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Katherine Wright | NCAA.com | August 30, 2019

5 former No. 1 women's volleyball teams who could win their first NCAA title this year

Women's volleyball is officially back

Ten different schools have won the NCAA Division I Women’s Volleyball title since it was first awarded in 1981. A number of acclaimed programs have reached the No. 1 spot in the AVCA Poll without a national title on their resume — so far.

Here’s a peek at five programs with the best shot at getting back to that No. 1 spot this season and potentially breaking through to win their first national titles.

RECAP: 2018 women's volleyball season in review

BYU

Since 2012, the NCAA tournament has been a regular venture for the Cougars. They reached the pinnacle of regular-season dominance last year, sitting atop the coaches poll on Nov. 19 — less than three weeks before postseason play.

Stanford (2018 National Champion) acted as the gatekeeper in the semifinal round, sweeping the Cougars and denying them a second final appearance in four years. 

The West Coast Conference preseason coaches poll released on Monday favors BYU to win the conference championship for a sixth consecutive year, while the AVCA preseason coaches poll, released on Tuesday, ranks them No. 9 in the nation. 

Perhaps this is their year to win it all. 

Here's BYU's history at the NCAA tournament:

  • 31-time tournament participant
  • 2014 runner-up
  • 1-time semifinalist
  • 7-time regional finalist

Florida

The Gators became a consistent tournament threat in the 90s with five semifinal appearances. They reached the finals in 2003 but lost to Southern California, which claimed its third NCAA national title. 

Currently riding a 28 consecutive NCAA tournament appearance streak and 28 straight 25-win seasons dating back to 1991 (head coach Mary Wise's inaugural season), Florida seeks its first national title and a return to the No. 1 ranking. The last time the Gators reached No. 1 was Oct. 9, 2017.

They'll start the 2019 season ranked No. 10 after losing to BYU last season in the third round of the tournament.

Here's Florida's history at the NCAA tournament:

  • 29-time tournament participant
  • 2017, 2003 runner-up
  • 6-time semifinalist
  • 9-time regional finalist

Illinois 

Last season's crushing loss to Nebraska (3-2) in the tournament semifinals prevented the Illini from reaching their second tournament finals in program history. To make another run at the title, Illinois' 2018 points leader, senior Jacqueline Quade (625), returns this season after nearly doubling last season's second-best scorer, Megan Cooney (385).

Illinois begins the year ranked No. 6 in the country.

Since Chris Tamas took the helm of the program in 2017, Illinois has reached the tournament each season. It's been eight years (Oct. 17, 2011) since the Illini ranked No. 1.

Here's Illinois' history at the NCAA tournament:

  • 25-time tournament participant
  • 2011 runner-up
  • 3-time semifinalist 
  • 3-time regional finalist

PRESEASON POLL: See where these five teams rank against other top 10 programs

Minnesota

Just 11 months ago (Sept. 3), the Golden Gophers ranked No. 1 in the country, ahead of future No. 1 BYU and future national champion Stanford. And just nine months after Oregon beat them (3-1) in the tournament regional final.

There are five former No. 1, title-less programs in this preseason’s Top 10. Minnesota, at least night now, can be considered a leading candidate to break through to a title. AVCA coaches ranked them No. 3 behind Stanford and Nebraska. Minnesota's 2019 schedule is tough: eleven opponents either rank in the Top 25 or received votes in the preseason poll.

Here's Minnesota's history at the NCAA tournament:

  • 23-time tournament participant
  • 2004 runner-up
  • 4-time semifinalist
  • 2-time regional finalist

Wisconsin

Three seasons ago (Oct. 10, 2016), the Badgers were the No. 1 team in the nation. Now they rank No. 5 in the preseason poll — their fifth straight year being ranked in the preseason Top 10. 

After a 25-7 regular season in 2018, Wisconsin lost in the regional final to Illinois (3-1). 

Returning in 2019 is sophomore Dana Rettke, a playmaker who earned two Big Ten statistical titles in hitting percentage (.423) and blocks per set (1.54).

Head coach Kelly Sheffield's tenure began in 2013 as the tournament runner-up, becoming the lowest-seeded team to reach the championship round. The Badgers have returned to the postseason every year since with the hope of capturing the program's first national title.

Here's Wisconsin's history at the NCAA tournament:

  • 22-time tournament participant
  • 2013, 2000 runner-up
  • 7-time regional finalist

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