Greater Cincinnati is no stranger to great volleyball players. A number of local alumni are making big impacts in Division I college volleyball during the current postseason. Here is a look at them:
Morgan Hentz, Notre Dame
The Stanford junior libero is one of the top players in the country and will lead the Cardinal as they aim for their second national championship in Hentz’s career. The Stanford women’s volleyball team (28-1) will begin its quest for the program’s eighth NCAA title at home this week, as the squad earned the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Stanford is scheduled to play its first-round match at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 30, at Maples Pavilion against Alabama State (23-17). The Lady Hornets won their third straight SWAC title to earn the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Championship.
Duke (16-11) and Loyola Marymount (20-9) will meet in the other first-round matchup at Maples Pavilion on Friday at 4:30 p.m. The winners of the Stanford-Alabama State match and the LMU-Duke match will meet in the second round on Saturday, Dec. 1 at 6 p.m.
The Cardinal wrapped up the regular season Nov. 23 with a sweep over Bay Area rival California. Claiming its 18th league title, Stanford became the first Pac-12 team in 15 years to go undefeated in conference play (20-0). Eight Pac-12 schools earned bids to the NCAA Tournament, the most in the nation.
For the second straight season, Hentz was selected as the Pac-12 Libero of the Year.
A repeat Libero of the Year winner, Hentz was the first Cardinal to earn the honor since the award’s inception in 2011. She leads the team with 4.79 digs per set and has just 12 reception errors on the season. Her 4.79 digs per set would be the fourth-best single season mark in school history. The junior has been named the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week five times this season. Hentz has registered double-digit digs in all 29 matches this season, reaching the 20-dig plateau on seven occasions.
The University of Cincinnati volleyball team earned an at-large bid to the 2018 NCAA Volleyball Championship tournament and will face Illinois State on Friday, Nov. 30, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, at 5:30 p.m. ET.
UC earns the second at-large bid in American Athletic Conference history as they also did so in 2016. The tournament field was released live on ESPNU Sunday evening. No. 14 Marquette will host the four-team field in Milwaukee that will also include High Point. The winning team to come out of Milwaukee will advance to regionals set for Dec. 7-8.
Prior to 2016, the last time the Bearcats appeared in the NCAA postseason was 2011, and the previous at-large selection came during the 2010 season. UC ended the regular season 25-7 and 15-3 in the AAC for a second-place finish. This marks the 11th NCAA tournament appearance for the program. UC has won four matches in tournament play.
Sabrina Wolf reacts during the Cougars state championship win over Dublin Coffman, Saturday, Nov. 14. (Photo: Tony Tribble for the Enquirer)
The Bearcats have four local players: Abby Williams, a senior from Ursuline Academy and Loveland native; Sabrina Wolf, a junior from Mt. Notre Dame; Armania Heckenmueller, a freshman from MND; and Hannah Bolinger, a freshman from St. Ursula Academy.
Williams, a four-year starter, enters the tournament with 1,719 career digs, 391 this season, and a high of 26 in a match this season. She also has 116 assists this season. Heckenmueller is the second setter and has 599 assists, while Wolf and Bolinger have seen time off the bench.
Sabrina and Margo Wolf, Mt. Notre Dame
UC Bearcat Sabrina Wolf was a three-time state champion at MND with her cousin Margo Wolf, who is a senior at Dayton. They are part of the legendary Wolf family who have decades of athletic prowess at St. Xavier and other Cincinnati schools.
Margo Wolf, a libero, had 403 career assists and 1,811 digs with the Flyers. She was named the Atlantic 10 Libero of the Year and is an All-Academic selection in the A-10, and has seen action in every match in her career. Wolf was a first-team all-state pick in 2014 with MND, and won two state championships with her cousin.
The University of Dayton volleyball team is set to play Louisville Friday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, the program’s 13th appearance in the national postseason championship. First serve between the Flyers and Cardinals is set for 5:30 p.m. ET at Illinois’ Huff Hall. Dayton, A-10 champions, would play Illinois or Eastern Michigan in round two 8 p.m. Saturday.
Hayley Bush hits the ball in a Ninth Region Tournament. (Photo: Brandon Severn for The Enquirer)
Hayley Bush and Ashley Bush, Ryle
Hayley Bush, a redshirt freshman at Purdue, is the starting setter for the Boilermakers. She averages 10.9 assists per set and is fourth in digs with 221. She also has nine aces and 66 kills.
After securing its 23rd season of 20-plus wins, the Purdue volleyball team will make its 13th NCAA Tournament appearance in the last 15 years, when they face East Tennessee State in the first round in Lexington.
The Boilermakers (23-8, 12-8 Big Ten) will face the Bucs (28-6, 15-1 SoCon), who finished first in the SoCon and are making their third NCAA appearance. Rounding out the four-team pool are No. 10 Kentucky (24-4, 18-0 SEC) and Murray State (22-9, 13-3 OVC). The host Wildcats won the Southeastern Conference title, while the Racers won the Ohio Valley Conference.
