Breakdown of the Power Five Volleyball Conference Champions
Tonight is the NCAA volleyball selection show. 32 teams have their automatic qualifications by winning their respective conference. 32 other teams wait, holding their breath, wondering where they will fall. There’s been lots of upsets and shocking results this season. But it all comes down to the next three weeks. Who will be crowned champion in Ohama on December 17, 2022?
Here’s the current synopsis of how volleyball is looking for the Power Five conference champions: The Badgers are the defending champions, Texas is the current number 1, Stanford is back where they used to be, SEC co-champions struggle against unranked teams, ACC 2021 Final Four teams share the conference title. Let’s take a closer look at the top teams in the top five conferences across the nation.
*All rankings are as of when the game was played*
ACC: Louisville Cardinals and Pittsburgh Panthers
Record: 26-2 overall, 17-1 conference
Notable Wins: 3-1 against #15 San Diego (9/2/22), 3-0 against #9 Purdue (9/9/22), 3-2 against #13 Kentucky (9/14/22), 3-1 against #9 Stanford (9/17/22), 3-1 against #11 Georgia Tech (10/2/22), 3-0 against #7 Pittsburgh (11/18/22)
Notable Loses: 1-3 against #8 Ohio State (9/4/22), 2-3 against #8 Pittsburgh (10/23/22)
Key Players: Amaya Tillman, Raquel Lazaro, Claire Chaussee, Elena Scott
Record: 27-3 overall, 17-1 conference
Notable Wins: 3-1 against #7 BYU (9/3/22), 3-0 against #5 Ohio State (9/18/22), 3-1 against #10 Georgia Tech (10/9//22), 3-2 against #2 Louisville (10/23/22), 3-2 against #13 Georgia Tech (11/23/22)
Notable Loses: 2-3 against #25 San Diego (8/26/22), 1-3 against Towson (9/10/22), 0-3 against #4 Louisville (11/18/22)
Key Players: Serena Gray, Courtney Buzzerio, Rachel Fairbanks, Chiamaka Nwokolo
After a shocking undefeated season last year, the Louisville Cardinals are once again ACC champions, but this time they have a partner, the Pittsburgh Panthers. Both teams were a part of the 2021 Final Four and both teams lost to Big Ten teams. With identical records of 19-1 and only losing to each other, their dominance across the ACC was next to none. Currently, Louisville has an overall record of 26-2. Their only loss outside of the ACC is against current #8 Ohio State. Pitt currently has an overall record of 27-3 losing to San Diego who is now ranked #2 in the country, Towson, and Louisville. The teams are set to go deep in the NCAA tournament once again with key players on both sides.
For the Cardinals, setter Raquel Lazaro has stepped into a starting role and worked hard to fill the shoes of her predecessor. Lazaro, a graduate student, takes the place of First-team All-American Tori Dilfer who graduated last year but has proven to be nearly as efficient on the offense, with nearly 10 assists per set. DeBeer is only on the ACC leaderboard for service aces but her presence cannot be overlooked.
Louisville also graduated All-American Anna Stevenson. Stevenson did it all for the Cardinals last season and this season Amaya Tillman, sixth in the ACC in hitting percentage and first in blocks per set, and Claire Chaussee, sixth in the ACC in kills per set and seventh in points per set, have both stepped up to fill that gap. Elena Scott leads the Cardinals' defense and is currently fifth in the ACC in digs per set, averaging 3.84.
For the Panthers, returners Serena Gray, Courtney Buzzerio and Chiamaka Nwokolo have all stepped up after Pitt graduated all three of their All-Americans. Last year, Gray was an All-American Honorable Mention and this year she should be hoping for more. Currently third in the ACC in hitting percentage and eighth in blocks, she has certainly stepped up her game.
Alongside Gray, Buzzerio has shown up big time for the Panthers. A transfer from Iowa, Buzzerio has taken her game to the next level in the ACC. She is currently averaging .329 in hitting percentage, putting her tenth in the ACC. She averages 3.58 kills per set and 4.23 points per set, putting her in the ten top in the ACC for both of those categories as well. Nwokolo is currently seventh in the ACC in blocks, averaging 1.13 per set while Fairbanks is ninth in assists, averaging 6.90 per set.
