Pre-season College Beach Volleyball Power Rankings: Can Anyone Knock Off a Younger UCLA Team?
It’s still winter, and it’s chilly and moist — be it from snow or rain — most everywhere around the country, including, yes, even Hawai’i and Southern California. But college beach volleyball is now in full swing of practices, with new coaches in line — hello, Dain Blanton! — and new players in different colored uniforms — hey there, Carly Skjodt.
There is, however, a different feel to 2020 as in year’s past. More question marks. More uncertainty. No longer is there an easy delineation between the various tiers of programs. It’s a bit more uniform, with more parity, more opportunities for upsets and power shifts.
The first serve won’t be for another month, so we wanted to drop the pre-season power rankings early to give a bit of a briefer so you can study up and know who and what to look for. And these rankings could be totally wrong, off, awful, because they’re subjective, with exactly zero data points in 2020. Let us know what you think: Who’s going to be the final team standing in Gulf Shores? The best players to watch?
Who will end this season atop the final power rankings?
Yes, yes, I know: UCLA lost a lot from last year. It lost both of its court one players in Nicole and Megan McNamara, who are now full-time on the FIVB representing Canada. It lost court two dynamo Sarah Sponcil, who is now full-time on the FIVB representing the United States. It lost Zana Muno, who has already made an AVP Sunday. It lost Izzy Carey, who will go down as one of the most reliable and consistent players the Bruins have ever had.
It’s a good deal to lose after a National Championship season, but this is UCLA, and Stein Metzger is still the coach, and the Bruins still have weapons aplenty on the roster. It’ll be a young team this year, full of new faces, but rest assured: Youth is no longer a sign of rebuilding in beach volleyball. Until someone knocks off the Bruins, they remain the big dogs.
The Trojans are not unlike UCLA, its crosstown rival. Like the Bruins, USC lost a good deal from last year. Abril Bustamante graduated, while her partner, Tina Graudina, qualified for the Olympics and will be taking a red shirt season. Both blockers on courts two and three, Terese Cannon and Alex Poletto, are now pursuing beach professionally. Key pieces are no longer there, but key pieces have been brought in, and others return.
First-year coach Dain Blanton has brought in a talented class of freshmen, starring twins Audrey and Nicole Nourse, as well as Harper Hallgren, sister of junior defender Haley Hallgren. Other returnees include junior Sammy Slater, who played with Cannon on court two; senior Joy Dennis, sophomore Mollie Ebertin, and senior Cammie Dorn.
Blanton has also made an excellent pickup on the transfer portal in Hailey Harward, who starred at Long Beach and is finishing her graduate year as a Trojan.
For what feels like at least the tenth year in a row, Claire Coppola and Kristen Nuss are back at court one for LSU. This year is more significant than any other, it seems, since the vast majority of the top teams lost their court one duos, making LSU the team with the most experience at the top spot. Depth, though, is key in winning in beach, and the Tigers always have plenty of that, too, especially with Toni Rodriguez and Taryn Kloth returning for their graduate seasons. Also returning is court two pair Olivia Powers and Ashlyn Rasnick-Pope, court three defender Kelli Agnew, and court five pair Allison Coens and Hunter Domanski.
The Waves had a strange season last year. Their 11 losses were the most in program history by nearly double their previous high (six), and for the first time in WCC history, they didn’t bring home the conference title, ceding it to LMU after the Lions beat Pepperdine twice in a double-final.
And yet they were still Pepperdine: Making the NCAA Championships, beating USC, finishing seventh in the nation. The Waves return almost everyone from their 2019 team, including Brook Bauer, who has an argument for the best player in college volleyball right now. Starters Deahna Kraft, Gigi Hernandez, Alexis Filippone, Katie Gavin, and Simone Priebe return, as well as former court one blocker Maddy Roh, who missed all of last season with an ACL tear.
Second-year coach Marcio Sicoli has also added fifth-year transfer Carly Skjodt, a former outside at Michigan, as well as freshmen Sutton Mactavish and Mary Sinclair, who are expected to play.
5. Florida State
Florida State belongs in a class of sports teams – and this is not just limited to beach volleyball – that you can never count out. Doesn’t matter if the Seminoles reside in Tallahassee. Doesn’t matter if they can’t haul in the biggest West Coast recruits. They’re going to find a way to win. The Noles are one of two programs to make every national championship, and it would be a surprise if this year isn’t a continuation of that streak.
They’re young, without a doubt, with 11 underclassmen on the roster, but they’ll be good all the same. Alaina Chacon established herself as one of the grittier defenders in the country last season, while her partner, Madison Fitzpatrick, also proved capable of contending with any court one pair. Molly McBain and Payton Caffrey were excellent together, and both return. Sara Putt is another consistent performer, going 28-8 in 2019, while sophomore Kate Privett is looking to follow up one of the best freshman seasons in Florida State history.
6. Cal Poly
It’s hard to put Poly this far down the list, because, frankly, the Mustangs very well could be the best team in the country. Last season, no team was more snakebitten and injury-riddled than Poly – and the Mustangs still enjoyed the best season in school history. Now they’re returning the vast majority of that 2019 team, including Tia Miric, Jayelin Lombard, Macy Gordon, Emily Sonny, and Brayden Gruenewald. They’re also adding back both Van Winden sisters – Torrey and Adlee – and a handful of other newcomers, including coach Todd Rogers’ daughter, Hannah. If there’s a year where one of the Southern California powers – UCLA, USC, Pepperdine – do not make the NCAA Tournament, this could be the one, with Poly, Hawai’i, and LMU on the rise.
Like a number of programs this year, Hawai’i has just a few core pieces and a lot of new faces that, unless you’re tapped into the junior and youth circuits, most won’t know a whole lot about. But about those core pieces: Morgan Martin, Amy Ozee, and Julia Scoles. Martin is one of the most meaningful players to the Hawai’i program ever, a soon-to-be four-year starter who can defend, block, split block – you name it, she’ll do it. Ozee was a little bit later of a bloomer, competing on court four as a sophomore before jumping to court one most of her junior year, going 22-11 at the top spot. Scoles, a transfer from North Carolina, is a senior but only in her second year as a Bow, and she has one of the highest ceilings in college volleyball: big hitting window, bomb of a serve, has competed at the AVP level.
With those three alone, Hawai’i will be a contender. Depending on how the rest of the roster shakes out and develops, the Bows could beat essentially anyone.
LMU saved the season’s best trick for last. After cobbling together a topsy-turvy year that included a resume-boosting win over Cal Poly and a puzzling loss to TCU, the Lions showed flashes of tons of potential and glimpses of a team that wasn’t quite ready to make the next step.
And then came the WCC tournament, where LMU lost in five to Pepperdine, got back to the finals, and beat the Waves twice in a row to claim its first WCC crown.
The Lions are returning a lot from that team, including Savannah Slattery, Megan Rice, Emma Doud, Jessie Prichard, and Bo Culo. They’re also adding a paid coach in Betsi Flint as well as LSU transfer Madison Ligon. Reka Orsi Toth, who transferred in last season, was one of the most improved players in 2019, and is expected to be one of the better players in the West this season.
First four out
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