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09/23/2022

Big Ten volleyball 2022 preview: Predicting how the stacked conference will shake out

Some teams have championship aspirations while others are still building their programs.

As the fall leaves start to appear, so does non-conference volleyball play in the Big Ten. The best conference for college volleyball is officially back with 14 teams on its road to Omaha for a championship.

The Big Ten had quite the successful year in volleyball in 2021. Eight teams in the conference made it into the NCAA tournament, establishing the conference’s dominant presence in the sport.

Two Big Ten teams, then No. 10-ranked Nebraska and No. 4-ranked Wisconsin, played in the championship match and took it the full distance in Columbus, Ohio, where Wisconsin would be crowned champions after five sets.

The Big Ten is one of the deepest conferences in the nation. Truly, any of these teams can compete for a spot in the tournament. Going into the volleyball preseason, seven Big Ten teams were ranked. Many of those rankings have changed since. As the non-conference season starts to wrap up, here is what to expect from Big Ten play this year:

1. Nebraska

Last season: 26-8 (15-4 in the Big Ten); Lost to No. 4-seeded Wisconsin 3-2 in the 2021 NCAA Volleyball Championship Game.

Despite the 3-2 loss in the national championship game, the Cornhuskers had a phenomenal 2021 season and forced the match into a full five sets as a No. 10 seed in the tournament. The players have moved on from the five sets in the championship that resulted in a 25-22, 29-31, 23-25, 25-23 and 15-12 and restarted its focus onto its fifth NCAA championship and its first since 2017.

“Throughout the season, we worked so hard to be able to play that late into December,” senior outside hitter Madi Kubik said. “As far as last year goes, it’s very heartbreaking to get to that point and not to walk away winning a championship.”

The Cornhuskers lost senior middle blocker Lauren Stivrins. In the NCAA title match, she had 10 kills and five blocks against the Badgers. She ended her career ranked fourth all-time at Nebraska in attack percentage with a .378, fifth in blocks with 563 and 13th all-time in kills with 1,259.

The Cornhuskers also lost junior libero Keonilei Akana to Texas. Akana led the Cornhuskers with 42 aces last season and averaged 2.54 digs and 0.35 aces per set. She was behind first-team All-American sophomore libero Lexi Rodriguez who has returned for another season.

Nebraska also lost senior middle blocker Kayla Caffey to Texas after two years with the program. She was named an AVCA All-American in the fall 2021 season after she averaged 1.11 blocks and 2.41 kills per set.

“Unfortunately, I was informed a few weeks ago that the coaching staff would be unable to offer me a scholarship for the fall, after training hard all summer long,” Caffey wrote on a social media post. “With that, I have decided to enter the transfer portal and play an additional season elsewhere. Although unexpected and untimely, I have faith that everything will work out.”

Nebraska retains a young core of talented players from 2021 returning for 2022. Outside of Rodriguez, who was the 2021 AVCA Freshman of the Year, Kubik was the team’s highest scorer last year with 463.5 points. She averaged the team-leading 3.49 kills per set to go with 2.11 digs while adding 21 aces and 55 blocks. 

Senior setter Nicklin Hames will also be returning as a fifth year. She averaged 10.76 assists, 3.40 digs, 0.28 aces and 0.46 blocks per set last season. She also became Nebraska’s all-time leader in career NCAA Tournament assists with 760 and finished the year ranked seventh all-time in career digs with 1,339.

Nebraska also landed middle blocker Kaitlyn Hord from the transfer portal. Hord, a four-year starter and four-time All-American at Penn State, ended the 2021 season with 345 kills and 165 blocks. 

Nebraska is currently the heavy favorite to win the Big Ten title this year and will try to make another deep run in the 2022 NCAA Volleyball Tournament.

Nebraska will host Indiana on Nov. 2 for the only match of the season between the two programs.

2. Wisconsin

Last season: 31-3 (17-3 in the Big Ten); Defeated No. 10-seeded Nebraska 3-2 in the 2021 NCAA Volleyball Championship Game.

The Badgers were the unanimous favorites to win the conference last year with one of the most talented rosters that ever played at the Wisconsin Field House. The No. 4 Badgers were able to cruise through most of the playoffs and then battle it out with No. 1-seeded Louisville in the semifinals and No. 10-seeded Nebraska in the championship game for its first title in program history.

However, Wisconsin lost a big chunk of its 2021 team. The list of Badgers who left include the AVCA National Player of the Year and five-time first team All American graduate student middle blocker Dana Rettke, first team All American senior setter and captain Sydney Hilley, senior outside hitter Grace Loberg and graduate student libero Lauren Barnes.

