What a program Stanford is, taking home its ninth national championship over the weekend.
In my tournament bracket predictions, I went for Wisconsin and Stanford in the championship and Wisconsin going for the upset. Why not right? Anything can happen in sports. But if you saw the championship match, you probably know that there wasn't a single team that could've beat Stanford that night. That group was just too strong, and that senior class went out in the best way possible, with a third championship under their belts.
Kathryn Plummer, Jenna Gray, Audriana Fitzmorris and Morgan Hentz led a senior class that will go down as one of the best in the history of the game. And don't forget graduate student Madeleine Gates, who hammered down the winning kill for the Cardinal.
So let's take a look at where these teams left off, who they will be losing next year to graduation, and create a WAY-too-early Power 10 rankings. Of course, there is no way of knowing what kind of incoming talent they will be receiving.
The Badgers got swept in the national championship by an extremely strong Stanford team. But don't get too down Wisconsin fans because this Badger team has almost their entire core returning for the 2020 season. Yes, that includes first-team All-American Dana Rettke, who made the NCAA All-Tournament team along with teammate Molly Haggerty, who is also returning.
Want to know who else is returning? Grace Loberg and All-American setter, Sydney Hilley. Also, Danielle Hart, who was a huge contributor in this year's tournament, is only a redshirt sophomore and will be returning as well. The Badgers will lose libero Tiffany Clark and outside hitter Madison Duello, but the majority of their strong core returns. This is a team that peaked in the second half of the season and got really hot, and will get to pick up right where they left off without much of an adjustment period. Plus, they might have some fire in their hearts after a heartbreaking sweep for them in the title game.
The only reason the reigning national champions are not first on this list is because they are losing the combination of Plummer, Gray, Fitzmorris and Hentz. That means they will need a new starting setter, libero and two outside hitters. Plummer wasn't the only reason why this team has been so dominant over the years, but she is a big part of it. The two-time AVCA National Player of the Year played her last match in a Cardinal uniform and won tournament Most Outstanding Player.
The reason they are second on this list is because they still have some really strong returners, and I am sure they will have some pretty strong incoming talent as well. Some might drop them much lower due to the big loss in players, but I will give the reigning back-to-back champions the benefit of the doubt. The Cardinal are returning Meghan McClure. The outside hitter has been an outstanding part of Stanford's offense, and she contributed seven kills in the championship match. She had 1.92 kills per set this season, and will have to be a bigger piece of this offense next season. There is also freshman Kendall Kipp, who didn't get much playing time in the NCAA tournament but tallied 166 kills her freshman season. The 6-5 outside hitter will also have to step up next season.
It will be really interesting to see what coach Kevin Hambly puts together.
The National Player of the Year, Yossiana Pressley, is returning for another season with the Bears. They made program history many times this season with their first appearance in the national semifinal, before falling short to Wisconsin. Marieke Van Der Mark is returning and was on fire towards the end of the season. She should continue to heat up. They are losing libero Tara Wulf, middle blocker Shelly Stafford and outside hitter Gia Milana, but three main components remain: Pressley, Van Der Mark and setter Hannah Lockin. Plus, I don't think Pressley is anywhere near finished with her ability to basically take over any match.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Yossiana Pressley following her Player of the Year achievement
Minnesota made it back to the national semifinals this season but was swept by Stanford. This team, though, was capable of a lot throughout the season. They even beat that same Stanford team in the beginning of the 2019 season, before Plummer was out due to injury. Next year, they will suffer from two big losses in Alexis Hart and setter Kylie Miller, but they keep Stephanie Samedy, Regan Pittman, Adanna Rollins and Airi Miyabe. Sounds like a pretty good core. Samedy has been their leading scorer, but she has recently stepped it up defensively, as well.
The biggest upset of the 2019 NCAA volleyball tournament: Louisville took down No. 2 Texas in five sets. It was a heartbreaker for senior All-American Micaya White, who finished a great career as a Longhorn. But there is always next year for the Longhorns, and they had a young team with a lot of talent this season that will only grow more next year. Skylar Fields and Asjia O'Neal were freshman, and Brionne Butler and Logan Eggleston were just sophomores. Also, the Nebraska transfer Capri Davis will be joining the ranks next season.
Nebraska is also in pretty good shape for next season with its youth gaining more experience this past year. In fact, they aren't losing a single player to graduation; there were no seniors on last season's roster. Lauren Stivrins led this new group after the departure of Mikaela Foecke. Stivrins was joined by Lexi Sun, who led the team in kills, outside hitter Jazz Sweet and a strong setter Nicklin Hames. The Huskers also had a standout freshman in Madi Kubik, who will likely improve next season too.
7. Penn State
The Nittany Lions made a pretty good postseason run in 2019, but they will lose their strong libero Kendall White and outside hitter Tori Gorrell. Those two players left big shoes to fill. With that being said, they also have some great players returning, including Jonni Parker, who led the team in kills as just a sophomore, and first-team AVCA All-American middle blocker Kaitlyn Hord. Coach Russ Rose has some pretty good experience of putting together championship teams, so let's see what he puts together for the 2020 season.
Utah really impressed me in the 2019 NCAA tournament, and guess what, the two players that played the biggest part in that are coming back. Dani Drews and Kenzie Koerber led Utah to a 3-2 win over Illinois and a big upset over BYU in the second round of the NCAA tournament. What was even more impressive was that they pushed Stanford to five sets in the third round. This could be a really strong team next season.
The Gators also made an impressive run in the tournament but fell to Minnesota in five sets in the third round. They will lose two vital parts of their rotation with the departure of libero Allie Gregory and middle blocker Rachael Kramer, but star outside hitter Thayer Hall will return for her junior season as a Gator.
The Panthers were in the top-five for a large majority of the 2019 season, and they only lost one match to Penn State during the regular season. Their run was cut really short when they were upset by Cincinnati in just the second round of the NCAA tournament. They will lose Layne Van Buskirk to graduation, who averaged 2.52 kills per set this season, and Stephanie Williams, who averaged 2.75 kills per set. So they will need some new players to step up offensively. However, they do return Kayla Lund, their kills leader, and Chinaza Ndee, who was right behind Lund in kills.