College News

College: Possible Title Favorites And More Answers to Burning Questions

Courtesy Al Chang, Stanford Athletics

Could Kat Plummer and Stanford be the favorites to win it all in 2018?

Courtesy Al Chang, Stanford Athletics

We broke down some of the top transfers taking place in college here.

What we didn’t do is talk much about how the transfers will impact the overall landscape this coming fall or not. For example, does Lexi Sun’s move to Nebraska really make the Huskers the favorites to repeat? How will Texas fare in her absence? It’s the stuff we explore as we check out the possible college landscape this coming fall.

— Is Nebraska the Title Favorite?

We aren’t ready to anoint Nebraska just yet. The reason being Nebraska might not even be the best team in the Big Ten, even with Lexi Sun part of the lineup. Freshman setter Nicklin Hames still has to show what she can do on this level, while losing the leadership of Kelly Hunter is going to hurt. It’s easy to overlook experience since Stanford took home the trophy playing four freshmen, but that’s more likely going to prove an anomaly as the next few years pass. It’s hard to win with youth in key spots, like setting and outside. Nebraska very well may be the favorite by the time the tournament rolls around, but we aren’t going there yet.

— Who is the Title Favorite Then?

If not Nebraska, we like Stanford. And here’s why. After winning the title in 2015, Nebraska was flat in the Final Four and lost to Texas. Maybe it was the nerves of trying to repeat? Maybe it was playing it too cool? Whatever the reason, Nebraska didn’t have it. The same thing happened to Stanford last year in the Final Four against Florida. Stanford was flat and didn’t have it for whatever reason. However, given this group has been to two straight Final Fours and has the most returning pieces of the teams to get there last year, Stanford is the early spring favorite from this perspective. Kat Plummer, Morgan Hentz, Jenna Gray and Audriana Fitzmorris are upperclassmen now. That’s still four of the most formidable players you’ll find in any starting lineup. And Stanford has Holly Campbell and Mackenzie Fidelak coming aboard as freshmen. Fidelak can really provide a need on the right with her attacking. Stanford has options in the middle, so it remains to be seen how Campbell will fit in. As of now though, Stanford would be the pick to start the season No. 1.

— If Not Nebraska, Then Who is the Big Ten Favorite?

If Nebraska is not the favorite in its own conference, then who is? Penn State? Minnesota? Dare we say Wisconsin? The Badgers are entering the fall season with nothing but potential swirling around the program. If Molly Haggerty returns to full form, it’s the equivalent of the Badgers landing their own impactful transfer. Haggerty redshirted last year in hopes of getting fully healthy and returning to the player she was as a rookie, when she was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year and led Wisconsin with 3.41 kills per set. With Sydney Hilley and Dana Rettke a year older (and we are guessing a year better) the Badgers are set up for success. Rettke led the team last year in kills as a freshman. Now imagine the attack with a front/back row hitter like Haggerty thrown in. Tionna Williams is back in the middle for her senior year, giving the Badgers the advantage pretty much over any opponent at that position. The only setter that one can argue is better than Hilley in the Big Ten is Jordyn Poulter at Illinois. And Haggerty might be the best all-around outside in the conference. So, Wisconsin will have the advantage in the middle over everyone, the advantage at outside (at least with Haggerty) over everyone and the advantage at setting over everyone but Illinois. With Tiffany Clark at libero, all Wisconsin needs is some timely production on the right and at OH2. With that, Wisconsin is the Big Ten favorite.

— What Are Florida’s Chances of Getting Back to the Final Four?

Our odds would overwhelmingly have Stanford and Nebraska back in the Final Four. They would both start off at 2-1. Florida, however, is facing much longer odds. We would say about 10-1. That’s not supposed to be great odds, as Florida is going through some major changes. Losing Rhamat Alhassan in the middle means Florida no longer has a true game-changer at that spot. She was dominant at times. We aren’t sure Rachael Kramer can fill that void. She wasn’t as impactful in the Final Four last year and she’s going to need to be more assertive against the better programs this fall. Adding Holly Carlton is huge because it negates the loss of Cheyenne Huskey to transfer. Carlton, at 6-7, can set and hit. Florida last year used Allie Monserez in the back row and Huskey in the front row. Huskey gave the Gators value with the block, something Carlton can do too. Florida has a third option with incoming freshman Marlie Monserez, Allie’s younger sister who is also a setter. Florida also has 6-2 RS Haley Warner coming in. So Florida has options there. But no piece means as much as top Senior Ace and outside Thayer Hall. Is she ready to put Florida on her back this soon and help the program return to the Final Four? We say wait a year with this group. It’s not the Gators’ time just yet.

Forget Florida in the SEC, What About Kentucky?

True, we are asking if Florida can make it back to the Final Four when Kentucky could be the real class of the conference this fall. Madison Lilley showed what she can do setting last year as a rookie. Same with Gabby Curry on the defensive end. Add outside Leah Edmond and Avery Skinner and Kentucky has the perfect foundation for another deep postseason run. The Wildcats also have 6-5 RS/MB Brooke Morgan back. Kentucky’s biggest concern is being thin in the middle. At the same time, with a dominant left side in Edmond, it’s something Kentucky can make up for. Considering Kentucky lost in the Elite Eight last year to eventual champion Nebraska, Kentucky’s odds of making the Final Four this year are about 3-1.

— Can Texas Get Back to the Final Four?

The easy answer is yes, because Texas remains Texas from the standpoint of talented players. Micaya White can do it all on the outside. Ashley Shook, with a year under her belt, should be better off at the setting position. The do-it-all Yazzie Bedart-Ghani gives Texas flexibility. Morgan Johnson is back in the middle. Bri Butler figures to get thrown into the mix in the middle. There are question marks though. Texas is thin on the pin, even adding Logan Eggleston a year earlier than expected.