The Boilermakers are set to face ETSU at 5 p.m. ET Friday, while Kentucky and Murray State square off at 7:30 p.m. The winners of the two matches will play at 7 p.m. ET Saturday.
Ashley Bush, a senior at Northwestern, has not played in a match since 2015 due to injury. Bush, now an assistant coach, was showered with honors on Senior Night as the Wildcats’ lone senior. Northwestern finished 16-16 this season. She registered more than 1,000 kills, 2,750 assists, 190 aces and 150 blocks during her decorated high school career.
Natalie Steibel, Mt. Notre Dame
The Mason, Ohio, native is a freshman for Pittsburgh, which hosts a pod of the NCAA Tournament. Pitt, 29-1, has beaten ranked teams Washington and Louisville. Pitt is the 12th seed and will play Iona 7 p.m. Friday. The winner faces Michigan or Navy 7 p.m. Saturday.
Steibel has not played for the Panthers this season. She was an honorable mention All-American as a senior with MND and GGCL Player of the Year.
Adrian Ell, McNicholas
The redshirt freshman with Florida State helped the Seminoles advance to the NCAA Tournament, where they lost to rival Florida in the first round Nov. 29 and finished 19-10 overall.
Ell is second on the team in assists and has 162 digs. She was All-ACC Academic in 2017 during a redshirt season. At McNick, she posted 598 kills, 557 assists, 438 digs, 122 blocks and 83 aces, and was first team all-league and all-city.
Danielle Mahaffey, Northwest
The freshman has 109 kills and 47 blocks for the season for Tennessee, who is in the NCAA Tournament. The Vols play Colorado State 7 p.m. Friday in the pod hosted by No. 16 Washington State. A win puts the Vols against Washington State or Northern Arizona 9 p.m. Saturday.
She had 11 kills twice this season, including once in a win over 13th-ranked Florida. She was first team all-conference three times and recorded 919 kills, 346 blocks and 474 digs at Northwest. She plans to major in mathematics after graduating Summa Cum Laude with a 5.35 weighted GPA
Abby Thelen, Notre Dame
Seton Hall senior Abby Thelen (Ft. Mitchell, Ky.) was named to the All-BIG EAST Volleyball First Team. Thelen becomes the first Pirate non-libero to be named to the All-BIG EAST First Team in back-to-back years since Perette Arrington in 1993 and 1994.
Once again, Thelen was the primary offensive option for the Pirates in 2018, leading the team in kills and kills per set for a third straight year. Her 391 kills and 3.72 kills per set this season ranked fourth in the BIG EAST Conference. Thelen was named to the BIG EAST Weekly Honor Roll a team-high three times, and she was named to the All-Tournament Team at both the Blue & White Classic in Buffalo and the Pirates’ own Seton Hall Classic.
Thelen topped 15 kills in a single-match a team-best 11 times in 2018, giving her 34 for her remarkable career.
On Oct. 7, Thelen erupted for a career-high 25 kills to go with three blocks in a victory at Providence. Most recently, she closed out her career with a performance for the ages at DePaul Nov. 17. Thelen had 23 kills and only one attack error in just three sets in a Pirate sweep of the Blue Demons. Her 23 kills are the most by any Big East player this season in a three-set match.
Thelen graduates as one of only six players in Seton Hall history with more than 1,300 career kills. She also ranks fifth in school history with more than 3,500 career attacks. A strong defensive player as well, she also tallied well over 200 career blocks and nearly 400 career digs. The Enquirer will have an additional story on her next week.
Nicole Legg, Ryle
The freshman has played sparingly for the Bulls, who finished 20-12 and lost to Georgia Tech in the NIVC Nov. 29. She had 1,109 kills in a Raiders uniform.
Haley Stewart, Wyoming
The junior for Miami (Ohio) helped defeat NKU in the NIVC Nov. 29. She has played every match this season. As a sophomore, she appeared in 13 matches, hitting .298 with 12 blocks. She led the CHL in kills and blocks as a senior in 2015 and CHL and District Player of the Year.
Miami will play Valparaiso or Ball State in a second round contest on Friday at 7 p.m. in Millett Hall. The winner of Miami’s pod advances to the NIVC Third Round against the winner of the Tulane pod (featuring Tulane, Arkansas State, Arkansas-Little Rock and Cal Baptist) at a site and date to be determined.
Anna Brinkmann, a freshman from Mason had 216 digs and 37 blocks this year for the Norse, and was named to the All-Freshman team in the Horizon League. She was three-time first team all-GMC and two time second team all-state, notching more than 900 kills as a Comet.
Natalie Hardig, a freshman blocker from Notre Dame, has started every match. She has 162 kills and leads the Norse in blocks. She had 884 kills and 356 blocks with the Pandas.