The 2021 national championship and a year full of two incredible volleyball seasons has come to a close. But even with two champions crowned in the same calendar year, we are not quite yet ready to take a break from talking about it.
We have very, very little information to go off in all regards. Normally, seniors graduate and you know who is returning for next season, but with the COVID-19 extra year of eligibility granted to every student-athlete, there are players who could return for the 2022 season. And again, we have little to no information on that unless the player or team announced a return.
On top of that, there are players already in the transfer portal that we are still awaiting news on, and there is limited information on incoming freshman classes.
SO, with that being said, when I tell you that these are a WAY-too-early Power 10 rankings ... I mean way early in every way possible. These could change daily, but let's have some fun in the moment.
At No. 1, I have the 2021 national champion runner-up. After a phenomenal season turnaround and the addition of three freshmen in the starting rotation, this team made it to the title game and pushed a great Wisconsin team to five sets. Those freshman out there are names we will hear for years to come. The Huskers do lose Lauren Stivrins and Lexi Sun, who played their last seasons as Huskers. Stivrins was the only one to play in the championship match. There are two players we are uncertain about ... Kayla Caffey and Nicklin Hames. These two played in their senior seasons this year, and would have to make the decision to return for their fifth season. But even without knowing about Caffey and Hames, this is a young core. Madi Kubik, their leading scorer, Lindsay Krause, Ally Batenhorst and the AVCA National Freshman of the Year, Lexi Rodriguez, will return. Plus, considering they brought in one of the top recruiting classes for this year, I am making an educated assumption that they will for 2022 as well. So there is very early No. 1 team in the nation.
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At No. 2, I've got the Louisville Cardinals — the No. 1 seed in the 2021 tournament and the team that went undefeated all the way up to a five-set loss in the semifinals to the eventual national champions. Even Nebraska's head coach John Cook said this Louisville team was the toughest opponent they had faced all season. The Cards will lose Anna Stevenson and Tori Dilfer, their two first team All-Americans, which is a very big loss indeed. But, they do return almost everyone else including Amaya Tillman, Aiko Jones, Anna DeBeer and Elena Scott. Claire Chaussee is questionable. But either way, when you look at the talent returning as of now, and with Dani Busboom Kelly as head coach, they are still looking pretty good.
Texas was a team many expected to make it back to the national title game. Their season was cut short with a loss to Nebraska in the regional finals. But again, they were expected to bring back almost all of their core aside from Brionne Butler and Sydney Petersen. Even if they lose a player to the transfer portal, they are returning one of the best players in the nation in Logan Eggleston. They will also return Asjia O'Neal for sure, Jhenna Gabriel, Melanie Parra, Molly Phillips and Naloni Iosia. They also officially announced that UCLA's two-time Pac-12 Libero of the Year Zoe Fleck will be joining their squad.
At No. 4 I have the reigning national champs, Wisconsin. The Badgers just took home their first title after three years in the national semifinals and second time in three years in the championship game. As we all know, this team is going to lose a lot. And when I say a lot, I mean the AVCA National Player of the Year and five-time first team All American, Dana Rettke, first team All American setter Sydney Hilley, Grace Loberg and Lauren Barnes. These players led this team to a national championship, and this team will have some huge shoes to fill. So why are they not even lower than four? Well, if you watched the championship game, there are a few other names you are missing. Anna Smrek won the tournament MVP as a freshman. She stepped in this season after Danielle Hart was hurt and led this team to a title. Jade Demps was the second leading scorer in the title game, and she returns, Devyn Robinson, another one of their star hitters returns, and Julia Orzol, the freshman from Poland that made a big difference this year. So those are a lot of young players returning that have some serious experience. On top of that, IF Danielle Hart returns for another season, you have two great middle blockers yet again, and I assume a strong incoming class.
REMEMBER: Watch every Dana Rettke kill from the 2021 volleyball tournament
5. Ohio State
Behold the Ohio State Buckeyes making a huge jump in my way-too-early Power 10 rankings for next season. And by big jump, I mean from where they finished the 2021 season. The Buckeyes were knocked off by Georgia Tech in the tournament, and finished right outside of the top 10 at No. 11. However, despite one questionable return for Mia Grunze, this team returns the whole lot. Emily Londot, Rylee Rader, Gabby Gonzales, Kylie Murr and Mac Podraza. So they are my early No. 5 team.
At No. 6 I have the Minnesota Gophers. And the sad day has come ... Stephanie Samedy played in her last match as a Gopher. Quite the immaculate career from Samedy, and one of the best to do it. The Gophers will lose Samedy and Airi Miyabe next season. CC McGraw is currently listed on the spring 2021 roster, but it is unclear if she will for certain return for the 2022 regular season. But, they come in at No. 6 with the return of Jenna Wenaas, Taylor Landfair, Melanie Shaffmaster and Ellie Husemann.
7. Georgia Tech
The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets come in at No. 7. They will suffer a pretty big loss of Mariana Brambilla, who put up some huge performances in the NCAA tournament. However, they will return Julia Bergmann, their All-American outside hitter. Bianca Bertolino averaged 2.55 kills per set this season behind both Brambilla and Bergmann in just her freshman season, and I expect her to play an even bigger role next year.
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The Boilermakers had quite the 2021 season. They even beat the national champion Wisconsin Badgers twice in the regular season. They drop to No. 8 with the loss of Grace Cleveland, who announced she would not be returning for another season on her personal instagram, Caitlyn Newton, their leading scorer, Hayley Bush, their setter, and Jenna Otec, the star libero. The Boilermakers will bring back Emma Ellis, Taylor Trammell and Raven Colvin, which is why they remain in the top 10.
The Panthers finished the 2021 season at No. 4 after making history and advancing to the national semifinals. But I had to drop them pretty far to No. 9 with how much they will be losing next year. Pitt will lose Kayla Lund. Chinaza Ndee , Kylee Levers and their biggest contributor, Leketor Member-Meneh. They could also lose Serena Gray, Sabrina Starks, and Jordan Lockwood. That is almost their entire lineup and all of their scoring. They do return freshman Rachel Fairbanks who stepped up big in the tournament, Chiamaka Nwokolo and Valeria Vazquez Gomez.
The Huskies had the potential to take down Texas in the tournament when they went up two sets to none before the Longhorns sparked a huge comeback. They finished at No. 12 in the final AVCA poll. They will for sure lose Samantha Drechsel next season, which is a pretty big chunk of their offense. Claire Hoffman, their leading scorer, has already played four years with the Huskies, but does have the option to return for a fifth. If she were to return, she would join Ella May Powell and Madi Endsley next season making this my No. 10 team. If not, I might replace this spot with Kentucky, who will bring back Madi Skinner, Azhani Tealer and Emma Grome, but lose Alli Stumler.
A few teams that did not make my way-too-early Power 10 are Baylor and BYU. BYU loses Kenzie Koerber, Kennedy Eschenberg, and Taylen Ballard-Nixon and Baylor loses Yossiana Pressley, Avery Skinner, Marieke Van der Mark and Hannah Sedwick.