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NCAA Division I women’s volleyball opens season | The Triangle

NCAA Division I women’s volleyball opens season

Nebraska outside hitter Mikaela Foecke hits the ball past Penn State middle blocker Haleigh Washington and outside hitter Ali Frantti in the first set during the semifinals of the NCAA Division I Final Four Dec. 14, 2017. (Photograph courtesy of John Sleezer/Kansas City Star/TNS)

Last season, the University of Nebraska won the 2017 National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I Women’s Volleyball Championships. They went into the playoffs seeded fifth overall and defeated No. 1 Pennsylvania State University in the semifinals and No. 2 University of Florida in the finals to claim the national title.

Beginning Aug. 24, Nebraska will be joined by the University of Oregon, the University of Texas and Florida when they host the 2018 VERT Challenge. On the first day, Texas will play Oregon and Nebraska will once again face the Florida Gators for the first time since the national championships. This will be the only time Nebraska will play Florida in their regular season schedule since Nebraska will face other teams in the Big Ten Conference while Florida plays teams in the Southeastern Conference.

Texas lost to Stanford University in the quarterfinal round of the 2017 playoffs while Oregon was unable to make it past the second round after losing 3-0 to Brigham Young University.

Nebraska has two returning stars to their starting lineup this year who both played in the 2017 national championships match. Seniors Mikaela Foecke and Kenzie Maloney were just named to the Preseason All-Big Ten Team. Foecke is an outside hitter for the Cornhuskers who had a career high 441 kills last season. She also lead the team in kills per set (3.53) and has been a crucial member of their starting lineup since her freshman year when she won her first national championship with Nebraska. Maloney, the senior libero for the team, had 452 digs last season and 37 service aces. She led the team in digs per set (3.62) and set a NCAA Tournament school record with 13 service aces.

In the 2018 Big Ten Preseason poll, Nebraska was ranked first ahead of the University of Wisconsin and the University of Minnesota. Last season, Wisconsin lost to Stanford in the third round and Minnesota lost to Southern California in the third round of the playoffs. After winning the last two Big Ten conference titles, Nebraska will be looking for their third-straight this season.

The Florida Gators have three of their starting players returning from the team who were runner-ups at the national championships last year. One of the standout players of these three is Rachael Kramer who was named to the 2017 American Volleyball Coaches Association All-American team. The Gators will also welcome freshman Thayer Hall who was named the 2017-18 Gatorade National Volleyball Player of the Year and the 2017 USA Today All-USA Volleyball Player of the Year. She also competed on the USA Volleyball Junior National Team winning gold at the 2017 U20 Pan American Cup and was awarded the MVP. It will be interesting to see how the Gators work Hall into the lineup this season.

Head coach Mary Wise is returning for her 15th season with the Gators after coming off of an amazing season last year. Her team was ranked No. 7 in the 2018 AVCA Preseason Coaches Poll.

The Texas Longhorns were ranked No. 3 in the 2018 AVCA Preseason Coaches Poll behind Nebraska at No. 2 and Stanford at No. 1.

The new freshman addition for the Longhorns is Katarina Luketic who played for the Croatian National Team and competed at the 2017 World Grand Prix and the European Championship. She will be a tremendous asset to the Texas team this year.

Another team to watch this season will be Penn State. Two players were named to the 2018 Preseason All-Big Ten team: Taylor Leath, a graduate student who finished her degree at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill but has one year of NCAA eligibility left to play, and Kendall White, the junior libero for the Nittany Lions who finished a fantastic 2017 season with 462 digs while playing in every single match.

The Nittany Lions were ranked No. 6 in the AVCA Preseason Coaches Poll and No. 4 in the Big Ten. They will not play any top ranked teams until they face Stanford Sept. 7. Their season begins with the Penn State Classic Aug. 24 when they open against Eastern Kentucky University.

The No. 1 ranked Stanford University Cardinals will return with 14 players from last season’s team that made it to the semifinals. Some of those key players will be Kathryn Plummer, who was named the 2017 AVCA National Player of the Year, Jenna Gray, the setter, and Morgan Hentz, the libero, who were both named to the 2017 AVCA All-American first team.

The Cardinals are the defending Pac-12 champions and are the favorite to take home the title again this season. They welcome freshman Holly Campbell, a middle blocker, who recently competed on the 2017 US Youth National Team at the Youth World Championships in Argentina.

Stanford begins their season against American University Aug. 26 and then Howard University Aug. 27 before heading to the BYU Nike Invitational Aug. 31-Sept. 1.

It would be no surprise to see Nebraska, Florida, Texas, Stanford or Penn State make the final four at the 2018 NCAA Division I Championships.

To stay updated on Division I women’s volleyball this season, visit https://www.ncaa.com/sports/volleyball-women/d1. The 2018 NCAA Division I Volleyball Championships will be played in Minneapolis Dec. 13-15.