— Can Minnesota Get Back to the Final Four?

Minnesota was in the Final Four in 2015 and 2016 before missing last year. The Gophers struggled with their consistency all year. When they passed and got everyone involved, they were as good as anyone. But too often Minnesota became over reliant on Lexi Hart and she’s not built to do it all by herself. Samantha Seliger-Swenson is going to be a senior and it’s really her time to start making this team her own. Regan Pittman is back in the middle and could be matched with 6-2 junior Kayla Buford. Of course, Minnesota has the sensational Stephanie Samedy on the right side. And there are pieces to test out around Hart. Jasmyn Martin was up-and-down as a rookie. If she finds a more consistent stride as a sophomore watch out. Freshman Adanna Rollins is on board now, plus Minnesota picked up transfer Claire Sheehan. Yet, what might make the biggest difference is CC McGraw taking over the libero duties. She’s the top-rated player at her position in her class and her lights-out ability to defend and pass should give Minnesota an edge in that department this fall. The feeling here is Minnesota has a much better chance of getting back to the Final Four this year than it did a season ago.

— More of the Same in the Pac-12?

The past two seasons the rest of the conference has been bunched up in its pursuit of Stanford. Does any of that change this fall? Probably not. Stanford is the heavy favorite to repeat and after that it’s another big guessing game. Washington and USC tied for second last year at 14-6. Washington is going to look a lot different with all the seniors it lost. USC underwent a coaching change but still has Khalia Lanier in the fold. Based on those back, USC looks poised for a strong year than Washington. Utah, at 13-7, was a force last year but will be different with Adora Anae gone. Colorado, meanwhile, is an intriguing team given many of its significant contributors like Alexa Smith, Franke Shebby and Brynna DeLuzio are back. Oregon State was the surprise team a year ago, but losing Kylee McLaughlin at the setting spot is a setback to be sure. Both UCLA and Oregon figure to be on the same level, if not improved. UCLA loses Sarah Sponcil and Reily Buechler, but does have Lexi Hadyrch coming in, along with Devon Chang and Hayley Harrer. UCLA is going to be young, but deep and talented. Oregon loses Taylor Agost but the Ducks are another team that is deep and talented – and that’s before including the incoming class. With a back row that can feature Brooke Van Sickle, Brooke Nuneviller and Camryn Tastad, defense and ball control could be a big strength of Oregon this season. Still, none of it adds up to anyone catching Stanford. And what it points to is more than likely another season of Stanford owning the Pac-12 and the rest beating each other up over and over.

— Missouri Back in the Mix?

Injuries derailed the Tigers early on in 2017. However, by the end of the year Missouri was facing Penn State in the Sweet 16. What is the outlook for Missouri in 2018 and can the Tigers take the next step? Missouri is the exact type of program that you can never count out. Even then, it’s hard imagining Missouri taking a step forward and reaching the Elite Eight this fall. For it to happen, Missouri is likely to get a lot of production from players that weren’t even on the roster a season ago. While middles Alyssa Munlyn and Kayla Caffey are back, Missouri is going to benefit from both the arrival of transfers and incoming recruits alike. Among them is transfer setter Jaden Newsome, who joins Missouri from Colorado. Illinois transfer Kylie Kuyava-Deberg also gives Missouri some size on the pin. And another Illinois transfer in Tyanna Omazic will help fill middle depth. Other than Munlyn and Caffey, the next-highest kill returner is 6-1 sophomore outside Darian Hollingsworth.

ACC Supremacy?

The ACC race a year ago concluded with Pitt and Louisville managing to separate themselves from the rest of the pack by three games, as they tied for first at 18-2. North Carolina went 11-9, while Florida State was 12-8. There no doubt was a changing of the guard in 2017, but will it stay that way in ’18? As we highlighted here, UNC was hit by transfers harder than anybody. While we think UNC can remain competitive, the roster changeover makes it difficult to believe the Tar Heels will climb the standings once more. Florida State has a better chance, though still a steep path ahead. The Seminoles picked up transfers Payton Caffrey (OH) and Ashely Murray (MB/RS) to help in that pursuit. FSU has returners Christina Ambrose (OH), Brianne Burkert (S) and Taryn Knuth (MB) to build around. But like we said, there is work to do to catch the teams ahead of them. Pitt doesn’t figure to be going anywhere, as the Panthers return their top five kill leaders and setter Kamalani Akeo. Louisville did lose Tess Clark but added transfer Marijke Van Dyke to try and soften the blow. But the Cardinals do return 900 worth of kills in Melanie McHenry, Jasmine Bennett and Amanda Green, plus bring back setter Wilma Rivera and libero Molly Sauer. Like Pitt, it figures Louisville is going to be at the top again. NC State and Notre Dame can work their way in the mix. Both return key pieces, but Notre Dame could have a more impactful incoming class, one that features 6-0 RS Sydney Bent and 6-1 OH Charley Niego. Miami wasn’t far off last year, finishing tied for second. The Hurricanes do have to make up for the loss of Olga Strantzali and her 499 kills.   

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. joe_kidd

    May 17, 2018 at 3:42 am

    Re:”…Big Ten Favorite?”
    Even though Molly Haggerty was named “B1G FOY”, another Freshman ended up having better seasonal stats per NCAA for the 2015/16 Season – Mikaela Foecke.
    “And Haggerty might be the best all-around outside in the conference.” – Better than Mikaela Foecke or Lexi Sun?

  2. Chris Tobolski

    May 18, 2018 at 6:08 am

    Haggerty is better in the back row than both. Foecke wasn’t a full-time, six-rotation outside until this past season. Haggerty was a six-row OH as a freshman.

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