Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Previewing the 2020–21 Big Ten Volleyball Season

January 17, 2021

Nebraska is set to open the 2020–21 volleyball season on Friday. With the Big Ten diving straight into conference play, Hail Varsity has you covered with a look around the rest of the league.

Wisconsin

2019 record: 27-7 (18-2 Big Ten)

2019 postseason finish: National Runner-Up

Returning starters: Sr. OH Molly Haggerty, Sr. S Sydney Hilley, Sr. MB Dana Rettke, Sr. DS Lauren Barnes, Jr. MB Danielle Hart

The Badgers enter the season as the top-ranked team in the country after falling to Stanford in the 2019 title match.

Wisconsin returned five starters from that team led by three-time first-team All-American middle blocker and reigning Big Ten Player of the Year Dana Rettke. Big Ten Setter of the Year Sydney Hilley and outside hitter Grace Loberg joined Rettke on the All-Big Ten first team last season while Molly Haggerty and Danielle Hart were second-teamers.

Coach Kelly Sheffield added PrepVolleyball.com‘s fourth-ranked recruiting class to his strong group of returners.

The Badgers swept the Huskers in all three meetings last year including in the Elite Eight.

Minnesota

2019 record: 27-6 (17-3 Big Ten)

Postseason finish: Final Four

Returning starters: Sr. MB Regan Pittman, Sr. RS Stephanie Samedy, Jr. OH Adanna Rollins, Jr. S Bayley McMenimen, Jr. L CC McGraw

Minnesota enters the 2020–21 season ranked seventh in the coaches poll. Like the Badgers, the Golden Gophers saw their season ended by the powerhouse Cardinal but return five starters led by All-Big Ten first-team selections Stephanie Samedy, Regan Pittman and CC McGraw.

Coach Hugh McCutcheon signed the second-ranked recruiting class featuring two of the top three players in the 2020 class. Setter Hunter Atherton, who began her college career at Nebraska before transferring to North Carolina, also joined the Gophers as a grad transfer.

Nebraska took down Minnesota in five sets in their only meeting in 2019.

Cook: Atherton

Former Nebraska setter Hunter Atherton (10), shown here in the 2017 Red-White match, has joined Minnesota for 2020–21 as a graduate transfer. Photo by Eric Francis

Penn State

2019 record: 27-6 (17-3 Big Ten)

Postseason finish: Regional Final

Returning starters: Jr. RS/S Jonni Parker, Jr. S Gabby Blossom, Jr. MB Kaitlyn Hord, Jr. MB Serena Gray, Jr. DS Jenna Hampton

Continuing the trend, Penn State also saw its 2019 season ended by Stanford, but the Nittany Lions head into 2020–21 at No. 9 in the preseason poll. Penn State lost its first-team All-Big Ten libero in Kendall White but returns fellow first-teamers Kaitlyn Hord and Jonni Parker as well as a second-team selection in Gabby Blossom.

Coach Russ Rose signed the 18th-ranked recruiting class and added Memphis graduate transfer Hannah Flowers, an opposite hitter who earned first-team All-AAC honors in 2019.

The Huskers took down the Nittany Lions in five sets at the Devaney Center in their only meeting of 2019.

Purdue

2019 record: 24-8 (14-6 Big Ten)

Postseason finish: Sweet 16

Returning starters: Sr. OH Caitlyn Newton, Sr. DS Jena Otec, Jr. S Hayley Bush, Jr. L Marissa Hornung, Jr. OH Grace Cleveland

Purdue enters the 2020–21 season ranked at the same spot it ended 2019: 13th. The Boilermakers return one first-team All-Big Ten selection in Grace Cleveland and one second-team pick in Caitlyn Newton.

Coach Dave Shondell enrolled the No. 21 recruiting class including a trio of middle blockers who could push for playing time right away.

Nebraska split with Purdue in 2019, losing in four sets in Lincoln then winning in five sets at West Lafayette. Nebraska won’t face Purdue this season.

Michigan

2019 record: 21-11 (13-7 Big Ten)

Postseason finish: Second Round

Returning starters: Jr. OH Paige Jones, SO MB Jess Robinson, So. MB/OH May Pertofsky

Michigan only returned three starters from last years team but enters the season ranked 24th in the preseason poll. Paige Jones was voted a first-team All-Big Ten selection while Jess Robinson and May Pertofsky were All-Big Ten freshman team honorees.

Coach Mark Rosen signed the fifth-ranked recruiting class headlined by a top-five recruit in outside hitter Jess Mruzik. He also added a pair of transfers in redshirt freshman defensive specialist Hannah Grant (Michigan State) and sophomore setter Jenni Liu (Blinn College).

Nebraska swept the Wolverines in their only meeting during the 2019 season.

Illinois

2019 record: 16-14 (11-9 Big Ten)

Postseason finish: First Round

Returning starters: Jr. S Mica Allison, So. S Diana Brown, So. MB Kennedy Collins

Illinois went one-and-done in the NCAA Tournament last season and heads into 2020-21 unranked after losing two of its top three attackers including the Big Ten’s kills leader in Jacqueline Quade. Setter Diana Brown returns after earning All-Freshman Team honors in 2019 while Megan Cooney returns as the team’s leading attacker (2.94 kills per set).

Coach Chris Tamas signed the No. 20 recruiting class.

Nebraska took down Illinois in five sets in its 2019 conference opener.

