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Michella Chester and Wayne Staats | August 9, 2021

How the preseason AVCA poll predicts the women's volleyball season

Madison Lilley reflects after Kentucky's first NCAA volleyball title

The 2021 DI women's volleyball season is right around the corner. With that, we all know we can be expecting the AVCA preseason poll. This gives fans a sneak peek at the perceived top 25 teams and an idea of which ones will be the top contenders for the national championship — all before play begins. 

But how much do preseason polls actually matter? And how big of a deal is to be the No. 1 team in the country in the preseason? Well, we looked at the AVCA data all the way back to 1982 — thanks to the AVCA's database here — and turns out fans of the top teams should be pretty excited when the first AVCA poll is released.

Kentucky won the most recent national title after starting No. 4 in the preseason AVCA rankings (spring season). But since 1982, more than half of the eventual national champions — 25 of 39 — were ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in the preseason poll. 

Where eventual champs ranked in first poll Instances
No. 1 15
No. 2 10
No. 3 2
No. 4 4
No. 5 2
No. 6 2
No. 7 1
No. 10 1
No. 11 2

This could in part be due to some of the very well-known volleyball dynasties. Penn State was ranked preseason No. 1 three consecutive times during its four-year national championship run (2008-2010). And Stanford was No. 1 in both 2018 and 2019 when the Cardinal won the national title. When UCLA won in back-to-back years in 1990 and 1991, they were ranked preseason No. 1 both times. 

Even if the No. 1 team in the first poll didn't end up as the national champion, it still fared pretty well. The No. 1 seed ended up as the runner-up seven times and made it to the national semifinals as one of the last four teams seven times as well. 

Where first No. 1 finished Instances
National champ 15
Runner-up 7
National semifinals 7
Regional final 7
Regional semifinal 3

Here is a full list of all of the national champions since 1982 and where they were ranked in the first AVCA poll of the season: 

National champ Preseason/first rank
Hawai'i 82 2
Hawai'i 83 1
UCLA '84 2
Pacific '85 4
Pacific '86 1
Hawai'i 87 2
Texas '88 7
Long Beach State '89 4
UCLA '90 1
UCLA '91 1
Stanford '92 4
Long Beach State '93 2
Stanford '94 1
Nebraska '95 2
Stanford '96 2
Stanford '97 1
Long Beach State '98 2
Penn State '99 1
Nebraska '00 6
Stanford '01 10
USC '02 3
USC '03 1
Stanford '04 6
Washington '05 2
Nebraska '06 1
Penn State '07 3
Penn State '08 1
Penn State '09 1
Penn State '10 1
UCLA '11 11
Texas '12 2
Penn State '13 2
Penn State '14 1
Nebraska '15 T-5
Stanford '16 11
Nebraska '17 5
Stanford '18 1
Stanford '19 1
Kentucky '20-21 4

But, for those of you that are fans of teams that don't make the preseason poll cut, don't despair. There have been a few teams in history that started out the season unranked, and ended up making deep postseason runs. Wisconsin started out as NR in 2013 and made it to the title match. Minnesota and Kansas also started out NR in 2015 and ended up making the semifinals. 

So while final tournament results do often reflect the early season rankings, there are always some surprises. 

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