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Michella Chester | NCAA.com | August 22, 2022

4 programs that could be the next first-time NCAA women’s volleyball champion

4 teams that could be the next first-time women’s volleyball champ

Take a look at the DI women's volleyball national championship history. It is linked for you right here. I will do the math for you, but before 2020, only 10 programs had won a national championship. Stanford accounts for nine of the titles, Penn State has seven and Nebraska has five. That is not a ton of variety. The Nittany Lions won it FOUR consecutive years from 2007-10. 

There are dynasties in college volleyball. That is a fact. 

But something pretty crazy happened in the past two years. Not one, but two programs won the championship for the first time in their history. Kentucky took down Texas in 2020 — led by AVCA National Player of the Year Madison Lilley, and Wisconsin defeated Nebraska in a five-set thriller — led by AVCA National Player of the Year Dana Rettke. 

So what has felt like the improbable has happened for the past two years in a row. Can we have another first-time champ? I took a look at the programs that could win their first ever championship in 2022. Of course, they all have a chance. But here are a few that I think have the best odds. 

RANKINGS: Nebraska leads our preseason Power 10

Louisville

The Louisville Cardinals are the team I think has the MOST potential to win a national title this season. I would put them at the top of the list even if this wasn't narrowed down to teams that have never won before. I would pick them pretty high out of them all. The Cardinals burst onto the scene and have established themselves as a volleyball powerhouse program. Since coach Dani Busboom-Kelly took over, they have been on the rise. Remember when everyone was shocked when they knocked off a top-ranked Texas in the tournament a few years back? That is when it all started. And last year, they were the consensus No. 1 team for the majority of the regular season. And it wasn't a fluke, either. The Cards just barely fell in the national semifinals to the eventual national champions. They lost by just inches... and had the ball bounced a few different ways, they could've won their first ever title last season instead of the Badgers. 

The Cards return a stacked lineup from last year's team. They lost two incredible players in Tori Dilfer and Anna Stevenson, but return Claire Chaussee, Aiko Jones, Elena Scott (their star libero), Anna DeBeer and Amaya Tillman. I think this team will be able to compete with just about anyone, and they will bring back the experience of a trip to the national semifinals. All the players that were breaking grounds for the past few years will now be playing this year as experienced vets. This team is on the verge, and a first-ever national title could be in the cards for the Cards. 

Ohio State

My next team that could win a first national title in 2022 is Ohio State. The Buckeyes are another team that burst onto the scene with a really strong, but young team in the past few years. This year, just like Louisville, they return experienced players with tournament experience. And on top of that, this is a team that plays in one of the toughest volleyball conferences in the nation. Ohio State's leading scorer Emily Londot returns, alongside Kylie Murr, Mac Podraza and Rylee Rader. 

I talked to Podraza, OSU's senior setter and leader at Big Ten Media Volleyball Days, and her No. 1 message was that this Buckeyes team has grown tired of bowing out in the last 16. Ohio State has been knocked out of the tournament in the round of 16 for the past two seasons now. Last year, it was to Georgia Tech. 

Like I mentioned before, the Buckeyes play in an incredibly tough conference, so it will be a very tall task to win the conference or receive a really high seed for the tournament. But either way, this team certainly has a chance to win its first title. And they are now more than ever ready for it. 

Minnesota

When I think of top-tier volleyball programs, Minnesota is almost always in the mix. They have been a strong team in the Big Ten for years and always have compete with the best of the best. But they've never won a title. They have finished runner up twice in history, once in 1988 and once in 2004. A national title would be tough for Minnesota in 2022, especially after losing its first-team All American and standout player and leader, Stephanie Samedy. That is a tough loss for the program, but this team is really well coached by head coach Hugh McCutcheon, and they return some top players. The Gophers bring back a seasoned vet and team leader, CC McGraw, at libero. On top of McGraw, they return Jenna Wenaas, Taylor Landfair and Melanie Shaffmaster, and they picked up Arica Davis from Ohio State out of the transfer portal. Davis was a strong player as just as a freshman and could likely be a big impact player for Minnesota. 

Again, a national title is a really tall task, but never impossible. A team like Minnesota certainly has a chance to do it. They play in the Big Ten as well and will face a tough non-conference schedule to prepare them for the NCAA tournament. 

Georgia Tech

Lastly, I have Georgia Tech. This is the team that took down Ohio State last season in the tournament in a clean sweep before falling to Louisville, the No. 1 seed, in four sets. It would take a lot to win a national title this season, especially after they lost Mariana Brambilla, who posted 27 kills in the loss to Louisville, and Matti McKissock. Why can they even remotely have a chance at winning a title, then? Well they return first-team All American Julia Bergmann, one of the best players in the nation. She returns as a senior after posting 5.16 points per set, 497 kills, 4.4 kills per set and 67 blocks last season. 

I wouldn't necessarily pick the Jackets to win the title right now like I would with maybe Louisville, but I think any top-10 team has a chance. 

A few other teams to note:

BYU and Pittsburgh are two teams I don't want to leave out. BYU actually made a national championship run in 2014 before falling to Penn State in the title game, and they are always in the mix of the top-10 teams. This is a team that could of course win a first national title at any given time, but they lost a large chunk of their talent from last season. Same thing for Pitt. This Panthers team has made program history in recent years and made some serious runs in the NCAA tournament. Had they not lost Leketor Member-Meneh, Kayla Lund, Chinaza Ndee and Kylee Levers from last season, I'd say they would have had a pretty good chance at doing it, too. 

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