For many young volleyball players, the college experience will not be complete without nets and volleyballs, set points, and liberos. Indeed, for those who competitively play volleyball, deciding where to spend the next four years often comes down to a college’s volleyball program. That’s why College Values Online has researched the 30 colleges with the best women’s volleyball teams in hopes of helping up-and-coming players with this life-altering decision.
Methodology for Best College Volleyball Programs for Women
To come up with the 30 colleges with the best women’s volleyball teams, we started by putting together a (long!) list of the best volleyball teams as ranked by both the NCAA and the country’s most competitive conferences, including the SEC, the Big 10, the Atlantic Coast Conference, and the Pac-12, among others. We then narrowed down our list based on such factors as conference title wins, NCAA Tournament appearances, NCAA Tournament wins, and notable alumnae.
Brigham Young University
Head coach Heather Olmstead, now in her fourth season as a Cougars coach, has done quite well with BYU’s women’s volleyball team. Overall, the women have made it to 30 of 38 NCAA volleyball national championships every year since 2012. In 2014, the team made it as far as runner-up — its best-ever finish. The Cougars were West Coast Conference champs in 2012, 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017.
California Polytechnic State University
San Luis Obispo, California
The college volleyball women’s program at California Polytechnic State University has proven to be one of Cal Poly’s most successful athletic programs in recent years. The team has won two Big West titles (2006 and 2007) after posting nearly undefeated regular conference seasons. They’re also consistent additions to the NCAA Tournament, where they’ve appeared 15 times.
Those eager to both attend an Ivy League university and play for a competitive volleyball program have a great option at Harvard University. The Harvard Crimson are members of both the NCAA Division I and the Ivy League conference. Since the team’s establishment in 1981, Harvard has made several tournament appearances and was even named Ivy League champions in 2004.
Iowa State University
Like most of the other teams on our list of the best colleges for women’s volleyball, the team at Iowa State University competes in NCAA Division I and the Big 12 Conference. Christy Johnson-Lynch took over the role of head coach in 2005. Since then, the Cyclones have returned yearly to the prestigious NCAA Tournament. Of these NCAA Tournament appearances, the team has advanced to the Sweet 16 three times and the Elite 8 twice. Perhaps most appealing to a prospective Cyclone is the fact that since 2005, the program has produced 22 All-American Athletes, which is a huge accomplishment!
Kansas State University
Kansas State University’s women’s volleyball team competes in both Division I of the NCAA and the Big 12 Conference. Since the program’s inception in 1974, the Wildcats have made 19 NCAA Tournament appearances, the most recent of which occurred in 2016. The women were also named the Big 12 regular season champs in 2003. Collectively, such records make Kansas State one of the most successful volleyball programs in the Big 12.
Michigan State University
East Lansing, Michigan
Michigan State University is considered a best college for volleyball. Its women’s volleyball program was established in 1973, two years before the team made its first of 22 (so far!) NCAA Tournament appearances. Of those 22 appearances, the Spartans have fought their way to the regional final three times (most recently in 2017) and the semifinal once. The team has been headed by Cathy George since 2005 and has achieved a winning record of about 59%.
Pennsylvania State University
University Park, Pennsylvania
If there’s any doubt as to whether the Penn State women’s volleyball team is one of the most dominant in the nation, consider this: the Nittany Lions have won a whopping seven NCAA Tournament Champion titles! The team’s success stems greatly from the fact that it’s led by Russ Rose, who has coached the women’s team since 1979. He’s garnered the highest winning percentage of any coach in NCAA Division I history. Penn State has competed in the Big Ten conference since 1991 and has since then been named regular season champions 17 times.
West Lafayette, Indiana
Since head coach Dave Shondell took over the women’s volleyball program at Purdue University in 2003, the team has solidified itself as one of the country’s best women’s volleyball colleges. The Boilermakers have enjoyed ten winning seasons and made the same number of appearances in the NCAA Tournament. Of those appearances, Purdue has made it as far as the regional finals twice, most recently in 2013 and 2010.
