Every volleyball season, I create multiple lists of top players. Top returning players, setters, liberos, etc. The 2022 season is upon us, with some high-profile matchups right around the corner starting Aug. 26. This time, I am going to list some of the top players returning for this season.
Here is one very important thing to note, though. This list does NOT include liberos/defensive specialists. The liberos deserve their own list in its entirety, so we will save that for later. This list does include offensive players, meaning all hitters, and setters.
Let's do it!
Here are the top returning players to watch this season:
Logan Eggleston — Texas
This list is not in any particular order. Every student-athlete on this list is a star-studded player. But, if it WERE in order (which it is not) Logan Eggleston would be on top. Eggleston competed with Dana Rettke for National Player of the Year last season. And this year, it could very well be her year. The Texas star is an outstanding hitter and lethal server. The two-time first team All-American averaged 4.72 points per set and 3.91 kills per set last season with 44 aces. This year she will play alongside a stacked lineup — nearly the entire team could have made this list. Kayla Caffey is one of them. Speaking of Caffey...
Kayla Caffey — Texas
Not too long ago, Caffey would have had a "Nebraska" next to her name. But late in the offseason, Caffey announced her transfer to Texas. The star middle blocker was a second-team All-American last season and helped lead the Huskers to a national championship appearance. She hit a team-best .376 last season and averaged 1.13 blocks per set. Get ready to see the middle in Gregory Gymnasium this season.
Julia Bergmann — Georgia Tech
Julia Bergmann is a shoo-in for this list. Bergmann finished as afirst-team All-American last season after putting up some unreal numbers for the Yellow Jackets — 5.16 points per set, 497 Kills, 4.4 kills per set and 67 blocks. Bergmann played for Brazil in FIVB Volleyball Women's Nations League and had a really impressive summer, so I am excited to see how she carries this Georgia Tech team this year.
Anna DeBeer — Louisville
Anna DeBeer returns for Louisville alongside some really strong players — Aiko Jones, Amaya Tillman and Claire Chaussee. DeBeer led all scoring last season for the No. 1 team heading into the NCAA tournament. She was a third-team All-American and will now be a veteran for her team with the chance to have a really big season.
Kaitlyn Hord — Nebraska
Hord was the most sought-after player in the transfer portal early in the season, and she decided to play her last season of eligibility with the Nebraska Huskers. Hord ranked in the top 10 nationally in blocks and blocks per set last season and finished as a second-team All-American. She hit .394 percent last season, marking the third season of her career that she hit above .380.
Madi Kubik — Nebraska
Kubik is my second Husker to make the list, considering she was the leading scorer for a Nebraska team that advanced to the national championship match last season before just barely falling in five sets. Despite all of Nebraska's lineup changes last season, Kubik was one of the only players that kept her consistent spot in the rotation. She led the team in kills and kills-per-set, and averages 2.09 digs per set.
Rylee Rader — Ohio State
Rader is another second-team All-American from 2021 that returns this season. She was a second-team All American as just a sophomore last season after ranking fifth in the nation in hitting percentage at a .433 clip. She is a talented middle blocker that should only get better this season for the Buckeyes.
Mac Podraza — Ohio State
Now here is the one setting Rader up for so much success. I genuinely think Mac Podraza will be one of the best setters in the nation in 2022. She is a leader on and off the court for the Buckeyes and has a lot of talented hitters to work with this season. She led the Big Ten in assists during the regular season last year and averaged 11.76 assists per set. She could likely have a huge year this season.
Danielle Hart — Wisconsin
Danielle Hart hasn't always gotten all the credit or spotlight she deserves. For one, she has been playing on the team that had one of the best middle blockers of all time, Dana Rettke. Rettke, rightfully so, was the star of that Wisconsin team. But that should not obscure how strong of a player Hart is. We would have seen a lot more of it last year had she not had a season-ending ACL injury. We have yet to see her play since the injury, so some might say it is premature to include her on the list, but I disagree. I think Hart can be one of the nation's premiere middle blockers this season and I am excited to see it.
