Volleyball season is finally just around the corner. A weird season, yes, with some teams beginning conference play in the fall, and some set to start play on Jan. 22. Of course, this made for some rankings challenges. But we have a volleyball season. That is what counts.
Here is my very first edition of Power 10 rankings for the 2020-21 season. There are quite a few shakeups and big differences from the AVCA poll, so let's get to it.
1. Wisconsin (1 in the AVCA)
The Badgers are the top team in the country for me going into this spring season. Why? Well, they are definitely the team to beat. The reigning national runner-up is coming off a tough loss to an incredible Stanford team in the title game last season. They were stacked with All-Americans last season — and are stacked this year, too. First team All-American Dana Rettke returns, along with Grace Loberg, Molly Haggerty and Sydney Hilley. This group probably won't need much of an adjustment period. It will be put to the test right away with the tough Big Ten schedule.
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2. Texas (2)
No changes from the AVCA poll just yet. Texas comes in as the No. 2 team in my Power 10 as well. The Longhorns suffered the biggest upset of the NCAA tournament last year when they were knocked out early by Louisville. So how much weight do you put on a team on a mission? They came out to play this fall and looked stronger than ever. Their starting core of Asjia O'Neal, Skylar Fields, Brionne Butler and Logan Eggleston could be the most athletic team in the country. This Texas team took down Baylor, a semifinal team from last season with the reigning AVCA player of the year, twice this fall. This team is looking scary, with only more to show this spring.
3. Nebraska (5)
I am bumping the Huskers up to No. 3 in my Power 10. The Huskers had a strong but young group last season. Lauren Stivrins ran the crew and was joined by some premiere talent in Lexi Sun, Jazz Sweet and star freshman from last season (now sophomore) Madi Kubik. They are returning everyone, and can only go up from here. I anticipate a much more well-seasoned core this season, and on top of all that, the championship is to be held in Omaha this year. Right in the Huskers' backyard.
4. Utah (10)
Here is the shakeup. I moved Utah all the way up to No. 4 in my Power 10, though they are ranked No. 10 in the AVCA poll. The Utes return All-Americans Dani Drews and Kenzie Koerber from last season. This is a team that repeatedly pushed Stanford last season. They were close to beating the Cardinal during the regular season and then pushed Stanford to five sets in the regionals. That is more than Wisconsin could do against Stanford in the national championship match. In fact, Utah was the only team to even take a set from Stanford in the tournament last year. Despite losing a middle and libero, I just couldn't justify putting Utah below Stanford, who lost their entire core. I put a lot of weight in returning players who have proven success, and Utah certainly has that. Let's see what they can do this season.
5. Stanford (3)
I gave Stanford the nod at No. 5, dropping it down two spots from the AVCA poll ranking. You have to acknowledge how big of a part the departed senior class played in their national championship last season. The Cardinal have lost the powerful group of Kathryn Plummer, the two-time AVCA National Player of the Year, Jenna Gray, Morgan Hentz, Audriana Fitzmorris and graduate transfer Madeleine Gates, who hammered down the winning kill for the title last season. They return Meghan McClure to lead this new, unproven group, and last year's freshman standout Kendall Kipp. Even with all of that loss, it wouldn't be the first time Stanford put together a winning team with mostly freshman, so it will be exciting to see what Kevin Hambly puts together.
6. Baylor (6)
I went back and forth on where to place Baylor, who has the reigning AVCA National Player of the Year, Yossiana Pressley. Pressley was still very dominant in the Bears' fall season. In the fall, the Bears dropped three matches, one to Kansas early and two five-setters to Texas. Pressley lost a few supporting characters to graduation, but I am interested to see how this team bounces back in the spring after a record-breaking 2019 season.
7. Kentucky (4)
The Wildcats come in at No. 7. They had a really strong showing the fall, finishing 8-0. On top of that, they have a solid core with All-American setter Madison Lilley, 2019 SEC Libero of the Year Gabby Curry, and Ali Stumler, who has been filling in for offensive production this season. I would love to see them in some out-of-conference matchups for sure, but I do think this team has a lot of potential to move up in the rankings this spring.
8. Minnesota (7)
I have Minnesota as No. 8. Despite making it to the national semifinals last season, the Gophers did lose a pretty big chunk of their starting core in Taylor Morgan, Alexis Hart and setter Kylie Miller. Hence the drop. However, they do return Stephanie Samedy, who makes up a large part of their offense and has really improved defensively, middle blocker Regan Pittman, and star libero CC McGraw. This is another team I can see moving up the ranks quickly in the spring if the Gophers play well.
9. Penn State (9)
The Nittany Lions return outside hitter Jonni Parker, Kaitlyn Hord and Serena Gray, but lost star libero Kendall White and outside hitter Tori Gorrell. There isn't enough change from last season to move them much, so they are my No. 9 team.
10. Washington (8)
Washington comes in at No. 10 to close out the Power 10 rankings, two spots below their AVCA ranking. This is due to the loss of Kara Bajema, who did make up a large part of their success last season.