Around the Big Ten: Volleyball

The Big Ten had six bids to the NCAA Tournament in the 2020-21 spring season.

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Jerod Ringwald

The Hawkeyes huddle up before a women’s volleyball match between Iowa and Indiana at Xtream Arena on Friday, Feb. 5, 2021. The Hawkeyes defeated the Hoosiers 3 sets to 1.

Will Fineman, Sports Reporter


The Big Ten is consistently one of the most stacked conferences in the nation for women’s volleyball.

This year promises to be no different, with many of the conference’s top players choosing to use the extra year of eligibility given to them by the NCAA during the pandemic.

Here’s a look at how volleyball teams around the Big Ten look heading into the fall 2021 season.

Iowa

The 2021 spring season saw the first Hawkeye volleyball matches in the newly opened Xtream Arena. In a conference-only slate, Iowa finished the year with a 4-16 record overall and a 3-6 record at home.

The Hawkeyes had no seniors on the 2020-21 roster and will return its entire team this season — with the exception of libero Joslyn Boyer, who transferred to University of Wisconsin-Madison.

In the offseason, head coach Vicki Brown brought in UCLA transfer Mari Hinkle to fill the gap at libero, and added in former Louisiana Tech assistant William Tatge as a new assistant coach.

First-team All-Big Ten setter and outside hitter Courtney Buzzerio will headline the Hawkeye offense for the second season.

Michigan State

The Spartans were hit hard with COVID-19 in the middle of the spring season and finished 3-12 with six cancellations.

Starting setter Celia Cullen notched the ninth-most assists per set in the Big Ten in 2020-21, with 7.98. She will return this fall, along with the team’s kill leader in Sarah Franklin.

The Spartans will need to find a new anchor in the backcourt, as their starting libero Jamye Cox graduated.

Penn State

Led by Russ Rose, the winningest coach in Division I Women’s Volleyball history, Penn State managed a 10-6 record last season.

The Nittany Lions struggled with positive COVID-19 to end the year but earned an NCAA tournament bid. Penn State advanced to the Sweet 16 before falling to Cincinnati. 

Penn State will return multiple offensive weapons this fall, including three-time All-American middle blocker Kaitlyn Hord and second-team All-Big Ten honorees Gabby Blossom and Jonni Parker.

The Nittany Lions also brought in two big transfers in first-team All-Big Ten outside hitter Erika Pritchard from Maryland and second-team All-Big Ten hitter Adanna Rollins from Minnesota.

Nebraska

The Cornhuskers sat comfortably in the top-five of the American Volleyball Coaches Association rankings for most of the 2021 season.

Nebraska dominated almost every statistical category, and ended the spring with a 16-3 record and a trip to the Elite Eight, falling to Texas in the quarterfinals.

Setter Nicklin Hames, middle blocker Laren Stivrins, and outside hitter Lexi Sun received first-team All-Big Ten and AVCA All-America honors. Sun and Hames are both slated to return to the court for Nebraska this fall.

Minnesota

At Minnesota, Stephanie Samedy earned Big Ten Player of the Year honors after she led the conference in kills per set. The All-American was joined on the All-Big Ten first team by fellow Golden Gophers Regan Pittman and Taylor Landfair.

Minnesota edged out big victories last spring, including a four-set win over No. 6 Nebraska and season sweeps over No. 12 Penn State and No. 7 Purdue.

The program’s 15-2 regular season record vaulted them to a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament where they would go on to finish in the Sweet 16.

RELATED: Lineup Preview: 2021-22 Iowa volleyball

Michigan

The Wolverines battled COVID-19 as much as any team in the conference last year.

After six canceled matches to start the year — and four more at the height of the season — Michigan finished the year with a 4-9 record.

Like the Hawkeyes, Michigan was a very young team in 2020-21. The Wolverines finished last in the conference in blocks per set and 11th in opponent hitting percentage.

Michigan will have all but one player back this season, including Big Ten All-Freshman team honoree Jess Mruzik.

Northwestern

Head coach Shane Davis’ squad had 12 matches cancelled in the spring due to health and safety protocols — the most in the Big Ten.

Though the Wildcats finished 4-6, Northwestern’s top player — sophomore Temi Thomas Ailara — climbed the Big Ten leaderboards as she finished with the fourth most kills per set in the conference.

Davis has brought in a new volunteer assistant in Louis Richard and a transfer in sophomore Leilani Dodson.

Richard played professionally in Denmark before joining the Northwestern coaching staff, and Dodson received West Coast Conference All-Freshman Team honors last season for Brigham Young University.

Wisconsin

The Badgers were the No. 1 team in the country for the entirety of the regular season.

After going undefeated in the conference-only schedule, Wisconsin was the last Big Ten team standing in the NCAA tournament before the program fell to No. 4 Texas in the Final Four.

The Badgers had four players receive first-team All-Big Ten honors and three named to the second team.

Five of the Badgers’ six All Americans will return for another season including four-time All-American Dana Rettke and Big Ten Setter of the Year Sydney Hilley.

Indiana

Indiana finished with a 5-15 record last season and managed wins over Iowa, Rutgers, and Maryland.

The Hoosiers were one of the youngest teams in the conference with nine freshmen, three sophomores, and only four upperclassmen.

Sophomore Tommi Stockham and senior Breana Edwards figure to be Indiana’s lead options on offense for a second straight season after both led the team in kills in 2020-21.

Ohio State 

Ohio State had a breakout season last spring under Big Ten Coach of the Year Jen Flynn Oldenburg. On a team with seven upperclassmen, the underclassmen led the way for the 16-4 Buckeyes.

Headlined by Big Ten Freshman of the Year Emily Londot and fellow All-American setter Mac Podraza, Ohio State will bring back all five of their All-Big Ten players this fall.

Purdue

After a bumpy start to the spring as the Boilermakers lost four of their first six matches, the program went on to earn a No. 7 seed in the NCAA tournament and make it to the Sweet 16.

All four of Purdue’s All-Americans, including Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Jena Otec and the conference’s points leader, Caitlyn Newton, will return for another season.

Maryland

The Terrapins had a subpar spring season that saw them finish with a 5-15 record.

The team’s only All-Big Ten player, Erika Pritchard, also transferred to Penn State in the offseason.

The Terrapins have since added three graduate transfers in Paula Neciporuka, Kaylee Thomas, and Hannah Thompson, and brought on a new assistant coach in former Winthrop assistant Becca Acevedo.

Illinois

After a strong 2019, the Fighting Illini took a step back last spring and finished the season 7-11.

Illinois will have to fill in the void left by second-team All-Big Ten outside hitter Megan Cooney, but will return a solid backcourt headlined by first-team All-Big Ten libero Taylor Kuper.

Rutgers

With eight foreign players on the roster, the Scarlet Knights went overseas to grab much of their talent — including the program’s first ever All-Big Ten honoree, Inna Balyko. Balyko will return for her senior season this fall.

Rutgers’ six Big Ten wins last spring were the highest single season total in program history, and the Scarlet Knights will have a chance to improve upon that total with only two players from the 2020-21 roster choosing not to return for 2021-22.

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