San Diego State University
San Diego, California
San Diego State University has its own highly competitive women’s volleyball program. Coached by Deitre Collins-Parker, the Aztecs have made it to the NCAA Division I Tournament 14 times, where they’ve amassed an all-time tournament record of 13-14. Prospective Aztecs interested in playing volleyball less competitively will be happy to know that the university also offers both men’s and women’s club volleyball teams.
Palo Alto, California
Regarding college volleyball for women, there’s no question that Stanford is one of the best in the nation. Currently led by head coach Kevin Hambly, the Cardinal has won the NCAA national championships an amazing seven times. It’s also finished as runner-up in the prestigious competition eight times. Some of Stanford’s notable alumnae include:
- Foluke Akinradewo (2012 and 2016 indoor volleyball Olympian)
- Logan Tom (2000, 2004, 2008, and 2012 indoor volleyball Olympian)
- the incomparable Kerri Walsh Jennings (2000 indoor volleyball Olympian; 2004, 2008, 2012 Olympian gold medalist in beach volleyball).
University of Alabama
The women’s volleyball program at the University of Alabama may not be as widely known and respected as, say, the university’s football team, but the team certainly belongs on our list of the best colleges for women’s volleyball. Currently coached by Ed Allen, the Crimson Tide has fought for the title of NCAA Women’s Volleyball Champions eight times since the program’s inception in 1976. The team’s most recent appearances have occurred in 2006, 2007, 2013, and 2014. The women were also named SEC Western Division champs twice, in 2000 and 2004.
University of California, Berkeley
As one of two University of California campuses to make our list of the best volleyball colleges for women, U.C. Berkeley has established itself as one of the top choices for talented young volleyball players. Coached since 1999 by Rich Feller, the California Golden Bears have made 12 NCAA Tournament appearances since 2000 and even finished as tournament runner-up in 2010. As part of the Pac-10, the Bears were also named regular season champs twice, most recently in 2010.
University of California, Los Angeles
Los Angeles, California
Despite existing for over half a century, the UCLA women’s volleyball team has had only two long-term coaches (Andy Banachowski from 1965-1967 and 1969-2010 and Michael Sealy (2011-present). Undoubtedly, this consistency has contributed to UCLA’s reputation as one of the best volleyball colleges for talented and competitive young players. The Bruins have appeared in 27 of the 28 NCAA Tournaments and advanced as far as the Final Fours an incredible 11 times, the second-most number of times of any other school in Division I volleyball. Additionally, UCLA has produced several professional players and Olympians, including Elisabeth Bachman, Jenny Johnson Jordan, and Annett Davis.
University of Central Florida
The women’s college volleyball team at the University of Central Florida is known as the Knights. The NCAA Division I team, the Knights, competes in the American Athletic Conference. The team made 14 NCAA Tournament appearances, has been named conference season champions six times, and won its conference tournament 11 times, most recently in 2003.
University of Dayton
Most of the universities to make our list of the best colleges for women’s volleyball are large public schools. The University of Dayton is an exception. Indeed, the University of Dayton is home to about 8,500 undergraduates and is a private Roman Catholic university. Still, it’s established itself as quite a powerhouse in sports, including volleyball. The U.D. women’s team competes in the Atlantic 10 conference and has appeared in the NCAA Tournament in 12 of the last 15 years.
University of Florida
The Gators of the University of Florida is a top-ranked women’s college volleyball team in both NCAA Division I and the uber-competitive Southeastern Conference (SEC). Since taking over the role of head coach in 1991, Mary Wise has led the team to the NCAA Tournament every single year. No wonder Wise has been named NCAA Coach of the Year a whopping three times! Of their 28 NCAA Tournament appearances, the Gators have advanced to the semifinals eight times and finished runner-up twice.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign women’s volleyball team is an NCAA Division I team and one of the strongest competitors in the Big Ten Conference. Since the team’s establishment in 1974, the Fighting Illini has celebrated 31 winning seasons. The women have been conference champions four times (most recently in 1992) and have made 25 NCAA Tournament appearances, including in 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2017. Also worth mentioning is the fact that the women’s volleyball team consistently ranks in the top ten in the country for average home attendance.