“Dana is an irreplaceable kind of talent,” Taylor Smith, former Wisconsin volleyball beat reporter for The Daily Cardinal, said. “She was our go-to for a lot of the points, especially the winning point in the championship game.”

Despite those key losses, the NCAA tournament MVP sophomore middle blocker Anna Smrek is back for her sophomore season. Last season, she ranked second on the team and fifth in the Big Ten with a .366 hitting percentage. Smrek also ranked sixth on the team in kills with 1.84 per set.

Junior outside hitter Jade Demps, the second leading scorer in the NCAA championship game, has also returned. She averaged 1.93 kills per set and ranked sixth on the team last season, and is currently averaging 1.20 kills per set and 0.93 digs per set. 

Fifth-year middle blocker Danielle Hart is back on the roster after ranking fifth on the team in kills with 2.32 per set before suffering a season-ending ACL injury last season. If she can return at top form, Wisconsin will have two excellent middle blockers with serious experience to compete for its second Big Ten title in two years. As of now, she has played and started in 14 sets of all six matches. Hart currently leads the nation with 1.93 blocks per set and ranks second on Wisconsin with a .343 hitting percentage.

“I think Danielle could easily have an average season and give everyone a run for their money,” Smith said. “Being gone for a year with an injury, I worry for her position on the team. It’s not an easy spot for grabs.”

Wisconsin volleyball head coach Kelly Sheffield has also worked with the transfer portal. From there Wisconsin acquired senior middle blocker Gabby McCaa from Boston College, junior middle blocker Caroline Crawford from Kansas and sophomore Sarah Franklin from Michigan State.

“The trick is, you get transfers that fit,” Sheffield said at Big Ten Media Days. “There’s a lot of talent that seems to be moving around.”

Wisconsin finished its non-conference schedule 6-3, with losses to then No. 16-ranked Baylor and No. 16-ranked Florida. Wisconsin also has strong wins against then No. 24-ranked Marquette and No. 14-ranked Kentucky. 

Indiana will host the reigning champions on Oct. 5 and will travel to the Wisconsin Field House on Nov. 6.

3. Minnesota

Last season: 22-9 (15-5 in the Big Ten); Lost to No. 4-seeded Wisconsin 3-0 in the Elite Eight of the 2021 NCAA Championship.

Minnesota volleyball closed a chapter in program history with former outside hitter Stephanie Samedy, who played her final set in the Maturi Pavilion. During the 2021 season, she led the Big Ten and was ranked in top-10 nationally in both points with 5.32 per set and kills with 4.75 per set. Samedy also became the first Minnesota volleyball player and second Big Ten player in history to record 2,000 career kills and 1,500 career digs. These stats notched her the 2021 Big Ten Player of the Year honor.

She will go down as one of the most decorated to ever play for the Minnesota volleyball program. Samedy played for Schweriner SC in Shcerwin, Germany from 2021-2022 and currently plays for Bartoccini Fortinfissi Perugia in Perugia, Italy.

“I have a lot of faith in Stephanie,” Minnesota head coach Hugh McCutcheon said at Big Ten Media Days. “One of the great things about her is that even with an international transition she can play the whole game. She hits a good serve on the court, she can serve and she can hit the front row and back row.”

Outside of Samedy, the Golden Gophers also lose redshirt senior outside hitter Airi Miyabe. During her senior campaign, she was an AVCA All-North Region Honorable Mention, NCAA Madison Regional All-Tournament Team and ranked third on the team for kills per set with 2.97.

Minnesota returns a key player in junior outside hitter Jenna Wenaas. Last season she finished second on the team with 3.28 kills per set. She also ranked fourth with 2.70 digs per set. She notched a Big Ten Player of the Week honor on Sept. 20, and was an All-Big Ten Second Team honoree.

Junior setter Melani Shaffmaster returns. She started all 31 matches in 2021. In the season, she played in 116 sets and led the team with 10.68 assists per set and 0.28 aces per set after starting in all 31 matches and playing in 116 sets, earning herself an AVCA All-North Region honor during that campaign. This season, she has earned herself Big Ten Setter of the Week and went for 51 assists and tied a career-high with 21 digs vs. Oregon on Sept. 9.

Other key players on the Gophers’ roster include junior outside hitter Taylor Landfair and senior middle blocker Ellie Husemann. Despite the depth on the roster, McCutcheon has not released who will start for the Golden Gophers this season and stated that there might be a rotation system.

“We are so fortunate to have a lot of depth and talent on this team,” McCutcheon said. “One of the things we live by is that we don’t promise you playing time or starting jobs, but we promise you that we are going to invest in your development.”

The Hoosiers will travel to Minnesota for its only match of the season against the Golden Gophers on Nov. 13.

