After three second-place finishes, Wisconsin’s volleyball program finally won its first NCAA championship by defeating five-time champion Nebraska in a five-set thriller last December.
Can the Badgers repeat?
All-Americans Sidney Hilley and Dana Rettke are gone, but the Badgers, who finished third in the AVCA preseason coaches poll, are returning with an impressive roster that includes Devin Robinson and Julia Orzol.
Ahead of them are the leaders Cornhuskers, who boast an impressive roster led by Lexi Rodriguez and Kenzie Knuckles, and 2nd-place Texas, who brings back All-American outside hitter Logan Eggleston.
Two ACC teams made it to the final four last year, but neither Louisville and Pitt made it to the championship. Can one of them break through and become the first champion of the country?
Which players will stand out this season? Which four teams will advance to the final four in Omaha? And who will be the last one? Our analysts and experts make their predictions for the 2022 season.
What is the biggest storyline coming into the season?
M. A. Vopel: Can Texas win an NCAA title 10 years after the last championship? Not trying to rub salt in the wounds of Longhorns fans, but perhaps no college sport has a program that has played more championships it didn’t win than Texas volleyball. On the one hand, you have to give credit to the program for being a constant presence in the mix. On the other hand, dedicated Texans should be upset that they have only two championships: in 1988 and 2012. final four. They have many talents, including center blocker Kayla Cuffey, who previously played for Missouri and Nebraska. Will it be the year of the Longhorns again?
Missy Whittemore: The biggest storyline this season is transfers. Many of them are quite talented, but there are also fifth and sixth year players, so they are also experienced. At the beginning of the season, the teams may have to work out some chemistry issues, but I think that in the long run it gives the teams an edge over the long season.
Sam Gore: In addition to the transfer portal, this is a combination of stories that will be answered as the season progresses. Will the Big Ten be as dominant on the court as they seem on paper? The conference emerging from the Big Ten Finals is filled with elite talent once again. Also, can the ACC maintain the momentum it gained last year with two national semi-finalists and become a major league forever?
Courtney Lyle: As in any other sport, the transfer portal has revolutionized collegiate volleyball – now it is rare to see a team without transfers. This season, I see how transfers can instantly change a team’s chances of winning the tournament. Texas came out and raided the transfer portal, adding a big hand in Kentucky’s Madi Skinner, a middle in Nebraska’s (formerly Missouri’s) Kayla Cuffey, and UCLA’s defenseman Zoe Fleck (whom I love a lot) . I can’t wait to see Texas incorporate them into their physical play style.
Holly McPeak: Texas appears to be the biggest beneficiary of new talent from the transfer portal, having received six new players on its roster, namely Caffrey, Fleck, Colorado’s Jenna Evert and Skinner’s tie. But the question remains: Can Texas find the chemistry and trust to win it all? Meanwhile, Nebraska is bringing back five starters, and despite losing Caffrey, she gets Pennsylvania’s Caitlin Hord in the middle. With a new starting setter and a new middle blocker, they might have a new look and it will be interesting to see them together.
Paul Sunderland: Without a doubt, this is the number of elite players who changed jerseys through the portal. One key addition can make all the difference when it comes to championship contention. Nebraska’s Caitlin Hord and Texas’ Madi Skinner are the headliners, but there are too many to change the fortunes of their new teams. Also, I’m wondering if Louisville and Wisconsin can stay in the hunt given all their losses, especially in the setter. Both have a busy non-conference schedule, so we’ll see early.
Kathy George: I’m with Paul, keeping track of the huge number of outstanding transfers will be difficult and it will be interesting to see how the players will immediately impact their new teams. I believe the best teams in the ACC will remain national forces even as all three programs, Louisville, Pitt, and Georgia Tech, have said goodbye to key players. I’ll be curious to see if Pac-12 can revive the game at the elite level. Washington remains at the helm of one of the most successful high schools in the country. How will Wisconsin deal with life after Dana Rettke?
Jennifer Hoffman: All eyes are on Louisville. An alumnus of a floor general like Tory Dilfer will be hard to replace and the Cardinals will be in the spotlight after such a historic season. Speaking of heavy defeats, how does Wisconsin look after releasing such a core group of players?
