Less than one week away — that is, when college volleyball is back. Opening weekend is right around the corner, and per usual, there is SO much to look forward to.
With action right in front of us, let’s take a look at the top storylines for the 2022 DI women’s volleyball season.
1. Transfer portal madness
As you might already know, the transfer portal gave way to so many moves this offseason. Some came early, like Kaitlyn Hord’s big transfer from Penn State to Nebraska, and some came late, like the recent news of Kayla Caffey transferring from Nebraska to Texas. Either way, I think the transfers are going to be a huge storyline for this season. There are so many teams that lost a large chunk of talent with the departure of super seniors, (think Dana Rettke, Sydney Hilley at Wisconsin), and are set to rely pretty heavily on filling some of those holes from the transfer portal. Wisconsin lost Rettke? Well they brought in Sarah Franklin, Caroline Crawford and Gabby McCaa. Nebraska lost Lauren Stivrins? The answer is Kaitlyn Hord. Texas received so much talent out of the transfer portal in Zoe Fleck at libero, Madi Skinner and Kayla Caffey. A lot of stars will have to play their former teams, having stayed within the same conference, or might face off in the NCAA tournament. I am intrigued to see how impactful these transfers are this season right out of the gate.
2. The reigning national champs, Wisconsin, post-Dana Rettke
Dana Rettke was the face of Wisconsin volleyball for the past five years. She was a five-time All-American and the 2021 AVCA National Player of the Year. So not only the face of Wisconsin, but perhaps the face of college volleyball. What will Wisconsin look like without the star? The Badgers return a plethora of star-studded players — Danielle Hart, Anna Smrek, Devyn Robinson, Julia Orzol. But they lost Rettke, Sydney Hilley and Lauren Barnes. That was their core in the national title run. This is still a team picked to finish atop the Big Ten, so the Badgers still hold some pretty high expectations. We saw a similar loss of talent when Stanford lost a legendary senior class following their title in 2019. The Covid-19 pandemic began shortly after, but Stanford fell off the map a bit afterward while rebuilding with a young core. Wisconsin seems to return a lot more players with experience on the big stage and obviously brought in a lot of talent out of the transfer portal. But still a huge storyline for this season — what will the reigning champs look like post-Dana Rettke?
3. Nebraska and Texas lead the way to start the season
There seem to be two very apparent top teams to start the season — Nebraska and Texas. I went back and forth on who would be my No. 1 team in my preseason Power 10, and that was before the news of Caffey’s transfer from Nebraska to Texas. The AVCA came out with their preseason top 25 rankings as well, with Nebraska on top. BUT, if you look closely, Texas had more first-place votes, but still fewer points overall, hence the No. 2 spot. What that goes to show is, we practically have two loaded teams that seem to be tied for first heading into the 2022 season. The Huskers brought in Hord and return an incredible core of some young, some veteran players that just barely lost to Wisconsin in the national title match last year. And Texas, the very team that Nebraska had to take down and upset to make it to the title last season, brings back one of the best players in the nation in Logan Eggleston and a slew of high-profile transfers. The Longhorns have perhaps one of the most loaded lineups on paper that you could imagine. They have more star-studded middle blockers on their roster than they will have room for on the court, if that says anything at all. Amongst comments on my preseason Power 10, NCAA Volleyball posts, AVCA rankings — you can most definitely find fans calling out for a Nebraska-Texas matchup in the national championship this season. So perhaps one of the biggest storylines of them all: How will these teams live up to the expectations? Are they really going to be the two best teams this season? Will we get to see them rematch in the NCAA tournament? I can’t wait to watch the top dogs compete.
4. Will Louisville continue to make history?
Louisville has certainly put itself on the map in recent years. The crazy success perhaps started when they knocked off Texas in what was a huge upset at the time a few years back. It has only gone up from there under head coach Dani Busboom-Kelly, and last season they were the consensus No. 1 team all season and for the NCAA tournament before just barely, and I mean barely, losing in the semifinals to the eventual national champs. I have them as my No. 3 team heading into the 2022 season, and I am intrigued to find out if their success will continue to skyrocket this season. They lost two huge contributors in Tori Dilfer and Anna Stevenson, but bring back the rest of their talent. Will they compete for a trophy again this year?
5. Will the trend of first-time champs continue?
Continuing on the same subject line, Louisville, among others COULD be a first-time champion in 2022. For the past two years, we have had two different teams win the national championship for the first time in program history. Kentucky in 2020, and Wisconsin in 2021. Before 2020, only 10 programs had won a national championship. Stanford accounts for nine of the titles, Penn State has seven and Nebraska has five. That is not a ton of variety. The Nittany Lions won it FOUR consecutive years from 2007-10. So this whole thing with teams winning for the very first time, is not normal, but happened twice in a row. I broke down four teams that could continue that trend this season. Will it happen? Or will a perennial volleyball powerhouse take the title yet again?
6. Who will emerge as the best in the west?
The Pac-12 seems to be wide open heading into the season. A huge storyline is who is going to emerge as the top team in the west. This conference typically gives way to a lot of national seeds for the NCAA tournament, and we have a lot of unanswered questions as to who that might be. Washington and UCLA hold the highest rankings amongst the Pac-12 teams in the preseason AVCA poll, and Stanford is not too far behind. The Cardinal could be a big surprise if they emerge as the strongest team, and it is certainly possible with the return of multiple All-Americans. The Huskies brought back Marin Grote, Claire Hoffman and Ella May Powell, and the Bruins brought in two big-time transfers and a solid core. Those are just three contenders, though. That is without even mentioning Oregon, Utah, and USC (Skylar Fields transferred to the program.) Who will arise out of the west and compete in the top 10?
7. How will teams that lost a large chunk of talent bounce back? Can Julia Bergmann carry the Yellow Jackets?
Aside from the teams we already mentioned filling holes from the transfer portal, another huge team I want to mention is Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets burst onto the scene last season and made a run in the NCAA tournament. They return first-team All-American Julia Bergmann, and the big storyline I am interested to see is if she can carry this team to the same success or more that they saw last season. She played for Brazil in this summer’s FIVB Volleyball Women’s Nations League and put up a really impressive performance.