4. Ohio State

Last season: 27-6 (15-5 in the Big Ten); Lost to No. 8-seeded Georgia Tech 3-0 in the NCAA Regional Semifinal of the 2021 NCAA Volleyball Championship.

Ohio State will be making a big jump in the standings from its 3-0 loss to Georgia Tech in the third round of the playoffs. At the end of the season, Ohio State was on a 9-game winning streak before the tournament loss.

“This team is hungry and has really worked hard since that last ball dropped against Georgia Tech,” Ohio State women’s volleyball head coach Jen Flynn Oldenburg said at Big Ten Media Days. “I think the work they put in during the offseason should speak volumes.”

The key to success for the Buckeyes is  returning most of their roster from last year. One key returnee is senior libero Kylie Murr, who ranks fourth in program history with 1,405 career digs and recorded her 1,000th career dig at VCU on Sept. 11. On Nov. 4, she broke into the top-10 in program history in career digs against Minnesota. Her 2021 season ranks second in program history with 4.42 digs per set. Murr’s presence will help Ohio State stay competitive in Big Ten play.

Another key returnee is senior setter Mac Podraza. She currently ranks 10th in program history in career assists with 2,701. Last season, she led the country in assists per set with 11.97.

Big Ten Network personality and former Northwestern libero Emily Ehman ranked Podraza as her No. 1 player on her top 20 player list for the 2022 season.

“Podraza was one of the best setters in the country last season,” Ehman said. “The two-time All-American has hands of gold, and with her 6-2 frame, she is quick to every ball.”

Junior opposite hitter Emily Londot is back as well. Last season, she led the team in kills with 3.58 per set. Senior outside hitter Mia Grunze is also a returning player to watch out for. She totaled 212 kills and averaged 2.62 kills per set to rank third on the team.

One new addition to the Buckeyes’ roster is freshman defensive specialist Anna McClure. While at The High School of St. Thomas in Champaign, Illinois, McClure led the team to a state championship as a senior in 2021 and played in the USA High Performance Championships in both 2017 and 2019.

Indiana will host Ohio State on Oct. 1 and then travel to Columbus, Ohio, for a match on Nov. 20.

5. Purdue

Last season: 26-7 (15-5 in the Big Ten); Lost 3-1 in the 2021 NCAA Volleyball Championship quarterfinals to the No. 3-seeded Pittsburgh.

Purdue had quite the 2021 season with many quality conference wins to put on its resume, including two wins against the reigning champions Wisconsin. The match at the UW Field House on Nov. 12, 2021, would be the only loss that Wisconsin would suffer at home all season.

“We’re coming off of a couple good seasons,” Purdue head coach Dave Shondell said at Big Ten Media Days. “We’re not being shown a lot of love so far, with what kind of a season we might have this year, but I love this team.”

The Boilermakers lost fifth-year outside hitter Caitlyn Newton, who ranked in the top 50 players nationally in eight NCAA categories and led the Big Ten in four: 390 points, 4.70 points per set, 12.57 attacks per set and 1,043 total attacks.

Another key loss was fifth-year star libero Jenna Otec, who led the league with 383 total digs and finished her career with 4.56 digs per set, the third-best mark in program history and second-highest average in the Big Ten for the spring season. 

Other key losses the program suffered included senior setter Hayley Bush and senior outside hitter Grace Cleveland. Bush led the Big Ten in assists with 899. She recorded 245 digs in 22 matches and ended the season ranked eighth in program history with 3,622 career assists. Bush also averaged 10.70 assists per set in 2021, ranking fourth in the Big Ten.

Cleveland closed out her season with 1.39 blocks per set, the sixth-highest mark in program history. The last time a Boilermaker recorded more was Stephanie (Lynch) Harpanau in 2008. Cleveland produced 233 kills this season and ranked No. 10 in the Big Ten with 3.24 kills per set and the ninth-most points in the Big Ten with 4.05 points per set.

In the transfer portal, Purdue lost junior middle blocker Taylor Trammell to Penn State. She finished last season as the Big Ten leader in blocks and No. 2 in the nation with 137.

One key returning player for the Boilermakers is senior outside hitter Emma Ellis, who averaged 1.86 kills per set and 2.13 points per set last season. One other returner to watch out for is sophomore middle blocker Raven Colvin.

“A lot of us have been through it,” Ellis said. “I think our experience will carry over. We can build a team from what we envision.”

The in-state rivalry first matchup will be on Oct. 14 at Wilkinson Hall. The second game will be played Oct. 30 at Holloway Gymnasium in West Lafayette, Indiana.

6. Penn State

Last season: 21-11 (13-7 in the Big Ten); Lost in the second round of 2021 NCAA Volleyball Championship to No. 3 Pittsburgh 3-1.

