Minnesota finds themselves back among the National title contenders this season after they buoyed their roster with a couple of transfers. Like past seasons, there are a handful of Big Ten teams that count themselves among the National Championship contenders.
If you missed it Tuesday a full team preview can be found here.
1. Stanford (62)
2. Nebraska (1)
8. Penn State (1)
Big Ten Teams also Ranked: 15 Michigan, 17 Purdue
Minnesota will face all but two of the remaining nine teams in the top ten this season and eleven total teams who appeared in the preseason poll; 1 Stanford, 2 Nebraska, 4 Texas, 5 Wisconsin, 6 Illinois, 8 Penn State, 10 Florida, 11 Oregon, 15 Michigan, 17 Purdue, and RV Florida State.
Minnesota faces a tough non-conference slate. They ease into it traveling down to Chapel Hill for the Big Ten/ACC Challenge before heading to No. 4 Texas and later the home opener against No. 10 Florida. Next, the Gophers travel to Happy Valley for the Big Ten/Pac-12 Challenge where they’ll face No. 11 Oregon and No. 1 Stanford. Minnesota will close non-conference play at home facing Clemson and Oral Roberts.
Last season the Tar Heels took a set off Minnesota. Heading into this season there a lot of question marks for the Tar Heels. Who will set? What offense with they run? Where will they use their top returning hitter, Destiny Cox? Who will be their second middle blocker? With so many unanswered questions it’s hard to expect North Carolina to really challenge the Gophers.
This year the Seminoles are just outside the Top 25 and poised to challenge for the ACC title. They return Preseason All-ACC performers Taryn Knuth and Payton Caffrey. Gopher fans will recognize Jasmyn Martin as she joined the Seminole team this offseason. While FSU has two all-stars the rest of the roster is relatively inexperienced. How quickly newcomers can adjust to their role and college game will determine whether they live up to their preseason billing.
Minnesota starts week two on the road in Austin as they face a loaded Texas squad. Reigning Big 12 Player of the Year and Second Team All-American Micaya White is the heart of Texas’ squad; she’s the best, most experienced player and this is her last go around. She has a young, talented supporting cast around her. Sophomores Logan Eggleston and Brionne Butler are back after All-American Honorable Mention freshmen campaigns. What held Texas back last season and could again this year is passing and serving. They have a solid libero in Sydney Petersen and White can hold her own passing and playing defense but she is wildly inconsistent serving. This will be a very competitive match if the Gophers don’t apply enough service pressure it could result in a loss.
The Gators were playing some of their best volleyball in the postseason but it wasn’t enough to get past BYU. Losing only two contributors from last year’s squad this year’s team will look to surpass last season’s Sweet 16 appearance. Phenom freshman Thayer Hall struggled to stay healthy last season which gave reps to other athletes. Paige Hammons was one of the beneficiaries and is poised to have a breakout season this year. If Florida passes well enough to move the ball around to all their hitters, their size and depth could cause problems for opposing teams.
The Ducks had Minnesota’s number last season beating them in the regular season and later spoiling what could have been an appearance in a hometown Final Four. Good news is that August Raskie and Lindsey Vander Weide have graduated, and the Ducks are young with ten freshmen on their 14 player roster. The bad news is the other four are returning starters; Taylor Borup, Brooke Nuneviller, Willow Johnson, and Ronika Stone. How quickly this roster comes together and their experiment shifting libero Brooke Nuneviller to outside hitter pans out will determine whether the Ducks are contender or pretender.
The Cardinal’s heralded senior class will look to make it three national championships in four seasons this year. They only lost one starter from last season and added reinforcements increasing their embarrassment of riches. The Cardinal have plenty of talent options to fill the second middle blocker spot. In case they want more offensive firepower they can turn to freshman Kendall Kipp on the outside. If not they can stick with junior Meghan McClure if they need to bolster their passing.
Like the Gophers, Stanford is running the gauntlet to start the season; College of Charleston, Duke, Florida, Texas, Penn State, Nebraska and BYU. A rigorous schedule could trip up the juggernaut or they’ll just eviscerate everyone on their way to another title.
The Tigers are trending up but it will still be a few years before they really arrive at the top of the ACC. They have a great setter and with one year under the belt for her and the five other sophomores. Clemson will be several wins better this season than last.
The Golden Eagles are the final tune-up for the Gophers. They posted a losing record last season and it doesn’t look any rosier this season for the Golden Eagles. This will be an opportunity for some bench players see some action after a high stakes preseason slate.
Full Big Ten Preview will be out next week.
You can get a look at this year’s squad this Saturday at the Pav at 3:30 CT where they’ll be hosting an intrasquad scrimmage; doors open at 2:30, warm-ups start at 2:45. You can get your first look at the team and the facility improvements.