Big 10: Wisconsin Badgers
Record: 25-3 overall, 19-1 conference
Notable Wins: 3-0 against #14 Kentucky (9/9/22), 3-0 against #12 Penn State (9/30/22), 3-1 against #5 Purdue (10/8/22), 3-0 against #1 Nebraska (10/26/22), 3-1 against #9 Minnesota (10/29/22), 3-1 against #5 Nebraska (11/25/22), 3-1 against #8 Ohio State (11/26/22)
Notable Loses: 2-3 against #16 Baylor (8/27/22), 2-3 against #16 Florida (9/16/22), 0-3 against #8 Minnesota (9/25/22)
Key Players: Danielle Hart, Caroline Crawford, Sarah Franklin, Gülce Güçtekin, Izzy Ashburn
The Badgers are currently on an 18-game winning streak, having not dropped a game since they were swept by Minnesota on September 25, 2022. This was an adjustment year for the Badgers, they were coming off the program’s first national championship and lost five of their starters and arguably the best player in college volleyball history in Dana Rettke. Besides Rettke, they lost two other All-Americans in Sydney Hilley and Lauren Barnes, and Grace Loberg and Giorgia Civita who were integral to last year’s success. Adding transfers Caroline Crawford from Kansas and Sarah Franklin from Michigan State plus the return of Danielle Hart from injury, the Badgers were poised for another title but there were still doubts. Despite the doubters, the team won their fourth consecutive Big Ten title, having dominated the Big Ten since 2019.
Hart’s return has been integral for Wisconsin’s success this season as she is second in the Big Ten in hitting percentage with .443 and sixth in the NCAA in blocks per set averaging 1.53. Her return to the court has helped the Badgers exponentially. Transfers Crawford and Franklin have also exploded this season. Crawford is currently seventh in the Big Ten in block per set, averaging 1.38. She returned this past weekend after being out with a broken finger and her presence was undeniable. Franklin leads the Badgers in kills this season with 351 and is seventh in the Big Ten in kills, averaging 3.55 per set. She has 351 kills on the season, with her season high in a match being 22 in the Badgers’ five-setter against Baylor but countless times this season, she has put up double-digit figures. Her hot hand was a huge part of being a fourth consecutive title to Madison. Güçtekin has also been a huge part of the Badgers' play, wearing the Libero shirt. A freshman from Turkey, Güçteken had never served before but is now sixth in the Big Ten in aces, averaging 0.36 per set. The Badgers lost All-Ameican setter, Sydney Hilley, last season and have had to adjust to senior setter Izzy Ashburn. Ashburn was previously a defensive specialist with the Badgers but was always able to fill the setter role. She and MJ Hamill, have been extremely efficient with running the Badgers' new-look offense as they play in a 6-2 this season.
Big 12: Texas Longhorns
Record: 22-1 overall, 15-1 conference
Notable Wins: 3-0 against #7 Ohio State (8/26/22), 3-1 against #4 Minnesota (8/31/22), 3-0 against #12 Stanford, 3-1 against #18 Baylor (10/15/22), 3-1 against #15 Baylor (11/19/22)
Notable Loses: 2-3 against Iowa State (10/19/22)
Key Players: Logan Eggleston, Madisen Skinner, Asjia O’Neal, Saige Ka’aha’aina-Torres
Texas has had it the last few years but this season looks like it is going to be their best shot at a championship. Losing only one game all season, the Longhorns don’t face an extremely tough in-conference schedule compared to the likes of some of the other conferences. Despite this, they showed their dominance early during non-conference play, beating Ohio State twice as well as Minnesota. They also swept the eventual Pac-12 champion, Stanford. Their one loss came against unranked Iowa State in five but it is a tough ask for any team to go undefeated.