In what was the final season of head coach Russ Rose’s storied 43-year career, Penn State went 21-11 overall with a 13-7 Big Ten record. This cemented Rose’s all-time record as head coach of Penn State at 1330-229 overall, 575-88 in conference and seven NCAA women’s volleyball titles. His quest for an eighth title was cut short in a 3-1 loss to in-state rival Pittsburgh in the second round.

“Russ Rose is synonymous with Penn State women’s volleyball,” Sam Woloson, former Penn State women’s volleyball reporter for the Daily Collegian, said. “For the first time in over 40 years, it truly feels like a rebuilding year for Penn State.”

Katie Schumacher-Cawley enters her first year as head coach of the program and only the third head coach in program history. Schumacher-Cawley played at Penn State from 1998-2001. During her time as a player, she led the program to win its first NCAA Women's Volleyball Championship in 1999 and three Big Ten Conference crowns during her career.

After her playing career, she served as head coach at UIC from 2009-2016. She then became the head coach at Pennsylvania for the 2017 season before becoming the associate head coach at Penn State with Rose from 2018-2021.

“I’m thrilled that a number of our former players are electing to take positions in coaching. Certainly, Katie at Penn State,” Rose said in an article for DigNittanyVolleyball.com. “I admire the fact that Katie as a player was committed to the team and was a key contributor to the team’s success, and as a coach understands the various roles that each player needs to embrace for the group to succeed.”

Schumacher-Cawley has been able to flip recruits like Kathryn Hurta, a 6-foot-1 setter who had originally committed to Indiana back in November. Hurta was the No. 20-ranked player according to 2022 PrepVolleyball.com Senior Ace and No. 4-ranked player in the class. While at Nazareth Academy, she was named the 2022 Gatorade Player of the Year in Illinois.

A key acquisition from the transfer portal that Penn State made was Taylor Trammell from Purdue. As said earlier, she finished last season as the Big Ten leader and No. 2 in the nation in the blocks category with a total of 137 and will provide depth in the roster.

Another transfer that will benefit Penn State is graduate student setter Seleisa Elisaia from California State Bakersfield. While at CSU Bakersfield, she became just the seventh Roadrunner in the school’s Division I history to tally over 1,000 assists in a season with 1025. She was also the only player in the country to average over 9.00 assists and 1.30 kills per set.

One key transfer to watch out for the Nittany Lions is graduate student outside hitter Kashauna Williams from Long Beach State. She finished last season with 452 kills, 111 digs and 59 blocks. She also recorded two double-doubles of kills and digs alongside double-digit kills 27 times, including 20-plus kills six times.

Despite being able to flip commits and work with the transfer portal, Penn State lost a lot of talent from the 2021 season. Aside from losing Hord to Nebraska, the Nittany Lions lost many seniors to the transfer portal.

In the transfer portal, Penn State lost graduate student libero Jenna Hampton to South Carolina, senior setter Emily Oerther to Mississippi State, junior outside hitter Annie Cate Fitzpatrick to Florida and graduate student setter Gabby Blossom to San Diego.

Although many key players from last year's short-lived tournament run with Rose are not coming back to Happy Valley, Schumacher-Cawley has done a good job with the transfer portal and been able to get top recruits in future classes to continue on the path where the program left off with an 11-0 start to the 2022 season. However, she still has some big shoes and high expectations to fill in her first year at the helm.

Indiana opens its season at Penn State on Sept. 23. Then on Nov. 11, Indiana will host Penn State at Wilkinson Hall.

7. Illinois

Last season: 22-12 (12-8); Lost in the third round of 2021 NCAA Volleyball Championship to No. 10-seeded Nebraska 3-0.

After finishing the season with a 22-12 record, the Illini lost graduate student outside hitter Megan Cooney. These are two major losses for Illinois coming into the 2022 season.

Cooney played in 147 of the 152 matches in her five seasons to rank third all-time in matches played and finished her career as the program’s all-time leader in sets played with 554. She concluded her career ranked 10th all-time with 1,507 kills and 1,734.5 points, while also totaling 346 blocks, 546 digs, 47 assists and 44 service aces. 

Cooney also ranked second on the team with 376 kills for a 3.03 kills per set on a .267 hitting percentage, as well as ranked third on the team with 282 digs and 83 blocks, while sitting fourth with 29 service aces on the season.

Another loss for Illinois is graduate student setter Kylie Bruder. Last season, she Played in all 34 matches and totaled 55 digs and 24 service aces.

One transfer the Illini added from the portal was Kayla Burbage, a sophomore from Missouri who will fit into Cooney’s position. While at Missouri, she played in 24 of 28 matches and led the team in blocks with 87, which included 15 solo blocks and 72 blocks assists.

