My SEC Volleyball Players to Watch in 2016

Are you sick of the SEC Network and the Big Ten Network yet. Don’t get me wrong. Those are my two favorite channels. When we moved to Champaign, Illinois, DIRECTV was installed on day two solely for the purpose of watching a lot of Big Ten and SEC volleyball. But those two networks are a blessing and a curse. It’s great to see women’s soccer and softball and volleyball get a lot of air time. Yet, the reality seems to be that the conference networks just allow more air time to pontificate about football. I have to use that word because the dictionary reads, to “express one’s opinions in a way considered annoyingly pompous and dogmatic.” When I saw the Big Ten Network showing highlights of the Northwestern Football team’s watermelon eating contest, I drew the line. Enough football. It’s time for a look at my favorite players to watch for the upcoming season. We kick it off with the SEC and will follow it up with a look at our favorite Big Ten Volleyball players to watch. Here are my top eight volleyball players to watch in the SEC.

8. Stephanie Aiple

How can I list the conference player of the year at number eight? Well, because I am spoiled by Big Ten volleyball. With our Illini season tickets and the Big Ten Network, I will see a lot of Jordyn Poulter, Sam Seliger-Swenson, and of course Lauren Carlini. Maybe the three best setters in the country, all in the same conference. But I don’t want that to take away from giving credit to what Stephanie Aiple and her Aggies did last year. Despite having the SEC Network and SEC Plus last fall, I didn’t see the Aggies play as much as say Arkansas, Florida, or Kentucky. But she is definitely one to watch when you turn on SEC Volleyball. The junior setter is one of twelve volleyball players in the country to be named to espnW’s “12 to watch” list. Watch Aiple lead the Aggie offense as they are predicted to repeat as SEC Champs.

7. Darian Mack, Jr. OH, Kentucky

While we didn’t see the Aggies play much last year, we did watch a lot of Kentucky Wildcat volleyball. And Darian Mack stood out from day one. Mack had a breakout season as a sophomore, leading the Wildcats in kills and finishing second on the team in digs. She played in every match, she attacks from the back row, she racks up double doubles, and she might be one of the most athletic players in the conference. With Mack hitting outside and an offense that knows how to use their middles, Kentucky will be a fun team to watch again this year. It’s not too early to circle that Florida-Kentucky match on your calendar. Watch #8 Darian Mack as Kentucky tries to beat Florida again this year.

6. Alex Holston, Sr. RS, Florida

Speaking of Florida. Alex Holston led Florida in kills. That about says it all. Florida volleyball is rich in tradition and Holston enters her senior year as one of just 12 players in school history to reach the 1,000 career kills milestone. She was at her best, when her best was needed. If you remember the controversial match versus Wisconsin in the Sweet Sixteen, Holston came up big with a season-high 20 kills versus Wisconsin. Alex and Gator teammate Rhamat Alhassan represented Team USA in the Pan Am Cup this summer. Making her one of the 12 best players in the country from last year.

5. Krystal Rivers, Sr. MB, Alabama

You have to love a middle who is listed at 5–11. Krystal Rivers serves tough, she was second in the SEC in kills with 451, and she’s a middle with three double doubles on the year. Back in 2014, she became the first Alabama player in program history to earn AVCA All-American honors. Watch her play and you may think she is the most powerful and explosive player in the conference. She gets my vote for the best all-around player in the SEC. In addition, Rivers might be the best story on our list. Krystal Rivers battled Hodgkin’s lymphoma back in January 2014. Cancer couldn’t slow her down that spring; she still went through her volleyball workouts and continued her classes while undergoing treatment. The biology major is also the perfect example of the word student-athlete. She’s earned her share of academic awards and when she steps on the court, she’s among the best in the conference and the nation. Her Crimson Tide team battled injuries and a slow start last season, but they will be a team to keep a close eye on in 2016.

4. Kaz Brown, Jr. MB, Kentucky

We love our middles in this volleyball household. And watching Kaz Brown on the slide is a thing of beauty. Plus, I’m from Iowa, so I love my Iowa kids. Kaz Brown is a dynamic middle who plays the game with passion and enthusiasm. She’s fun to watch! An impact player for sure. She was twice named SEC Defensive Player of the Week in 2015 and she finished the season ranked number three in the country in blocks per set. Brown set all sorts of Wildcat records in 2015. And the scary thing for SEC teams is that she has two more seasons to go.

3. Alyssa Munlyn, So. MB, Missouri

The SEC Freshman of the Year made a name for herself last year. Do you sense a theme? I will say it again. We love our middles. And we love middles that are dynamic and explosive. Most of these middles should also be your first overall pick when selecting your intramural basketball team on campus. Head coach Wayne Kreklow says, “She just provides that level of athleticism in the front row. It is really hard to replicate. She is a tough match-up problem for somebody.” Munlyn considered herself a basketball player; she didn’t even play volleyball until her freshman year of high school. Fast forward to 2016 and the Mizzou Volleyball website says that Munlyn “had one of the greatest first-year campaigns in Mizzou Volleyball history, leading to a slew of SEC and national awards following the season.” Not a bad way to spend your freshman year.

2. Pilar Victoria, Sr. OH, Arkansas

Pilar Victoria is one of just four players in the country with multiple 30-kill efforts. She did it three times in 2015. Pilar Victoria can carry the team. SEC Network and SEC Plus are great because you can watch nearly every Arkansas volleyball match if you desire. It’s a recruiting advantage for these SEC teams. Stealing Jason Watson from Arizona State is a great hire for the Razorbacks. What a way to kick off the college volleyball season as we get a chance to see Pilar Victoria in person at the Illini Classic in Champaign. Four matches in Huff Hall and a chance to see Kevin Hambly game plan how to slow down Pilar Victoria. The Illini are known for their blocking and Pilar is known for getting kills- even when everyone knows she is getting the ball. It should be a fun way to kick off the season. Do yourself a favor and watch Victoria at some point during this NCAA Volleyball season.

1. Rhamat Alhassan, Jr. MB, Florida

All-SEC and AVCA First Team All-American, Rhamat Alhassan might be the biggest impact player in all of college volleyball. You couldn’t turn on a broadcast last year without hearing the ESPN announcers talk about her wingspan and her approach jump. Alhassan is a game changer and my prototype middle blocker. In this day and age, when so many parents and youth coaches think athletes should specialize in one sport, I love the athletic middles like Alhassan. She scored over 1,000 points as a high school basketball player. She was a McDonald’s All-American high school basketball player who decided to play volleyball in college. The 6–4 Alhassan is a force to be reckoned with on the volleyball court. Once again, the Gators will be the SEC’s best hope for a team to head to the Final Four in Columbus, Ohio. It took a controversial call and an epic match with Wisconsin to knock them out last year. Teams cannot stop Alhassan; they simply have to make their runs when she is on the bench. I’m excited to see how far the Gators go this year. And I’m excited about the possibility of seeing Rhamat Alhassan compete against China and Brazil in 2020 in Tokyo.

Thanks for reading- I’m Scott Raymond. I’m a writer, volleyball husband, and avid reader of non-fiction. I’m a fan of horse racing, college football, and SEC and Big Ten Volleyball. I just moved to Champaign, Illinois with my wife Kari, where we enjoy season tickets to the best volleyball in the country.

You can read some of my other work on Medium

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… Or contact me at onehorsestable at gmail dot com

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