As conference play is officially under way, the players below are going to need to turn in key performances if their respective schools are going to get off to good starts.
We break down the five to watch this weekend:
— Alexa Smith, Colorado, Jr, OH
— NCAA Volleyball (@NCAAVolleyball) September 19, 2017
There’s no denying Smith is lynchpin for the Buffs and if any magic is going to happen this weekend, she’ll be playing a big role in it. She entered the week with 144 kills, averaging 4.24 per set and hitting .294. She also has 84 digs, third on the team. Colorado hits the road to face No. 13 Utah in the Pac-12 opener Friday night. If that wasn’t thrilling enough, the Buffs return home Sunday to host fourth-ranked Stanford.
— Sam Fry, Notre Dame, Sr, MB
— Irish Volleyball (@NDvolleyball) September 18, 2017
Victories over Michigan State and Ohio State, the Fighting Irish have the look of a real contender when it comes to the ACC race this fall. It’s a big opening weekend for Notre Dame, one in which the Fighting Irish could take a nice step toward proving their rise is real. Up first is No. 34 Louisville, then No. 45 NC State. Both are on the road and if Notre Dame can prevail in both, what a start that would be. Fry could find success this weekend against both opponents. Her season so far for Notre Dame includes 89 kills (2.41 per set), 48 blocks (1.30) and she’s hitting .328.
— Gina Tillis, LSU, Sr, OH
At 9-2, the Tigers are off to a great start but are going to be tested when SEC competition gets underway. Up Friday is No. 31 Texas A&M, followed by Sunday’s encounter with No. 9 Kentucky. Any hopes of LSU pulling off an upset in either or both rests on the all-around play of Tillis, who’s been an integral part of the Tigers’ success so far. Tillis is second on the Tigers with 98 kills, averaging 2.45 per set. She also has 110 digs, also second.
— Molly Sauer, Louisville, Jr, L
Looking to make a push up the standings this season in the ACC, Louisville has an opportunity to get out of the gates cleanly against No. 41 Notre Dame and No. 46 North Carolina this weekend. It’ll be a challenge for the Louisville blockers and back row defense, including Sauer. Notre Dame and North Carolina are both capable of moving the ball around on the attack, so it’s going to take a sound effort from Sauer, who leads the team with 124 digs and is averaging 3.76 per set, and mates to pick up a pair of victories in the start of conference play.
— Willow Johnson, Oregon, Soph, RS
— Oregon Volleyball (@OregonVB) September 20, 2017
After opening the Pac-12 slate by knocking off Oregon State, the Ducks have a chance to do bigger things this weekend. Oregon visits No. 12 UCLA and will look to prove its Top-10 rankings is right. The Ducks returned a lot of weapons, including Johnson. The sophomore has been one of the team’s most reliable attackers so far and it figures she’ll need to keep it up for the Ducks to find success against the Bruins. Johnson sits at 88 kills, second on the Ducks, and is averaging 3.18 per set while hitting at a .372 clip.