“You don’t just replace Cooney and what she was for the Illini program the past few years,” Drew Friberg, Illinois volleyball beat reporter for The Daily Illini, said. “Burbage will slot into her spot well.”

The Fighting Illini return a lot of production from 2021. Junior outside hitter Jessica Nunge will be returning. Last season, Nunge ranked third on the team with 323 kills for a 2.54 kills per set mark. She also added 128 digs, 37 blocks and 33 aces.

Another returner for the Fighting Illini is senior middle blocker Kennedy Collins. She led the Illini with 126 blocks and a .334 hitting percentage, while also ranking fourth with 285 kills and adding 62 digs and 13 service aces.

Cari Bohm is an Illinois freshman to watch out for this season. Originally from Ann Arbor, Michigan, she was named to the 2022 PrepVolleyball.com Top 150 list and the Class of 2022 Ultra Ankle JVA Watch List while playing for Skyline High School and Legacy Volleyball Club.

“We always talk about improving one day at a time,” Illinois head coach Chris Tamas said. “We take every day for what it’s worth and try to improve every single step of the way.”

Indiana will host Illinois on Nov. 23 for its only match of the season.

8. Michigan

Last season: 18-12 (11-9); Lost in the opening round of 2021 NCAA Volleyball Championship to Ball State 3-2.

Michigan had a very streaky 2021 season. Before its loss to Ball State in the opening round of the NCAA Volleyball Tournament, the team was on a three-game win streak against Michigan State, Illinois and Northwestern.

The Wolverines got younger after the program lost senior outside hitter Paige Jones. She appeared in all 30 matches and ranked fourth on the team in digs with 191 and had 22 double-digit kills in 20 out of the 30 games. This notched her an AVCA All-North Region Honorable Mention.

“Jones was the biggest loss from the senior class,” Noah Kingsley, former Michigan women’s volleyball beat reporter for The Michigan Daily, said. “She led the team in kills with 389.”

Other seniors who graduated include outside hitter Abbey Malinowski, outside hitter Grace Persson and opposite hitter Lizzie Sadilek.

One returner to look out for on Michigan is senior middle blocker Jess Robinson. She ranked second on the team in total blocks with 98; seven of the blocks were solo. She also recorded 181 kills, three assists, and two aces on the season. She currently leads the nation in hitting percentage with a .539 mark.

By her side is sophomore middle blocker Jacque Boney. During her freshman season, she had 97 block assists, good for the second most blocks in program history for a first-year player.

Another returner to look for is junior outside hitter Jess Mruzik. She led the Wolverines in points with 446, ranked third on the team in digs with 275 and led the team with Jones in kills with 389. She also attained a career-high 31 kills and 53 total attacks in a match against Duke on Sept. 10.

Senior middle blocker and opposite hitter May Petrofsky will also be back to help the Wolverines after recording 228 kills, 95 blocks,  47 aces, 75 digs, and three assists in the 2021 season.

“A lot of the team’s success comes through Petrofsky,” Kingsley said. “The program can get anywhere from 3-7 points with her serves.”

Michigan will host Indiana for the only match this season between the two on Oct. 21.

9. Maryland

Last season: 19-13 (7-13 in the Big Ten); did not make the postseason.

Although the 7-13 in-conference record last season looks unimpressive, Maryland got its biggest win in program history during that time with a 3-2 win over then No. 2-ranked Wisconsin at the XFINITY Center in College Park, Maryland.

“The momentum started with the program’s non-conference schedule,” Noah Ferguson, former Maryland volleyball beat reporter for The Diamondback, said about the team’s schedule last season leading up to the Wisconsin game. “The team went undefeated in non-conference play, 12-0, and Wisconsin was the first Big Ten game of the season.”

Maryland also remained competitive against other Big Ten opponents in the XFINITY Center during the 2021 season, taking sets from Penn State, Purdue and Minnesota.

Maryland lost a veteran corps group in graduate student outside hitter Paula Neciporuka, graduate student middle blocker Hannah Thompson, graduate student outside hitter Lexi Kohut and graduate student libero Kaylee Thomas.

The Terrapins return graduate student outside hitter Rainelle Jones, who totaled 209 kills, 187 total blocks, and 26 digs across and led the NCAA in blocks per set with 1.73 throughout 108 sets played in the 2021 season. In the upset over No. 2 Wisconsin, she recorded seven block assists, four blocks and three kills. 

“Jones is the heart and soul of that team,” Ferguson said. “To have her back for another year is huge going to be for head coach Adam Hughes’ program.”

The team also brings graduate student defensive specialist Maddie Naumann back as a leader.

