@TexasVolleyball

With the last of the confetti cleaned up following Kentucky’s historic volleyball championship, it’s time to look ahead to the 2021 season.

Predictions this far out are always tough. That’s especially true this year, as it’s still unclear how many seniors will take advantage of the NCAA’s blanket waiver and return for another go. This list could look very different if the bulk of Wisconsin’s seniors decide to stay — or if those I think will remain at Nebraska end up leaving. 

Regardless, it makes for an interesting exercise. And though last season only just wrapped up, I already can’t wait for next season to begin. 

1. Texas 

Logan Eggleston, Big 12 Player of the Year, said it best after Texas lost in the championship — this team will be back. The Longhorns had the talent to win it all this year, but their best players sometimes struggled to get in sync. Skylar Fields seemed to come out of her shell during the tournament. If she can find her stride early next year, she packs the perfect punch to complement Eggleston. That could be enough to get Texas over the hump.

2. Nebraska 

The Cornhuskers’ great NCAA tournament run was just cut short by Texas. Next year, they return their high-IQ setter Nicklin Hames to run the offense as well six-rotation outside hitter Madi Kubik to bring some stability to the lineup. Kubik is one of the best six-rotation outside hitters in the Big 10, and her experience will pair perfectly with Nebraska’s number-one ranked recruiting class. 

Jazz Sweet has already said she will not return, while Lexi Sun and Lauren Stivrins have yet to announce their decisions. Should they return, Nebraska would have both the talent and experience needed to contend for a title.

3. Washington

The Huskies return a number of key pieces, notably Ella May Powell, their First Team All-American setter, as well as Samantha Drechsel and Madi Endsley, two pin hitters who carry a huge load for UW. Drechsel was another First Team All-American, while Endsley was only a freshman last year. She was excellent in the tournament, creating high expectations for this trio next year. 

4. Florida

Florida returns the bulk of its starting lineup, including the highly-efficient trio of Marlie Monserez, T’ara Ceasar and Thayer Hall. Lauren Forte, an All-American middle blocker, is also returning for her extra senior eligibility. Elli McKissock, freshman libero, won the jersey this year and ran with it late in the season. I think we’re going to see a lot of progress in Florida’s backcourt game as she has another year under her belt. 

5. Kentucky

The Kentucky Wildcats had a pretty good season, in case you haven’t been following. Next year, the National Champions return several key pieces from their title-winning squad. The fantastic pin duo of Madison Skinner and Alli Stumler will bring sure firepower to the team, while middle blockers Ashani Tealer and Elise Goetzinger are also set to stay. 

The challenge for the Wildcats will be to replace two irreplaceable players — Madison Lilley, the AVCA National Player of the Year, and Gabby Curry, the SEC Libero of the Year. Even without them, Kentucky has the talent to be a Top 10 team.

6. Purdue

The Boilermakers keep the soul of their team intact as they approach the upcoming year. Hayley Bush, All-American setter, returns to run the offense of this team. Her go-to player, Grace Cleveland, First Team All-American, brings both experience and skill. The departure of Jena Otec, Big 10 Defensive Player of the Year, will be hard to swallow, but a solid recruiting class is coming in to complement an already-deep roster.

7. Ohio State

The Buckeyes went down swinging last season. Returning six of their seven best players, I expect them to start off next year swinging as well. Emily Londot, the AVCA Freshman of the Year, will return, as will Mac Podraza, the setter who feeds the team. That duo should shine next year after a full offseason working together.

8. Baylor

Returning First Team All-American Yossiana Pressley is reason enough to put Baylor in the Top 10. She has given plenty of top teams trouble over the past few years, and next season will be no different. Lauren Harrisson complements Pressley on the other left side pin, while the back court is patrolled by Shanel Bramschreiber, the reigning Big 12 Libero of the Year. Expect Baylor to contend with Texas for the Big 12 title.

9. Oregon

Oregon has some of the best ball control in the country. If their setter/hitter connection can improve, this is a very dangerous team. Brooke Nuneviller, Second Team All-American, returns as an outside hitter that passes as well as any libero in the country. Her ability to control the court is why Oregon will contend with Washington for a Pac 12 title.

10. Penn State

Penn State depended a lot of their youngsters last year. And while Annie Cate Fitzpatrick and Anastasiya Kudryashova will have another year of experience, the Nittany Lions are also bringing in several notable transfers, including Adanna Rollins (Minnesota) and Erika Pritchard (Maryland). 

Jonni Parker had an unbelievable season last year and was undoubtedly one of the most consistent scorers for Penn State with her aggressive right side play. Her senior year will be special. Kaitlyn Hord likewise brings both height and athleticism to the middle position, ensuring the team’s block will be up there with the best of the Big 10.