Every year, I create a list of the best player at every position in women's college volleyball. It is always an incredibly fun, yet difficult exercise. As you can imagine, there are plenty of variations of players that would make sense. I rely heavily on statistics, my observations of the players and a little strength of schedule, too. It's not perfect — what ranking is? — but is a fun way to put together a team.
I made two teams, essentially an East and West all-star team. How great would this be if it were in real life?! I drew a line down the middle of the country with the dividing line on the eastern-most borders of Texas and Nebraska. So that puts teams like Washington, Texas, Oregon, Baylor, Stanford, UCLA, Nebraska, etc. on the West, and teams like Purdue, Pittsburgh, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Louisville, Penn State, Minnesota etc. on the East.
For each team, I chose three hitters (without specifying who will play the right side, I am assuming they will be six-rotation hitters), two middle blockers, a setter and libero.
Here we go.
West all-star team
Hitter: Logan Eggleston — Texas
Hitter: Kendall Kipp — Stanford
Hitter: Skylar Fields — USC
Middle blocker: Kaitlyn Hord — Nebraska
Middle blocker: Heather Gneiting — BYU
Setter: Gabby Blossom — San Diego
Libero: Zoe Fleck — Texas
So there you have it! Before you panic, let's get into the explanation. I know you might think differently. Trust me, I changed it a few times before landing on this roster.
Picking Eggleston is a no-brainer. Logan is going to be in conversations for player of the year and there was no one that could possibly be argued into that spot over her. She leads the best team in the nation — one that played a really tough non-conference schedule — and her stats are superb. Eggleston averages 4.71 kills per set and 5.53 points per set, which is in the top 10 nationally. She also has 18 aces on the season, that is .53 per set. Eggleston already has a plethora of awards under her belt, and if you ask me, there will be some bigger ones this season.
Kendall Kipp is my next hitter. She leads another top team in the nation, which is in my top 10, and has played an extremely tough schedule. When looking at hitter stats, I looked more at overall points and impact of the player, as opposed to just kills per set and their ability to terminate. Kipp averages over five points per set and 4.07 kills per set. She also is a lethal server, with 24 service aces so far. Her numbers were close with some other players, but this is a hitter on a strong Stanford team and one with national title experience.
Lastly, Skylar Fields. Now this is one where you might say — "OK, but what about strength of schedule and strength of team?" Well, Fields' numbers will blow you out of the water. Her team might have a few losses this season, but not to horrible teams. Plus, Fields was a standout hitter on Texas last season. You cannot dispute her talent. Check out these numbers, too — 4.71 kills per set, 5.15 points per set at a .303 clip. Brooke Nuneviller at Oregon was a player I almost included here, but I had to go with Fields.
Moving on to middle blockers, I picked Kaitlyn Hord at Nebraska. Hord definitely does not have as flashy of numbers as some of the other blockers in the NCAA — players like Kara McGhee at Baylor and Sami Francis at Stanford. Both of those that I considered rank really high in the NCAA in blocks per set, definitely a main staple for a middle. But again, if you look at a team like Nebraska, there aren't a ton of players on their roster with flashy numbers. No hitter takes a majority of the sets. Hord still has great numbers — 1.44 blocks per set, 2.23 points per set at a .322 hitting percentage. Her blocks per set rank in the top 15 nationally and on a top-three team. Plus, Nebraska leads the entire nation in opponent hitting percentage, and you can't tell me their block and players in the middle don't have something to do with that. I couldn't just rely on stats alone — I had to also lean on the eye test and the fact that Hord is of All-American status. So, I picked Hord to be on my all-star team.
For my second middle blocker, I went with Heather Gneiting at BYU. She was in consideration for me last year as well, and her points per set are through the roof this year. As a middle, she is averaging 3.76 points per set for her team. That is much more than just blocking, this is a middle with over 2.5 kills per set. Oh, she also has 21 service aces on the season ... how often do you see that for a middle? I'll answer — not often. She is also hitting at a .307 clip and averaging 1.26 blocks per set. So again, there are middles with more blocks, etc. But I am going for the all-around player here.