One underclassmen on Hughes’ roster that can harbor some success is sophomore libero Milan Gomillion, who led the Big Ten in digs per set with 4.76.

Other key underclassmen on the Terrapins roster to watch out for are freshman outside hitter Laila Ivey and sophomore outside hitter Erin Morrissey. Ivey was a member of the 2021 USA Volleyball Girls Junior National Championship All-Tournament Team and Morrissey led her alma mater, Plant High School in Tampa to state runner-up and semifinalist seasons in 2018 and 2020.

With Jones and Anastasia Russ, a transfer from Pittsburgh who was a part of the program’s first Final Four appearance, at the middle blocker positions, Maryland will remain a competitive program in the conference.

Maryland will play Indiana on Sept. 25 at the Xfinity Center. A second match will be played on Nov. 26 at Wilkinson Hall.

10. Northwestern

Last season: 12-19 (7-13 in the Big Ten); did not make the postseason.

Just like Maryland, Northwestern head coach Shane Davis is taking the program in the direction. Throughout last season, Northwestern was able to remain competitive against ranked Big ten programs such as Nebraska, Minnesota, Penn State and Purdue.

Northwestern only lost senior setter Kiara McNulty from last year’s roster. She played against New Mexico State where she secured five assists and two digs in that match. Later in the season, she recorded 18 assists and a dig in two sets of play at Illinois.

“We return everybody except for one person from last year’s roster,” Davis said at Big Ten Media Days. “Our team is hungry, I think there are a few areas we need to get better at, but we continue to get better and better.”

The Wildcats return star senior outside hitter Temi Thomas-Ailara. She has been a starter for the program since her freshman year and is considered to be one of the building blocks for the direction this program wants to go in.Thomas-Ailara has already impacted the team with season highs of 25.5 points and 24 kills against Loyola Chicago on Sept, 17, 2022. 

“Last season, Thomas-Ailara led the conference in kills with 492,” said John Riker, former Northwestern volleyball beat reporter for The Daily Northwestern. “ She’s led the team in kills every year since arriving at Northwestern.”

Outside of Thomas-Ailara, the Wildcats also bring back Leilani Dodson. After a Sweet 16 appearance with BYU during her freshman season, she transferred to Northwestern. In her first match with Northwestern, she posted double digit kills.

Northwestern also brought in its best class. In that class is outside hitter Averie Hernandez, the 35th best player in the class of 2022 by Prep Volleyball who committed to Davis’s program over other offers from ​​Purdue, Ohio State and Marquette. She holds both the single-season and career kill records at Normal Community West High School in Bloomington, Illinois, and had over 1,000 career high school kills. She also led the team to Regional Championship in 2018 and 2021 and played seven seasons for Illini Elite Volleyball Club.

Another recruit the Wildcats expect to make an impact is outside hitter Kathryn Randorf, 17th-ranked recruit in the 2022 class according to Prep Volleyball and the 2020 Ohio Gatorade Player of the Year. On Aug. 27, she had a .520 hitting percentage, 15 kills and a service ace against Northeastern.

Northwestern is off to an 11-1 start in non-conference play and will be a tough opponent that is on the tournament bubble looking in.

Indiana will host Northwestern on Nov 18. That will be the only match of the season.

11. Michigan State

Last season: 11-18 (4-16 in the Big Ten); did not make the postseason.

On Jan. 14, 2022, former Michigan State head coach Cathy George announced her retirement from the sport of volleyball after 17 seasons. On Feb. 7, 2022, Michigan State announced Leah Johnson as the new head coach of their program. Johnson is the former Illinois State head coach and had a record of 104-53 and 65-21 in the Missouri Valley Conference.

“The majority of the people, including myself, have yet to play a full Big Ten schedule,” Johnson said at Big Ten Media Days. “It’s going to be a large learning curve, but the process over time is why I coach.”

Michigan State lost many members of its 2021 roster to the transfer portal. The list includes redshirt junior defensive setter Talia Edmonds to Hawaii, sophomore setter Celia Cullen to SMU, senior outside hitter Biamba Kabengele to Pacific and sophomore outside hitter Elanor Stothoff to William & Mary.

The Spartans return graduate student middle blocker Rebecka Poljan for the 2022 season. Polijan finished the season with 125 kills and was third on the team with 19 aces. She will give the program a much-needed veteran presence in the 2022 season.

Another star for the program is junior libero Nalani Iosia, a transfer from Texas. While at Texas, she was a Big 12 All-Rookie team selection and a starter on the Texas squad that reached the NCAA championship match in spring 2021. She also led Texas in digs during her sophomore season with 313 in 2021.

"I chose Michigan State because of the way they value people and building connections within their program and staff," Iosia said in a press release back in May. "It's a competitive and welcoming environment that I am blessed to now be a part of."

