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NCAA Volleyball 2021: Way-Too-Early Top 10

@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.

Cameron Brink likes Caitlin Clark for 2024 WNBA Rookie of the Year

Cameron Brink poses with Caitlin Clark at 2024 wnba draft in new york
Cameron Brink poses with fellow draftee — and possible WNBA ROY —Caitlin Clark. (Photo by Emily Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images)

Cameron Brink already has her rookie of the year pick for the upcoming WNBA season, and it’s Indiana-bound star Caitlin Clark

In the latest edition of Kelley on the Street, host Kelley O'Hara caught up with Brink in New York hours before the Stanford phenom went No. 2 overall to the Los Angeles Sparks at the 2024 WNBA Draft. When O’Hara asked who would win the WNBA's rookie of the year, she answered without pause.

"Caitlin Clark," she said, while a fan commented that she thought Brink would take home the award. Brink later added that the extra foul granted to WNBA players will be "good for me."

"I hope it’s me," Charisma Osborne, who was later drafted by the Phoenix Mercury, said when asked her ROY prediction. "But, I don’t know — we’ll see."

Watch more of Kelley on the Street:

Dash winger Maria Sanchez confirms trade request a day shy of NWSL deadline

María Sanchez of Houston Dash during a NWSL game
In December, Sanchez signed a new three-year contract with the club worth $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. (Photo by Marcus Ingram/Getty Images)

Maria Sanchez issued a statement on Thursday, confirming recent reports that she has requested a trade from the Houston Dash. 

In it, she revealed that the club has been aware of the request "since late March."

"This has all taken a toll and isn’t an easy thing to talk about, but I want to confirm that I’ve requested an immediate trade," she wrote. "My expectations and reasons have been clear. I trust that my current club’s management will honor my decision in a timely manner and proceed with accepting a trade."

"I’m eager to refocus and dive back into what I love most: playing football," she concluded.

Reports of Sanchez's trade request first surfaced on ESPN last week, and were later confirmed by multiple sources. 

In December of last year, Sanchez signed a three-year contract with the Dash valued at $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. It was the largest contract in NWSL history at the time — a figure that would be eclipsed by multiple contracts in the following months. 

Sanchez spent the offseason as a restricted free agent, meaning that Houston could match any other team's offer to retain her rights. Should the Dash trade Sanchez, her current contract terms would remain intact, limiting potential buyers to teams able to afford to take on an inking of that size.

The Dash has yet to address the trade, instead reiterating to ESPN that Sanchez is "under contract, a choice she made in free agency at the end of 2023." 

Both the NWSL trade window and transfer window close tonight, April 19th, at 12 a.m. ET. The window will stay closed through the next 11 regular season games, reopening on August 1st, 2024.

Seattle Storm debut state-of-the-art $64 million practice facility

Jewell Loyd #24 of the Seattle Storm during warms up during practice on July 11, 2020 at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida
Jewell Loyd, seen here practicing at Florida's IMG Academy, and her team are in for a major upgrade this season. (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

The four-time league champion Seattle Storm unveiled their new practice facility on Thursday, with Storm co-owner Lisa Brummel dubbing Interbay's Seattle Storm Center for Basketball Performance the team’s "new home."

"It's just such a special space," Brummel told Fox 13 Seattle. "I think when the players get here, it's gonna be overwhelming."

The sprawling 50,000-square-foot, $64 million property is just the second designated practice facility to be designed and built expressly for a WNBA team, with the Storm further noting that 85% of all design and engineering team members involved in the project's construction were women and people of color. The finished product holds two professional indoor courts, two 3x3 outdoor courts, a state-of-the-art locker room, and players' lounge, plus designated areas for strength and conditioning, kitchen, dining, and nutrition, and recovery. 

"This facility reflects our commitment to providing our athletes an exceptional environment that supports their growth, health, and performance," said Storm co-owner Ginny Gilder in an official team release. "It’s built for women, by women, embodying our dedication to leading the way in professional women’s sports."

For their part, the team can't wait to make the faciilty their own.

"It's amazing," Storm guard Jewell Loyd told Fox 13. "Not having to drive everywhere around, knowing you have access anytime of the day to get into the gym, to workout." 

Head coach Noelle Quinn said she predicts the team is "never going to leave this building."

"Which is a good thing for me," she continued. "You talk about having an edge in performance. We want our athletes to not only perform on the court, but get whatever they need."

All of the Storm's staff and operations will now live under one roof, and the team also has plans to launch a youth basketball program operating out of the building.

Mystics relocate game to accommodate Caitlin Clark fans

Maya Caldwell, Erica Wheeler, and Lexie Hull of the Indiana Fever celebrate Caitlin Clark
Get ready — Caitlin Clark is coming to town. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Caitlin Clark effect is quickly making its mark on the big leagues, as WNBA host teams around the country rush to upgrade their Fever games to larger arenas in order to accommodate surging ticket sales.

With Clark mere weeks away from her Indiana Fever debut, both the Las Vegas Aces and Washington Mystics have officially relocated their scheduled home games with head coach Christie Sides' squad. On Thursday, the Mystics became the latest to adjust their plans, moving their June 7th matchup from Entertainment & Sports Arena in Southwest DC to the more centrally located — and much larger — Capital One Arena "due to unprecedented demand."

The Mystics home court's capacity taps out at 4,200, while Capital One Arena — home to the Wizards, Capitals, and Georgetown Hoya's Men's Basketball — can fit nearly five times that crowd at some 20,000 spectators.

"The move to Capital One Arena will allow for additional fans in the stands as well as premium hospitality options, including Suites and the all-new all-inclusive courtside Hennessy Lofts," the team announced via Thursday's press release.

The Aces were one of the first teams to switch venues, aiming to take on the Indiana Fever in front of as many as 20,000 fans inside T-Mobile Arena on July 2nd. That’s a sizable a boost from their home venue, which holds just 12,000.

For those still planning to face the Fever in their home arenas, ticket prices have skyrocketed. Previously scheduled construction has already forced the LA Sparks to relocate their first five games — including their May 24th clash with the Fever — to Long Beach State's Walter Pyramid. The temporary venue is quite the downsize, holding just 4,000 in comparison to Crypto.com Arena's near-19,000. As of Friday, the get-in price for that game started around $400.

Despite fans launching a Change.org petition urging relocation, the Chicago Sky say they're unable to move their June 23rd Fever meeting from Wintrust Arena's 10,000-seat facility to the 23,500-seat United Center due to a concert. Tickets for that game start around $325 as of Friday.

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