Now for the setter and libero position. There are a ton of options here. For setters, you have Washington's Ella May Powell, Texas' Saige Ka'aha'aina-Torres, Kami Minor at Stanford, Kendra Wait at Creighton, Whitney Bower at BYU and then my pick — Gabby Blossom. Many might go for Ka'aha'aina-Torres, I almost did, for crying out loud. She is third in the nation with 11.65 assists per set for the Texas Longhorns — that does seem like an easy pick at first glance. But, when I look at Blossom, I see a player that transferred to San Diego this season and brought the Toreros to an elite level. She, in my opinion, made the biggest difference for this team and is a huge reason why San Diego went from where they were last year to a top-four team in the AVCA poll and the No. 3 team in the committee's top-10 reveal. Her stats are quite impressive as well — she is 10th in the NCAA with 10.86 assists per set, and she also has 15 service aces on the season. Blossom is the player making all the difference for San Diego.
Lastly, libero. This might have been the toughest scenario to be in when comparing Lexi Rodriguez at Nebraska and Zoe Fleck at Texas. I mean come on .... it is kind of a lose-lose situation to pick between them. But when I dove into the thick of it, I had to go with Fleck. Fleck is averaging 4.79 digs per set this season, Rodriguez is a little over four. Plus, she is putting up those kind of numbers behind Texas' huge block and for the No. 1 team in the nation. You really can't go wrong with either choice here, but I went with Fleck. She is incredibly fun to watch, and just an impressive athlete on the court.
Now let's move on to the East.
East all-star team
Hitter: Julia Bergmann — Georgia Tech
Hitter: Eva Hudson — Purdue
Hitter: McKenna Melville — UCF
Middle blocker: Danielle Hart — Wisconsin
Middle blocker: Allie Holland — Penn State
Setter: Mac Podraza — Ohio State
Libero: Elena Scott — Louisville
Alright, there is my team out of the East. Let's start with the hitters. Julia Bergmann at Georgia Tech is undoubtedly one of the best hitters in the nation. She lost a lot of supporting players from last year, like Mariana Brambilla, but her talent is still nearly unmatched. Bergmann ranks fourth in the nation with 5.23 kills per set, and fourth again in points per set with 5.88. She is an All-American and conference Player of the Year in the tough ACC, and definitely my pick for the East.
Next, I've got a freshman phenom in Eva Hudson. I am not sure anyone expected Purdue to perform as well as it has after losing a serious chunk of talent from last season. But Hudson entered the chat. This freshman is posting insane numbers — 5.06 kills per set at an incredibly high .339 hitting percentage. She has averaged 5.66 points per set and is the X-factor for Purdue this season. When you look at all of the Boilermakers' big wins, she is leading the team.
Next, I decided to go with McKenna Melville out of UCF. This is one where I had to rely heavily on statistics. No, UCF is not a top-10 team. They are now ranked No. 23 in the AVCA poll, but they are undefeated so far. And Melville is the active leader in the NCAA in kills. She was an All-American last season, and is up to a career total 2,227 kills. She leads the NCAA in points per set with 6.15, and is second in the nation with 5.51 kills per set. Taylor Landfair and Claire Chaussee were in consideration for me, but I had to go with these three.
Moving on to middle blockers, I am going with Danielle Hart at Wisconsin. Hart ranks second in the nation with 1.63 blocks per set. She averages a total of 2.6 points per set and hits at an incredible .387 clip. That is team-leading. Hart has been the one consistent piece for Wisconsin all season long. She is coming off of an ACL injury in 2021 and she has been impressing me each step of the way. She is my go-to for the middle position in the East.
For my second middle, I go with Allie Holland out of Penn State. Amaya Tillman, Jess Robinson at Michigan and maybe Lauren Matthews at Western Kentucky were looked at here, but I ultimately went with Holland. Penn State is another team that has over-performed pre-season expectations. Check out Holland's numbers — she is at No. 11 in the NCAA with 1.48 blocks per set, but posts 3.11 points per set for her team at a .327 clip. Over three points per set is high for a middle, and I am going for an all-around player.
Let's finish this thing off with my setter and libero. For my QB, I was between Podraza, my pick, Emma Grome at Kentucky, maybe Raquel Lazaro at Louisville, and a few others. Grome has the highest assists per set, but I thought Podraza was a pretty easy pick here. She is running the offense over at Ohio State playing the hands-down toughest schedule in the nation and averaging 10.58 assists per set. Not to mention she will pick up a good bit of points for the team too. I think Podraza is an All-American talent at setter, and I am going with her in the East.
Lastly, libero. My top choices were Elena Scott, Maddie Schermerhorn and Kylie Murr. Scott is obviously my pick out of Louisville. She averages 4.27 digs per set behind a strong Louisville block, and anchors the backcourt for the second-best team in the NCAA right now.