Indiana will host Michigan State on Oct. 16. The Hoosiers will then travel up to East Lansing, Michigan, for a match on Oct. 23.

12. Indiana

Last season: 10-22 (4-16 in the Big Ten); did not make the postseason.

After going 10-22, Indiana lost senior outside hitter Breana Edwards to San Diego. She ended the 2021 season with 368 kills, 41 blocks, and nine aces. She also recorded her 1,000th career kill on Sept. 10 at Georgia Tech.

The program also lost senior outside hitter Kari Zumach to UCF. Last season, she attained 107 kills and 41 blocks for the Hoosiers.

The Hoosiers return 14 players from last season’s roster, the most that Indiana head coach Steve Aird has ever had come back to a team he coached. A key returner to the program is Paula Cerame, who tallied 492 digs last season and started in all 32 matches for the Hoosiers.

Another returner for the Hoosier is sophomore setter Camryn Haworth. Last season, she tallied 504 assists, 155 digs and 37 kills. She and Cerame have been named captains of the team for the 2022 season.

“The best thing that I can tell you is that it’s baking, it’s not microwaving,” Aird said at Big Ten Media Days about the program. “This is a program that over 50 years has only had one All-American, an unbelievable year in 2010 but it is going to take time.”

The program also added two international players to the roster for this season. Freshman outside hitter Candela Alonso-Corcelles from Madrid, Spain. She has played with Club Voleibol Alcobendas since 2015.

Alonso-Corcelles was the MVP of the Madrid League final with Club Voleibol Alcobendas three times in 2017, 2018 and 2021. She also helped the U18 Spanish National team to two gold medals during the 2016-17 and 2018-19 seasons.

In her collegiate debut against Indiana State at the Indiana Invitational, Alonso-Corcelles had nine kills and seven digs in the 3-0 victory. She also had seven kills and seven digs in the 3-0 win over Chicago State and recorded five digs and three solo blocks against the 3-0 loss to Jacksonville State.

Another addition was freshman right side hitter Melisa Ilter from Bursa, Turkey to the 2022 squad. Prior to her commitment to Indiana, she played with Nilufer SC and helped the U16 Bursa team to a second-place finish.

After that second-place finish, she led the U17 Bursa Province team to a first-place finish in 2017-18 and a U17 and U18 team first-place finish in 2018-19. Later in her career, she played with Fenerbahce SC Young Girls Istanbul Province and took the club to a second-place finish and a Fenerbahce SC Young Girls Turkey to a third-place finish in 2021-22.

Ilter made her collegiate debut at the Indiana Invitational against Indiana State. She had three kills and a block assist. Against Chicago State, she recorded four kills and three block assists. She then tallied her first solo block against Jacksonville State.

Aird also made changes to his staff. He added Spencer McLachlin as an associate head coach with Indiana for the 2022 season. McLachlin came to Indiana after spending the last four seasons as an assistant coach for the UCLA men’s volleyball program, which came off of a third-place finish in the 2022 NCAA Men's National Collegiate Volleyball Tournament.

Aird also added Rachel Morris to the program as an assistant coach. She played at Oregon and was named the Most Improved Player in 2007 as a freshman. During her 2007 campaign, she played in 32 of 33 matches, and started one contest to help Oregon rank eighth nationally in assists per game with 15.78 average.

As a part of the Wave Volleyball coaching staff, Morris has helped coach many teams to high achievements at Junior Nationals. Many feats included two bronze medals, two silver medals, and three fifth place finishes.

McLachlin also addressed the investigation into Aird’s treatment of players conducted by the Indiana Daily Student that has been looming over Indiana volleyball for the past few months.

“When I was looking to get the job, people were saying don’t go anywhere near there, because there’s obviously some people who aren’t saying the greatest about Indiana volleyball,” McLachlin said. “Coming in here into this gym and seeing it with my own two eyes, it was completely different. I wouldn’t have moved my family all the way across the country to join a program that was destined to fail.”

Aird addressed some questions on the program on Aug. 27 for the first time since the article was published. He said the changes have been slight in staffing and training. He also stated that he has been a long time proponent of mental health resources and taking care of athletes’ mental health.

The Indiana volleyball schedule came out on June 14.

13. Iowa

Last season: 6-24 (4-16 in the Big Ten); did not make the postseason.

In the midst of a disappointing season, Iowa fired former head coach Vicki Brown on Nov. 4, 2021. Brown was just the 10th head coach in the history of the Iowa volleyball program and in 73 games leading Iowa, she went 17-56.

Iowa replaced Brown by hiring  former Tulane head coach Jim Barnes. While at Tulane, Barnes led the program to back-to-back National Invitational Volleyball Championship appearances including making it to the finals in 2018, during a 29-win season.