Texas retained most of its top talent this offseason and even added one of the best players in the nation, Madisen Skinner, from Kentucky. Losing All-Americans Brionne Bulter (graduation) and Skylar Fields (transfer) didn’t hurt the Longhorns too badly as they brought in Skinner from Kentucky and setter Saige Ka’aha’aina-Torres from Utah. Skinner was an Honorable Mention All-American last season but with her stats this season, there’s a chance she will make it on the third or second team. She is currently fourth in the Big 12 in kills as she averages 3.73 per set and fifth in points averaging 4.05 per set. Her teammate Logan Eggleston, first-team All-American last season, leads the Big 12 in both of these categories, averaging 4.31 kills per set and 5.04 points per set. Ka’aha’aina-Torres is currently first in the Big 12 in assists averaging 11.55 per set, making her one of the top setters in the nation this year. Asjia O’Neal is currently atop of the leaderboard in hitting percentage with .468, while teammate Molly Phillips is in fifth with .395. With how many players Texas has in all the stat leaderboards across the conference, you can see just how strong the team is.
Pac 12: Stanford Cardinal
Record: 24-4 overall, 19-1 conference
Notable Wins: 3-1 against #3 Minnesota (9/10/22), 3-1 against #2 Nebraska (9/13/22), 3-1 against #17 Washington (9/30/22), 3-2 against #19 Washington (10/30/22)
Notable Loses: 0-3 against #1 Texas (9/4/22), 2-3 against #20 Penn State (9/9/22), 1-3 against #3 Louisville (9/17/22), 0-3 against #21 Oregon (9/25/22)
Key Players: Kendall Kipp, Elena Oglivie, Sami Francis, Kami Miner, Caitie Baird
This year’s Pac-12 conference title marked Stanford’s 20th championship and first since 2019, the same year they won the NCAA tournament over the Wisconsin Badgers. The past two seasons have been rough for the Cardinal; last season they went 13-7 in the conference, and 19-11 overall. Prior to that, they missed out on the tournament after going 2-8 in the 2020/2021 spring season despite winning back-to-back national titles in 2018 and 2019. But now, the volleyball world is finally seeing the best from Stanford yet again.
All-American returners, Caitie Baird and Kendall Kipp have kept up their success as the team has swung upwards. They are 1-2 in kills this season for the Cardinal as Kipp has 440 and Baird 337. Kipp is currently third in the Pac-12 in kills per set, averaging 4.31. These two being on their top game during the NCAA tournament will be key for the Cardinal to try and avenge their recent struggles. Kipp is one of few still left from Stanford’s championship in 2019 so her leadership and experience will be integral in the upcoming weeks. Sophomore setter Kami Miner has been Stanford’s offensive maestro, dishing assists left and right. With 1148 assists on the season, she’s first in the Pac-12 with assists per set averaging 11.25. Quality hitters help any setter but with that many assists, Miner is putting up the goods for her hitters to attack. In the backcourt, Elena Oglivie wears the libero jersey and wears it well. With 444 digs on the season, Oglivie is first in the Pac-12 in digs per set averaging 4.35. Sophomore Sami Francis is one of Stanford’s other keys. Hitting just under .400 on the season, Francis is fifth in the Pac-12 in hitting percentage and third in blocks per set, averaging 1.45.
SEC: Florida Gators and Kentucky Wildcats
Record: 23-5 overall, 15-3 conference
Notable Wins: 3-2 against #4 Wisconsin (9/16/22), 3-2 against LSU (10/9/22), 3-2 against Arkansas (10/30/22), 3-0 against #18 Kentucky (11/19/22), 3-2 against Ole Miss (11/26/22)
Notable Loses: 2-3 against #12 Stanford (8/30/22), 1-3 against #4 Minnesota (9/4/22), 2-3 against South Carolina (9/25/22), 0-3 against Georgia (10/19/22), 0-3 against #18 Kentucky (11/20/22)
Key Players: Alexis Stucky, Marina Markova, Elli McKissock, Gabbi Essix
Record: 20-7 overall, 15-3 conference
Notable Wins: 3-1 against #17 Creighton (9/3/22), 3-0 against #24 Southern California (9/3/22), 3-2 against Arkansas (10/8/22), 3-0 against Georgia (11/2/22), 3-0 against #10 Florida (11/20/22)
Notable Loses: 2-3 against #20 Marquette (8/26/22), 0-3 against #4 Wisconsin (9/9/22), 2-3 against #3 Louisville (9/14/22), 0-3 against #2 Nebraska (9/18/22), 0-3 against #10 Florida (11/19/22)
Key Players: Reagan Rutherford, Emma Grome, Eleanor Beavin, Azhani Tealer
The SEC proved difficult this season. Both of the co-champions dropped games to unranked opponents throughout the year but ultimately prevailed. They played each other on the same weekend, on back-to-back days; the “make it or break it” weekend per se. Both teams were able to successfully beat the other which brought us back to ground zero and to a share of the conference title. While Florida did significantly better in nonconference play, Kentucky was able to bounce back and compete for the SEC Championship.