Ohio State

2019 record: 15-17 (8-12 Big Ten)

Postseason finish: None

Returning starters: Sr. DS Hannah Gruensfelder, Sr. MB Lauren Witte, Jr. OH Mia Grunze, So. L Kylie Murr, So. OH Jenaisya Moore, So. OH Gabby Gonzales, So. S Mac Podraza

Ohio State returns a lot of players with starting experience. Kylie Murr started all 32 matches as a freshman and earned a spot on both the All-Big Ten second team and the All-Freshman team. Jenaisya Moore led the team in kills and joined Murr on the All-Freshman team.

Coach Jen Flynn Oldenburg added the sixth-ranked recruiting class to a young team that already has six sophomores and five juniors. Opposite hitter Emily Londot, the No. 8 recruit in the 2020 class, chose to stay in state and play for the Buckeyes.

Nebraska swept Ohio State in their only meeting last season.

Michigan State

2019 record: 15-15 (6-14 Big Ten)

Postseason finish: None

Returning starters: Sr. OH Meredith Norris, Jr. MB Naya Gros, JR OH Molly Johnson, Jr. MB Rebecka Poljan

Thirteen different players started at least one match for the Spartans as Coach Cathy George shuffled her lineup around all season. The Spartans return 99.2% of their kills from last season but lost two of their three setters.

Michigan signed a three-player class including two top-20 recruits, giving the Spartans the No. 13 recruiting class.

Nebraska went 2-0 against Michigan State in 2019, beating the Spartans in four sets in Lincoln and sweeping them in East Lansing. The Huskers won’t face them in 2020–21, though.

Defensive specialist Megan Miller, show here during a match in 2018, transferred to Northwestern. Photo by John Peterson

Northwestern

2019 record: 14-18 (5-15 Big Ten)

Postseason finish: None

Returning starters: Sr. OH Nia Robinson, Sr. MB Alana Walker, Jr. OH/RS Ella Grbac, So. MB Temi Thomas-Ailara, So. MB Desiree Becker, So. L Charlotte Cronister

The Wildcats returned their top four attackers led by Temi Thomas-Ailara who averaged nearly four kills per set as a freshman, earning All-Big Ten second-team and All-Freshman team honors. Middle Blocker Alana Walker is the only Wildcat who both played in and started all 32 matches last season.

Coach Shane Davis added the No. 28 recruiting class to his roster and also picked up former Husker defensive specialist Megan Miller as a transfer.

Nebraska swept Northwestern twice last season.

Maryland

2019 record: 13-19 (5-15 Big Ten)

Postseason finish: None

Returning starters: Sr. OH Erika Pritchard, Sr. S Nicole Alford, Sr. DS Samantha Burgio, Jr. MB Rainelle Jones, Jr. MB Jada Gardner, So. OH Rebekah Rath

Maryland returned six players who started double-digit matches last season including four of its top five attackers.

Coach Adam Hughes signed the 19th-ranked recruiting class featuring three top-70 players.

Nebraska beat Maryland 3-0 in both meetings in 2019.

Iowa

2019 record: 10-21 (4-16 Big Ten)

Postseason finish: None

Returning starters: N/A

Iowa doesn’t list starters on its website, but the Hawkeyes will be without their top two attackers, their top setter and their starting libero from a season ago. The three would-be seniors from last year’s team are not listed on the 2020-21 roster. Junior outside hitter Courtney Buzzerio is the team’s top returner after averaging 2.65 kills per set last season.

Vicki Brown, heading into her second season as the head coach at Iowa, signed a four-player recruiting class and also added outside hitter Kacia Brown as a transfer after she played in two matches at Ole Miss last season.

Nebraska beat Iowa twice in the span of eight days in 2019, though the second meeting went five sets after the Huskers swept the Hawkeyes in the first match. Iowa is Nebraska’s lone home-and-home opponent for 2020–21, so the Huskers will both host the Hawkeyes in Lincoln and travel to Iowa City.

Indiana

2019 record: 14-19 (3-17 Big Ten)

Postseason finish: None

Returning starters: N/A

Indiana does not list starters on its website, but the Hoosiers return their top setter in sophomore Emily Fitzner, attacker in junior Breana Edwards and defensive specialist in sophomore Haley Armstrong despite graduating seven seniors.

Coach Steve Aird signed an eight-player recruiting class ranked 15th in 2020 headlined by the 32nd-ranked recruit in outside hitter Tommi Stockham.

Nebraska beat Indiana 3-1 in their only meeting in 2019 and the Huskers will open the 2020-21 season in Bloomington on Friday and Saturday.

Rutgers

2019 record: 8-23 (2-18 Big Ten)

Postseason finish: None

Returning starters: Sr. RS Beka Kojadinovic, Jr. S Inna Balyko, Jr. OH Anastasiia Maksimova

After three straight winless seasons in conference play, the Scarlet Knights won two Big Ten matches last season, the first time they’ve won more than one match since joining the Big Ten. Rutgers returns its starting setter in Inna Balyko and two of its top three attackers in outside hitter Anastasiia Maksimova and opposite hitter Beka Kojdadinovic.

Coach Caitlin Schweihofer signed a four-player recruiting class and added a pair of transfers in senior defensive specialist Mary Kate Painter (UCF) and senior middle blocker Shealyn McNamara.

Nebraska swept Rutgers twice in 2019.

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Tags: Big Ten

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