There were significant shakeups in the latest NCAA Division 1 women’s volleyball rankings by the American Volleyball Coaches Association. While Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Stanford stayed in the top three spots as of October 1, 2023, Washington State jumped from seventh to fourth after defeating Oregon in four sets.
Despite that defeat, the Ducks even climbed one spot higher to number five. Meanwhile, Florida dropped from fourth to ninth after winning over South Carolina. Minnesota also went from 13th to 16th after going 6-6 in their season.
At the tail end of the Top 25, Arizona State improved to 23rd, allowing Iowa State to join the top-ranked teams. Numbers often dictate these rankings because they are justifiable. But as dominant as the teams in the Top 25 have been, a dive into the stats shows some common factors that drive their dominance.
1) Team play is superior to individual prowess
No players from the Top 25 schools are in categories like attacks per set, points, and points per set. Meanwhile, Dayton’s Lexie Almodovar is the only player from a Top 25 school who made it to the top ten in total kills.
It means that most of the top schools play as a cohesive unit. They don’t care who gets the most points as long as they work together to win. Since every eligible attacker can take over, it makes them difficult to beat, let alone predict their plays.
Coincidentally, three setters from the Top 25 schools were in the top ten in assists per set. Stanford’s Kami Miner leads the league with 11.77 assists per set. Tennessee’s Caroline Kerr is third at 11.32, while Arkansas’ Hannah Hogue averages 11.17.
It shows they distribute the ball well among their hitters, allowing every eligible hitter to attack. They’re not overworking one spiker to bail them out,
2) Defense wins games (and possibly championships) in NCAA volleyball
The only category that the Top 25 schools dominated was blocks per set. Texas middle blocker Asjia O’Neal ranked second, gaining 1.6 blocks per set. Pittsburgh’s Emma Monks finished with 1.59 per game, while Nebraska’s Bekka Allick is ranked fifth with 1.45 points.
Also in the top ten are Wisconsin’s Carter Booth (1.53 blocks per set) and Minnesota’s Phoebe Awoleye (1.52). Not only do they dominate the net, but they do so consistently. Their contributions in slowing down opponents’ scoring are essential to why they are nationally ranked.
3) Everyone contributes to defense
As often said, defense wins championships. But, surprisingly, no players from the Top 25 schools made it to the top ten in digs per set. Perhaps they’re too dominant to end rallies immediately, giving opponents fewer scoring opportunities.
But the possibility of everyone on the floor being conscious of their spots and owning it could be another interesting angle. Maybe no one dominates because these players guard their zones very well. It’s probably a requirement if you’re playing for a powerhouse school and scouts put a premium on players who can defend well.