Collegiate volleyball is back in ‘full swing’

Jada Sandvall, Staff Writer

Although select divisions such as the Big 12, ACC and SEC chose to compete in the fall, volleyball is back in action this spring.

After their seasons were put on hold in the fall, college athletes have been dying to get back in the gym. This year, history has been made, upsets have occurred and programs have truly been faced with various struggles. Here’s a look into some of the standout teams of the spring NCAA D1 AVCA volleyball poll.

Kentucky

The Kentucky Wildcats are one of the top-ranked teams that luckily got to play this fall. Although not talked about a lot, the Wildcats have stood strong throughout the 2021 season. For the past three seasons, senior libero Gabby Curry has been seen easily digging up balls with a smile on her face. In the fall she averaged 3.51 digs per set setting her at a total of 176 digs so far this season. After losing their all-American outside hitter Leah Edmond in 2019, their offensive has really had to step it up. Avery Skinner, who was Edmond’s opposite in 2019, has stood out this season. Skinner has tallied up 162 kills in the fall and spring season and is hitting a .366 hitting percent. Coming in this spring they had a perfect record and they look to continue that streak going into tournament play. The Wildcats play the number seven Florida Gators this weekend but are looking to keep their solid spot at number three on the poll.

Ohio State

In past years, the Ohio State Buckeyes have not been a very common team to watch. They compete in the Big Ten, one of volleyball’s most competitive conferences; however, this season, they have become one of the NCAA’s most resilient teams. With their new freshmen, the Buckeyes’ offense has really improved. For example, Ohio native Emily Londot has already racked up 227 kills in their 14 matches played. Fans have noticed a huge improvement in the Buckeyes’ flow and connection while playing. Although their first few opponents were lowly ranked, a few weekends ago the Buckeyes faced off against number ten Penn State. In that match, they truly showed their dominance and their impressive skills against a very competitive team. Although losing a five-set heartbreaker to the number five Nebraska Cornhuskers this past weekend, the Buckeyes have kept a near-perfect record this season putting them at number eleven on the poll.

Stanford

After 39 dominant years, this year the Stanford volleyball team dropped out of the AVCA poll. In 2019, Stanford’s breakout trio of libero Morgan Hentz, setter Jenna Gray and outside hitter Kathryn Plummer made history by winning three NCAA championships in four years (2016, 2018 and 2019). Coming into 2021, the Trees were ranked number three in the nation; however, after their losses against Arizona on opening weekend, the upcoming season did not seem too hopeful. This year, their starting lineup is very young, which is especially uncommon for the experienced Stanford team. The only veteran in the lineup is outside hitter Meghan Mclure, their only senior this year. Although this season has not been ideal for the Trees, they still remain one of volleyball’s most prestigious schools. Currently, the Trees have only won one game this season and are not ranked on the poll. 

Nebraska

With five championships under their belt and countless tournament appearances, the Nebraska Cornhuskers are one of America’s most beloved teams. After their devastating loss in the 2019 tournament to the Wisconsin Badgers, the young team entered 2021 hungry for another opportunity. Team co-captain Lauren Stivrins has been a significant piece in the Cornhuskers’ offense with her signature play the “Stivrins slide.” Stivrins leads the team, hitting an astonishing .469 hitting percentage which places her at number nine in the NCAA. On the defensive end, breakout freshman Keonilei Akana has racked up 111 digs in the 12 matches played. After their devastating 5-set-loss to Ohio State on March 13, the Cornhuskers sit steadily at number five on the poll. 

Wisconsin

For the Badgers, the 2019 season was quite the upset. After losing in the national championship in three to Stanford, the young team came back hungry for success this season. For the offensive side, returning 6’8” middle hitter Dana Rettke has already racked up 93 kills hitting a crazy .452 hitting percentage. On the defensive end, senior libero Lauren Barnes has already achieved 124 digs in the 10 matches played. With their incredible statistics in 2019, the volleyball community knew this team would be successful. They entered the 2021 pre-season ranked at number one and they are living up to their placement. At the moment, the Badgers are undefeated, only dropping two sets in the whole season, and still sitting steadily at number one on the poll. 

With the 2021 tournament approaching soon, there is little room for mistakes. Most teams still have five or six games left in the season which is the main factor going into April 4, selection Sunday. Looking forward, the first round of the tournament is scheduled for the weekend of April 13.