I told you last year and I’m going to tell you again: The Big Ten is the best volleyball conference in the country (by a wide margin), it’s an incredibly exciting sport, and the TV coverage is getting better and better.
Eight times in the last ten seasons, the B1G has sent two teams to the Final Four. In that time, the conference has won fully half of the available national titles (Penn State 2, Nebraska 2, Wisconsin 1). Six conference teams have made the Final Four since 2012 (add Michigan, Illinois, and Minnesota), Purdue has made a regional final the last two years, and Ohio State has been in the Sweet 16 the last two seasons (and is a solid Final Four dark horse this year)
Last year’s national title match earned the highest ratings for any college volleyball match ever shown on an ESPN network and was played in front of a record 18,755 fans
You should be watching.
Wisconsin won their first national title in thrilling fashion. In the national semis they upended #1 and previously unbeaten Louisville in a taut five set duel. Then, in the national title match, the Badgers took down Nebraska in another intense five set match.
While nobody is thrilled just coming up short, Nebraska’s national title run came in what was to be a rebuilding year for one of the nation’s premier programs and featured a rather satisfying four set win over Texas—in Austin—in their regional final.
Additionally, Minnesota and Purdue both made the Elite Eight, and Illinois and Ohio State each found their way to the Sweet 16. Michigan and Penn State also qualified for the tournament.
For Penn State, it was the last tournament appearance under legendary coach Russ Rose. He retired with seven national titles to his name and as the winningest coach in college VB history.
While familiar faces are projected to be at the top of the B1G standings, there are conflicting guesses in terms of predicted finish.
The B1G preseason poll has Wisconsin winning their fourth consecutive B1G title, followed by Nebraska, Minnesota, Ohio State, and Penn State, whereas the NCAA preseason top 25 found Nebraska ranked #1 followed by Wisconsin at #3, Minnesota at #5, Ohio State at #7, Purdue at #13, Illinois at #17, and Penn State at #20.
So take your pick: defending national champions or preseason #1? Or maybe what could be the best Ohio State squad in school history? Or Minnesota, who checks in at #5 despite losing two-time B1G POY Stephanie Samedy?
Selected Team Capsules
BoilerUp89: Purdue has some great talent on the roster but they are really young. A lot of the key contributors to last's year roster graduated leaving Purdue's staff with a mini rebuild. I would be shocked if Purdue is the 13th best team in the country this season. If they are next year is going to be really special.
HWAHSQB: Illinois only had three seniors on last year’s team so they are bringing back a lot of experience. Still, all three of those seniors were important pieces in service specialist Kylie Bruder, starting libero Taylor Kuper, and 1st Team All B1G outside hitter Megan Cooney. This year’s squad has five seniors and a ton of experience. The team is led by senior setter Diana Brown, senior outside hitter and former FSU Seminole Jessica Nunge, and junior Raina Terry who came into her own last year and is now a preseason 1st team All B1G. Will it be enough to get them over the hump from a very good team to a B1G and national contender?
Kind of...: Wisconsin IS a national powerhouse, and they are preseason #3, but, geez, that seems high given that they lost Dana Rettke and Sydney Hilley, who had EIGHT first-team All-American appearances between them. That’s a lot to replace. And Grace Loberg, Lauren Barnes, and Gio Civita—each of whom appeared in every set in the Final Four—are gone too. Devyn Robinson, Jade Demps, and Anna Smrek are great building blocks along the front, certainly. And Julia Orzo was B1G frosh of the year last year. The transfer portal additions were great. Franklin and Crawford could each slot right in. And getting Danielle Hart back from last year’s season-ending injury would be fantastic. There are a ton of pieces present. But out of respect for what was accomplished last year, this year’s team is going to have to earn such a lofty ranking. And I must admit that I have Nebraska tabbed as conference favorite and think UW finishing 3rd or 4th is more likely than finishing 1st (though finishing 4th still means you’re a top 10 team nationally). Regardless, I’m absolutely stoked for the season to begin.
Transfer Portal—The Rich Get Richer
The three biggest moves of the offseason strengthened the two favorites.
- Nebraska added 6’4” middle blocker Kaitlyn Hord (from Penn State), who was a first-team, second-team, third-team, and honorable mention all-American in her four years at Penn State.
- Wisconsin added 6’4” outside hitter Sarah Franklin (from Michigan State), who was first-team all-B1G last year and who has three years (!) of eligibility remaining
- Wisconsin added 6’3” middle blocker Caroline Crawford (from Kansas), who led the Jayhawks to the Sweet 16 last year. Crawford will be a junior.
However, Minnesota and Penn State each added a trio of heralded players of their own. The Gophers brought in middle blocker Aricia Davis (from Ohio State) and two setters: Elise McGhie (from Kansas) and Miranda Wucherer (from Northern Kentucky). PSU added middle blocker Taylor Trammel (from Purdue) and two outside hitters: Zoe Weatherington (from Utah) and Kashauna Williams (from Long Beach State)
Fifteen players were voted to the preseason all-B1G team with Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Ohio State each landing three spots, and Minnesota with two. Illinois, Maryland, Northwestern, and Michigan each added one player to round things out.
Here’s a good place to point out that while UW and Nebraska are the favorites, and Minnesota is right there at #5, Ohio State’s trio—opposite hitter Emily Londot, middle blocker Rylee Rader, and setter Mac Podraza—might be the best trio in the country. With Badger legend Sydney Hilley out of eligibility, Podraza is probably the best setter in the conference.
Check out this kickass lineup! 55 matches on TV, including 6 on an ESPN network and 2 on FS1.
And the season gets off to a fantastic start this weekend at #2 Texas comes to Columbus to take on #7 Ohio State. Friday’s match is at 7:00 central on FS1 and Saturday’s is 7:00 central on BTN.
Tune in. It’s going to be a hell of a season.