avie Niece and Ella May Powell, who have all played internationally on USA Volleyball teams this past summer.

Last meeting: Nov. 8, 2018

These Pac-12 schools have been meeting each other since 1999. Most recently Washington walked off the court with a 3-1 win over USC. The then-No. 25 ranked Huskies upset No. 13 USC (27-25, 23-25, 25-21, 27-25) as Samantha Drechsel, Lauren Sanders, and Avie Niece combined for 44 kills on a .526 attack percentage. In all-time competition between the teams, Washington holds the advantage with 18 wins to USC’s 14. 

6. Florida at Kentucky — Oct. 6

SEC matchup, here we come. These two teams are the one-two punch of the SEC, and likely will be battling for the regular season and conference title. Florida was ranked No. 2 in the SEC preseason coaches poll, right behind...you guessed it, Kentucky. The Gators return all five starters from their regional semifinal team, including two time AVCA All-American Rachel Kramer. Kramer finisher her junior season ranked 21st in the nation in blocks per set (1.38). Thayer Hall is also back for the Gators, a top 2018 recruit that saw some injuries last season but played well, regardless. Kentucky boasts three players named to the All-SEC preseason team — Gabby Curry, Leah Edmond and Madison Lilley. All were named 2018 All-SEC players and Curry was named SEC Libero of the Year. The Southeastern conference will be a tossup between these two teams, and this match will be a main event in that run.

MEET THE SPECIALIST: The college volleyball libero, explained

Last meeting: Oct. 31, 2018

The last time these two teams met, Kentucky went home with a dominant 3-0 win over Florida. Then-No. 12 ranked Kentucky upset No. 11 Florida to take the lead of the SEC race and extend a Wildcat win streak to 14. The Kentucky defense had a great showing in the match, limiting Florida to just .104 attacking percentage. The Wildcats took the match in three sets, 25-15, 25-18 and 25-20.

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