Anna Smrek — Wisconsin
When one goes down, two more grow in its place. When Hart was sidelined last season, it was Anna Smrek who stepped up and ended up winning Most Outstanding Player in the national championship game. You can't not include the MOP from a national title game, (who won it as a freshman, by the way) on this list. Smrek doesn't have the flashy numbers from last season and didn't consistently start in the rotation, but boy did she show her potential. It can only go up from here for the middle.
Taylor Landfair — Minnesota
Landfair is another player that is not a returning All-American from last season. But, she was also hurt for a large chunk of 2021, hence lower stats. She came out on fire in her freshman spring 2020-2021 season, and only played nine matches of her sophomore season before she was sidelined. The thing about Landfair as a freshman, was that she looked absolutely nothing like a freshman. Her composure was unmatched out on the court, and she has the talent and skills to go along with it. Now, she will play again as more of a veteran, and will likely play a large role on the team after the departure of Stephanie Samedy. I think Landfair will be one of the top players in 2022.
Marin Grote — Washington
Let's head over to the West Coast where I have two Huskies on the list. Starting off with Marin Grote, a phenom middle blocker for Washington who finished a second-team All-American last season. She led the Pac-12 in hitting percentage, and her .415 clip was in the top 15 nationally. She also had 120-plus blocks and a 1.05 blocks-per-set.
Ella May Powell — Washington
Another setter makes the list in Ella May Powell. Powell has been a premier setter in college volleyball for the past few seasons and will return for one last season with the Huskies. She has a lot of experience on the big stage, and won Pac-12 setter of the year twice in her career.
Caitie Baird — Stanford
Baird emerged last season as a standout player for the Cardinal. There is potential that Stanford could rise as a top team out of the Pac-12 this year, and Baird will likely be a leader of the effort. The second-team All-American checked in third on the Pac-12 lists in kills-per-set (4.24) and points-per-set (4.83) and added 62 blocks in her sophomore year.
Kendall Kipp — Stanford
Kendall Kipp is another star Cardinal. You might remember her name from 2019 when Stanford won the second of back-to-back titles. Kipp was just a freshman but contributed a lot in that championship season. Now a senior, she will lead the Cardinal this year after putting up second-team All-American numbers last season. Kipp hit .339, reached triple-digits for blocks, and ranked in the top six in the Pac-12 in points per set and kills per set
Brooke Nuneviller — Oregon
Brooke Nuneviller returns at Oregon after a record-breaking junior season. She reached 1,000 career kills and 1,600 career digs last season with 4.33 points per set, 428 kills, 3.96 kills per set and 3.19 digs per set.
Rainelle Jones — Maryland
Rainelle Jones makes the list after topping the entire NCAA in blocks and blocks per set last season. She led Maryland to be the Big Ten's best blocking team for the second straight season last year. Keep in mind, she is putting up these numbers against some of the toughest teams in volleyball.
Magda Jehlarova — Washington State
Magda Jehlarova returns for Washington State after finishing last year a third-team All-American. Her 168 blocks were the second-most in the country last season, and her 1.45 blocks-per-set was fourth. She also hit .353, which was the fourth-best single-season mark in school history.
Emma Grome — Kentucky
Next, we have a setter out of the SEC. Emma Grome stepped in for the AVCA National Player of the Year Madison Lilley last season as just a freshman, and she won SEC Freshman of the Year. Grome was a second-team All-American after she led the nation in assists per set (11.49) among freshmen and ranked fifth among all players in the category.
Skylar Fields — USC
Fields returns this season but this time at USC, after transferring from Texas. She averaged 3.85 points per set last season for the Longhorns while hitting .331 and averaging 3.51 kills per set.
Lauren Matthews — Western Kentucky
The nation’s top hitter had an astronomical .480 attack percentage. On top of that accolade, Matthews was the Conference USA Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year.
A few other players to note:
Serena Gray (Pittsburgh), Whitney Bower (BYU), Matti McKissock (UCLA), Devyn Robinson (Wisconsin), Nicklin Hames (Nebraska) and Claire Hoffman (Washington).