For Florida, they didn’t return any of their players with All-American titles from last season. Marlie Monserez and Lauren Forte both transferred to UCLA to pursue more opportunities while Thayer Hall graduated and picked up a coaching job. This season they were with a freshman setter in Alexis Stucky and for any volleyball team, you need your setter to run your offense and Stucky provided. She’s second in the SEC in assists and assists per set, only behind Kentucky’s setter. Stucky has 1083 assists on the season and averaged 10.72 assists per set. Being a freshman, she’s only bound to get better and has a bright future with Florida.
A transfer from Syracuse, Marina Markova is the Gator’s current leader in kills on the season with 320. Her season high in a match is 18 in the Gator’s finale against Ole Miss. In the back row, Florida has junior libero Elli McKissock. McKissock is currently seventh in the SEC in digs and digs per set with 372 digs on the season while averaging 3.55 per set. Gabbi Essix helps on the defensive front as well with 125.0 blocks on the season. She too is seventh in the SEC but in blocks, averaging 1.24 per set.
Kentucky lost All-American outside hitters Alli Stumler and Madi Skinner but return All-Americans Emma Grome and Azhani Tealer. Sophomore setter Emma Grome continues to run the Wildcats' offense, averaging 12.03 assists per set this season. She is atop the SEC leaderboard for assists per set as well as second in the NCAA. An All-American as a freshman, Grome is a huge part of Kentucky’s success and program. This season she had Reagan Rutherford hitting on all cylinders. Rutherford hit .341 on the season and was fifth in the SEC in kills, with 361 while averaging 3.88 per set. Rutherford is a junior but has absolutely stepped up this season, filling the gap that was left by Stumler after her graduation.
Tealer had another big season with the Wildcats; the senior middle blocker was fourth in the SEC in blocks, raking up 103 on the season and averaging 1.29 per set. She recorded 11 solo blocks and 92 block assists. In the back row for the Wildcats is sophomore libero, Eleanor Beavin. She was the 2021 SEC Libero of the Year and this year she was fourth in digs per set. Beavin finished with 387 digs and averaged 3.99 per set. Kentucky’s success will run through these few players if they look to make a run for another national championship.
Of these six teams, we are expecting to see three in the top four seeds: Texas, Wisconsin, and Louisville with San Diego rounding out the group. These four teams are the currently top-ranked teams nationally and with big losses by Nebraska this weekend it does not look like they will get a hosting position. Most of these other teams will host at least their opening two games before games move to regional locations.
Here are all 32 of the automatic qualifiers:
**In the ACC and SEC, there were co-champions. The team with the better overall record received the automatic bid from the NCAA
America East- UMBC (17-8)
MAAC- Quinnipiac (14-14)
American Athletic- Houston (28-2)
MEAC- Delaware State (24-6)
ACC- Louisville (26-2)
Missouri Valley- UNI (26-7)
Atlantic 10- Loyola Chicago (25-8)
Mountain West- Utah State
Atlantic Sun- Florida Gulf Coast (26-6)
Northeast- Fairleigh Dickinson (17-15)
Big East- Creighton (27-4)
Ohio Valley- Tennessee State (19-15)
Big Sky- Northern Colorado (22-8)
Pac-12- Stanford (23-4)
Big South- High Point (22-9)
Patriot- Colgate (24-5)
Big Ten- Wisconsin (24-3)
SEC- Florida (23-5)
Big 12- Texas (22-1)
SoCon- Samford (19-12)
Big West- Hawai'i (21-6)
Southland- Southeastern La. (25-7)
Colonial- Towson (29-1)
SWAC- Florida A&M (21-12)
Conference USA- Rice (26-3)
Summit- South Dakota (29-3)
Horizon- Wright State (28-3)
Sun Belt- James Madison (24-2)
Ivy- Yale (23-2)
WAC- Stephen F. Austin (26-4)
MAC- Bowling Green (22-9)
West Coast- San Diego (27-1)