Volleyball season is upon us, with the first matches taking place tonight. The B1G should again be the best conference in the nation, and should have at least two bona fide national title contenders. While the preseason rankings looks pretty familiar, that obscures (or is because of) the significant movement of players in this, our new NIL world.
At B1G media days last month, Wisconsin (#2 nationally) was tabbed as the conference favorite. If this bears out, it would be the Badgers’ fifth consecutive conference title, which would be borderline unbelievable given how tough the conference is. Perennial power Nebraska (#5) is second, followed by (#7) Minnesota, (#8) Penn State, (#14) Ohio State, and (#16) Purdue. Each of these teams are ranked in the preseason top 25, each won at least one NCAA tournament game last year (and all but Purdue made the Sweet 16), and all are pretty firmly entrenched in the upper echelon of the conference.
Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, and Northwestern make up the list of schools with reasonable hopes of making the NCAA tournament. Only Illinois received any top 25 votes, and they are only two years removed from a Sweet 16 appearance. Indiana would qualify as the upstart, but they finished 8th last year, and are looking to build on a strong finish to their 2022 season. Michigan State, Iowa, and Rutgers brought up the rear last year and are expected to do so again this year. Sadly, there is little reason to think any of the three is ready to make a move.
PLAYERS ON THE MOVE
The preseason all-conference team can be found at the link above. Unsurprisingly, UW led the way with four players selected. What was a surprise was Nebraska placing only one. However, Lexi Rodriguez may be the most important player in the conference, and Nebraska is so deep that their starting rotation hasn’t fully shaken out yet. I would bet a couple of paychecks the Huskers place multiple players on the all-conference team at the end of the year.
What’s most notable is the number of players on the all-conference team who are playing for a new team this year. Part of the reason Wisconsin is favored is because of how they took advantage of the transfer portal, landing Outside Hitter Temi Thomas-Ailara (with Northwestern last year) and Middle Blocker Carter Booth (with Minnesota last year). Throw in Outside Hitter Sarah Franklin, who transferred to UW from MSU last year, and three-quarters of the Badgers all-conference complement were on different B1G rosters when the Badgers won the national title two years ago.
Mac Podraza was the B1G setter of the year last year, while playing for Ohio State. She is with Penn State this year, a big part of the reason why PSU is back in the top 10. Their other preseason all-conference selection, Outside Hitter Jess Mruzik, played for Michigan last year.
Minnesota may have lost Booth to Wisconsin (and Outside Hitter Jenna Wenaas to #1 Texas), but they added libero Kylie Murr, grabbing her away from Ohio State. She’ll add the do-everything element to complement the frontline dominance of Taylor Landfair. And don’t fret too much for Ohio State. They still return Rylee Rader and Emily Londot.
The season gets off to a great start this weekend and early next week. Seven matches on BTN the next few days, four featuring matchups of ranked teams:
- Friday: #2 Wisconsin vs. #15 Baylor (4:30 CDT)
- Friday: TCU @ #7 Minnesota (7:00)
- Saturday: #18 Creighton @ #16 Purdue (2:30)
- Saturday: #2 Wisconsin vs. TCU (4:30)
- Saturday: #15 Baylor @ #7 Minnesota (7:00)
- Tuesday: #1 Texas @ #7 Minnesota (7:00)
- Wednesday: Nebraska-Omaha @ #5 Nebraska (7:00)
The last matchup doesn’t figure to be very competitive, but you should tune in for a bit anyway. The match is going to be played in Memorial Stadium and is already sold out. It will obliterate the current attendance record, which was set when UW beat Nebraska in the 2021 national title match.