Which regular season game are you most looking forward to?
Wowple: We always can’t wait to see Nebraska vs. Minnesota, but the Big Ten won’t meet until November 26th. So let’s pick an earlier matchup: Stanford vs. Nebraska on September 13th. The Cardinal won three NCAA titles between 2016 and 2019 but then produced one of the best classes in program history. This was followed by a 2-8 season severely limited due to COVID-19 and then a 19-11 record last year that ended with a second-round loss to Minnesota. Stanford starts the season in 14th place and will go through a very tough non-conference schedule that includes Texas, Louisville, Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Nebraska. Before the start of the Pac-12 season, we will have a good idea if the Cardinal is really back to elite status.
Whitemore: Look no further than the first weekend to find great matches like Texas in Ohio State on Friday and Saturday. It will be interesting to see the Texas transfers team up against an Ohio State team that has been on the brink of something great for the past two seasons but hasn’t impressed in the playoffs. It’s a great out-of-conference game to use as a yardstick to compare talent throughout the year.
Gore: Aside from the obvious national championship rematch between Wisconsin and Nebraska, I’m very intrigued by the first two regular season games between Texas and Ohio State. Texas looks incredible on paper, but after some noteworthy offseason additions, will the Longhorns play well together and can they have a historic season? Ohio State is now among the best programs in the country, and an early win or two over Texas could be the launching pad for huge success.
Lyle: Nebraska vs Wisconsin. Who doesn’t love a rematch for a national title? Nebraska-Wisconsin has been a pivotal Big Ten matchup over the past few years, made even more dramatic by a five-set national championship win. They will meet on October 26 and November 25 and you bet I will watch.
McPeak: Louisville-Nebraska September 27 should be a serious test for Louisville. The Cardinals lost just one game last season, and the Cornhuskers are preseason favorites.
Sunderland: I will take any match between Nebraska, Wisconsin and/or Minnesota. It doesn’t matter if it’s in Lincoln, Madison or Minneapolis. Talent, coaching elite and sold-out crowds all make these matches unmissable. However, the question arises, when will other Power 5 conferences be able to replicate the attendance figures and atmosphere of the Big Ten? Of course, there are some exceptions (Texas), but none come close to the Big Ten as a whole.
George: I’m biased, but the rivalry between Louisville and Kentucky never disappoints. Two seasons ago, Kentucky won its first national championship. Last December, Louisville advanced to the national semi-finals for the first time. The Cardinals drive 60 miles on their way to Lexington on September 14. Both programs have offensive firepower and excellent defense. It will be a test at the start of the season that will tell us a lot about how each team is moving forward. No. 3 in Wisconsin and No. 1 in Nebraska on November 25 will become an electrical medium. It will be a rematch, given that they already met a month ago. It could also have implications for the Big Ten title. Should I continue?
Which newcomer will have the biggest impact in 2022?
Wowple: As with other sports, transfers have become a big factor in volleyball and they will play a big role in who wins the title in 2022. But looking at the freshmen, I really want to see Nebraska middle blocker Maggie Mendelsohn, a member of the Huskers’ all-star rookie class and an outstanding dual-sport player. Unfortunately, it’s something we’re seeing less and less of in Division I, but we’re hoping a 6-5 Mendelsohn can do well for the Huskers in volleyball and basketball. She has a chance to make an impact on sports in Nebraska from August to March.
Whitemore: With Nebraska topping the preseason poll, I think the most influential rookie might be Caitlin Hord. She could be the most coveted transfer of the off-season. Her ability to secure the middle for Nebraska could go a long way in determining whether the Big Reds play in the national championship again in their home state this year.
Gore: Hord was a three-time All-American and four-time Big Ten middle blocker at Penn State. She has been one of the most effective hitters in the Big Ten, hitting .440 in 2019, .421 in 2020 and .394 in 2021. coaches of all time will affect Nebraska, which has lost Lauren Stivrins, Callie Schwarzenbach and Kayla Cuffey.
McPeak: Texas has a number of transfers that could make a big impact, but the chemistry with all the new players in…