The long awaited 2020-21 women's college volleyball season is finally here. The ACC, Big 12, SEC and Sun Belt conferences began conference play in the fall, but the rest of the conferences, including the Big Ten and Pac-12, will start up Jan. 22.
First, a quick summary of what we know for this season, as of now:
- The Pac-12 released its schedule two days ahead of the first weekend of action.
- The Big Ten released its schedule in late December.
- The AVCA preseason rankings were released on Jan. 5. Wisconsin and Texas are the No. 1 and No. 2 teams.
- The Big 12 has yet to release its spring schedule. The SEC announced its spring schedule with matches starting Jan. 29. The ACC will resume play in mid-February.
- The regular season goes from Jan. 22 to April 3. Selections will be April 4.
- There will be a 48-team bracket, with 30 automatic qualifiers and 18 at-large selections as of now. There are usually 32 automatic qualifiers, but the Ivy League and the Big West are not playing this season.
- The final site of the NCAA tournament is scheduled for April 22 and 24 in Omaha, Nebraska.
How this season will work
This season is clearly going to be different, with mostly conference-only schedules as of now. We covered how the tournament field will be put together in an earlier article which you can read in full here. We spoke to T.J. Meagher, chair of the DI NCAA Women's Volleyball Committee, and Kristin Fasbender, NCAA Director of Championships and Alliances.
The at-large part is a huge question considering some of the top programs in the country might not face off head to head. So how will the tournament field be chosen?
"That is not going to be an easy one to deal with, that is for sure," Meagher said. "We have always had our traditional criteria that we evaluate, a program's resume as it relates to getting an at-large bid. Obviously automatic bids are awarded by the conference as who they determine to be their conference champion. So our focus is really on those that have not won their conference, but have put together a season that merits a spot in the tournament ... It is really on the committee to give it our best effort to determine the teams that have earned an opportunity to represent their schools in the tournament."
My Power 10 preseason rankings
Here are my Power 10 preseason rankings. These are my picks only and differ a little bit from the AVCA rankings. I'll update these just about every week during the season and you can read the reasons behind my preseason rankings here.
Here are the American Volleyball Coaches Association preseason rankings, which came out Jan. 5:
TEAM (FIRST PLACE VOTES)
A quick breakdown of the AVCA top 25
Wisconsin comes in at No. 1 with 40 first place-votes, followed by Texas at No. 2 with 17 first place-votes, and Stanford at No. 3 with 3 first-place votes.
The Badgers lost in three sets to a dominant Stanford team in the national title game in 2019. But this season, they are the team to beat, returning almost all of their starters, including All-Americans Dana Rettke, Sydney Hilley, Molly Haggerty and Grace Loberg.
Texas finished the fall season 14-0, and have an extremely athletic starting core in Asjia O'Neal, Skylar Fields, Logan Eggleston and Brionne Butler. The Longhorns were knocked out of the tournament early last season by Louisville, so they just might be a team on a mission.
Stanford lost its entire starting core. That was a senior class that was largely responsible for its national championship last season (And the two championships before that, too). But the Cardinal got the nod at No. 3 in the AVCA poll. This program is not one to just go away. However, Stanford's first four matches (at USC on Jan. 23 & 25 and home versus Colorado on Jan. 30 & Feb. 1) have been canceled due to the Santa Clara County Public Health Department's current emergency directive.
Kentucky comes into the poll as the No. 4 team in the country after an 8-0 fall season. Head coach Craig Skinner sat down with NCAA.com to discuss what he see's in his team ahead of the Spring season.
Nebraska, Baylor, Minnesota, Washington, Penn State and Utah close out the top 10, with Baylor the only one having played in the fall. The Bears dropped three matches in the fall. Nebraska at No. 5 returns its entire team from last season, led by Lauren Stivrins. Minnesota takes the seventh spot in the preseason poll. The Gophers made it to the national semifinals last season and return many of their stars, including Stephanie Samedy and Regan Pittman. However, they did lose Alexis Hart, Taylor Morgan and Kylie Miller at setter.
Penn State returns All-American's Kaitlyn Hord and Jonni Parker and Utah returns the dangerous All-American duo of Dani Drews and Kenzie Koerber.
Some highlights on the schedule:
Our first ranked matchup of the season will feature No. 9 Penn State at No. 24 Michigan, Jan. 22 at 6 p.m. (NOTE: the Penn State-Michigan series has been postponed) The Big Ten always has an extremely strong conference, so we won't be missing any of those fun Big Ten rivalries this season with mostly in-conference schedules.
No. 5 Nebraska will take on No. 7 Minnesota in a two-game series on Feb. 19 and 20. And then the great Wisconsin vs. Nebraska matchup will be Feb. 26-27. Basically any combination or matchup including these four teams (Wisconsin, Nebraska, Penn State and Minnesota) will be a good matchup.
In the Pac-12, a Stanford vs. Utah rematch will be highly anticipated, considering the Utes pushed Stanford's legendary team to five sets in the regionals last season. That matchup will be on Friday, March 5 and Sunday, March 7.
No. 15 Creighton and No. 20 Marquette will face off Feb. 5-6 in the Big East. And the SEC will see some action when fourth-ranked Kentucky takes on No. 11 Florida March 19-20.
Top teams and players to watch out for
1. The No. 1 Wisconsin Badgers have a lot of top players. Here are a few of their top players returning to keep an eye out for this season:
- Dana Rettke, Middle blocker (2019-20 Big Ten Female Athlete of the Year)
- Molly Haggerty - Outside Hitter
- Sydney Hilley - Setter (Big Ten setter of the year, 2019)
That is a strong combination of offense that will be returning for the Badgers. Expect to see a lot of those names this year.
2. Texas is another team that has TOO many players to watch out for. This is a team with a lot of balance.
- Skylar Fields
- Brionne Butler
- Asjia O'Neal
- Logan Eggleston
3. Stanford doesn't have a lot of returning players, but here are two names to watch out for this season.
- Meghan McClure
- Kendall Kipp
McClure returns as a seasoned vet. Kipp was a strong outside hitter as a freshman last season, who didn't see a ton of playing time in the postseason, but you can expect to see more of her this year. The Cardinal will most likely have a few more names pop up as well this year.
4. Kentucky has a balanced offense this season with some strong vets but also an extremely strong freshman class. Watch out for these names in the spotlight:
- Madison Lilley
- Ali Stumler
- Madi Skinner (No. 2 recruit)
5. Nebraska returns its entire team from last season. Excited to see these names back on the court:
- Lauren Stivrins
- Lexi Sun
- Jazz Sweet
- Nicklin Hames
6. Baylor returns the reigning AVCA National Player of the Year:
- Yossiana Pressley
7. Minnesota may have lost three strong starters, but no doubt these two players will be in the spotlight this season:
- Stephanie Samedy
- Regan Pittman
- Ella May Powell
- Samantha Drechsel
9. Penn State
- Kaitlyn Hord
- Gabby Blossom
10. Utah returns an extremely powerful duo.... A duo that was SO close to knocking Stanford out of the tournament last season.
- Dani Drews
- Kenzie Koerber