“The commitment expressed to me by Gary Barta, Barbara Burke and Lyla Clerry to make Iowa volleyball a national contender was extremely impressive,” Barnes said in a press release. “I would like to thank them and my family for this opportunity. Our coaches and players will be all in and make Hawkeye nation very proud of our volleyball program. I can’t wait to get to work.”

Prior to Tulane, Barnes coached at Baylor. His tenure there included two 20-win seasons, two NCAA Tournament appearances, including an appearance in the Sweet 16 in 2009, five first All-Americans and the first NCAA Player of the Year in program history.

He also coached at Wyoming before Baylor. While there, Barnes turned the program around as the Cowgirls went 20-11 in his first year, posting Wyoming’s first 20-win campaign in 11 years.

The Hawkeyes also return senior middle blocker Amiya Jones, who tallied 186 kills, 410 total attacks, 29 service aces and 48 blocks during the 2021 season.

“Love, trust, communication and sacrifice are the four pillars we standardize as a team,” Jones said at Big Ten Media Days about Barnes running Iowa women’s volleyball. “He taught us to love each other first, which is something we never had. We all just battled with different personalities, but the more that we came together this spring, I definitely see where he is taking us.”

The Hawkeyes also return sophomore outside hitter Toyosi Onabanjo, who was a key starter last season. During the 2021 season, she totaled 26 kills, 100 total attacks and 14 blocks.

Indiana will host Iowa for its home opener on Sept. 28. The next matchup between the two programs will be Oct. 8 in Iowa City, Iowa.

14. Rutgers

Last season: 8-21 (0-20 in the Big Ten); did not make the postseason.

Let’s get straight to the point of our last team in the power rankings: Rutgers was objectively the worst team in the Big Ten last season. Besides forfeits to Minnesota and Nebraska, Rutgers was outscored 54-9 in all Big Ten matches played last season. Last season’s matches against Indiana and Illinois were the most competitive matches of the season as those were the only two to last a full five sets.

Rutgers head coach Caitlin Schweihofer understands that it takes time to build a winning program, as she enters her third season with the program.

“We had a very specific goal sheet,” Schweihofer said at Big Ten Media Days. “It wasn’t to win the Big Ten, but rather what are these baby steps we have to take along the way?”

Schweihofer said that some feats on the list included the last time Rutgers took a set from Penn State, the last time the program took a set on the road and the last setter of the week.

The Scarlet Knights lost its star fifth-year senior opposite hitter Beka Kojadinovic. She ranks third in program history for career matches played with 125 and was the UConn Challenge MVP & All-Tournament last season.

Other seniors leaving the program include fifth-year opposite hitter Kamila Cieslik, who averaged 2.19 kills, 1.74 digs and 0.24 aces per set with .867 serve percentage. Another loss the program suffered was senior outside hitter Shealyn McNamara averaged team-leading 118 blocks and 1.18 blocks per set.

One key returner for Rutgers is Rachel Tam. After spending her freshman and sophomore seasons at Virginia Tech, the Basking Ridge, New Jersey, product appeared in seven matches and totaled eight digs and an ace during her junior season campaign with Rutgers.

“I grew up 25 minutes away from Rutgers, so I was really able to watch Rutgers grow,” Tam said at Big Ten Media Days. “We go through some times and it’s a tough conference to play in every single weekend day in and day out. There have been massive changes, especially in the culture, and I’m really excited for this year because I think we are going to bring a side of Rutgers that you haven’t seen before.”

Another key returner for the Scarlet Knights is junior libero Madison Chitty. She appeared in and started all 29 matches and 102 sets last season. She also ranked second on the team in assists with 63 averaging 0.62 per set.

Schweihofer added Abby Detering to the Rutgers staff as an assistant coach. She was a former AVCA All-American standout at Penn State, totaling 1,793 assists and 254 kills within the two seasons she played at Penn State.

“She has a wonderful voice in the gym,” Schweihofer said. “She connects extremely well with a younger recruiting audience.”

The only match of the season between Indiana and Rutgers will be on Oct. 28 at Wilkinson Hall.

There is a lot to be excited about this season, as all the teams will be competing for a tournament spot down the road. Big Ten play will start on Friday at 6 p.m. with Michigan playing at Rutgers.

At the 7 p.m. slate, Indiana will compete in Happy Valley against No. 9 Penn State and No. 7 Ohio State will play at Iowa.

Michigan State will start off at 8 p.m. against No. 3 Nebraska. At the same time, No. 8 Minnesota will play at No. 11 Purdue and Northwestern will head to No. 6 Wisconsin. Finally at 9 p.m. Illinois will host Maryland.





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