University of Louisville
The University of Louisville is well known for its sports, and historically, women’s volleyball has been one of the school’s most successful programs. At the time of writing, the team’s all-time record is 900-446, for a win percentage of approximately 66%. The Cardinals have also made 17 NCAA Tournament appearances, most recently in 2015, and have garnered an incredible 18 conference titles.
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, Michigan
The NCAA Division I Wolverines of the University of Michigan have made 19 NCAA Tournament appearances since 1981. Of those 19 appearances, the team has made it to the regional final twice. They got as far as the semifinal match once, in 2013. The university, which tends to be considered a powerhouse when it comes to sports, has produced many notable players, including:
- 11 All Americans
- three Big Ten Medal of Honor winners
- a Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year
- 11 All-Big Tens
University of Minnesota
Considering its women’s volleyball team is coached by none other than Hugh McCutcheon, former head coach of the U.S. women’s national team, it’s no surprise that the University of Minnesota is a solid addition to our list of the best colleges for women’s volleyball. The Golden Gophers are an NCAA Division I team with 22 appearances in the NCAA Tournament. In 2004, they got the closest they’ve come to winning the national title, ending up runner-up. The University of Minnesota has also won the Big 10 conference twice, in 2002 and 2015.
University of Missouri
The University of Missouri in Columbia is home to a women’s college volleyball team that is consistently top-ranked by the SEC. The team has posted several successful seasons led by head coach Wayne Kreklow, who came aboard Mizzou in 2005. One of the team’s highlight years was in 2013 when the Tigers finished the regular season with a 35-1 record — good enough to earn the title of Southeastern Conference champions.
University of Nebraska
As one of the most decorated sports teams, the University of Nebraska is an easy addition to our list of the best colleges for women’s volleyball. Since its establishment in 1975, the Cornhuskers have achieved more wins than any other women’s collegiate volleyball team. Additionally, they’ve competed in the NCAA Tournament every year since 1982 and won five times — most recently in 2015 and 2017. Since joining the Big Ten in 2011, the team has been named regular season champions three times in 2011, 2016, and 2017.
University of Oregon
The University of Oregon is home to yet another powerhouse Pac-12 women’s volleyball team. The team has made it to the NCAA Tournament 16 times, including every year since 2011. Of those appearances, the Ducks have advanced as far as the regional semifinals five times. In 2012, the University of Oregon advanced all the way to the tournament final, where it finished as runners-up. The team is currently coached by Matt Ulmer, who took over as head coach in 2017.
University of Pittsburgh
The University of Pittsburgh — or Pitt, as it’s known — is home to an NCAA Division I women’s volleyball team. The program was founded in 1974, and since then, it’s had winning seasons in all but four years. It boasts one of the top all-time winning percentages of any team in the United States. It’s made an incredible 16 appearances in the NCAA Tournament. As a competitive Atlantic Coast Conference member, Pitt has won the conference volleyball championship three times, including most recently in 2017.
University of South Carolina
Columbia, South Carolina
The University of South Carolina is another SEC school with a competitive NCAA Division I women’s volleyball team. Although the team has yet to take home the SEC regular season champions title, the Gamecocks are nearly always in the running. The team has made seven NCAA Tournament appearances, including its most recent effort in 2002.
University of Southern California
Los Angeles, California
With a whopping 32 NCAA tournament appearances and six wins, the University of Southern California (USC) women’s volleyball team is easily one of the most dominant in the nation. As part of the Pac-12 conference, the Trojans have been named conference season champs five times, most recently in 2015. In 2003, the last year in which it was named NCAA champions, the team became the national champion in NCAA history to post back-to-back undefeated seasons. USC has also produced several notable players, including 2016 bronze medalist April Ross and 2012 Olympic silver medalist Jennifer Kessy, among others. The team gained a new coach, Brent Crouch, for the 2018 season but is expected to retain its winning record.
University of Tennessee
The University of Tennessee women’s volleyball team competes in both the SEC and NCAA Division I. The Volunteers — or Lady Vols, as they’re affectionately known — are consistently in the country’s biggest collegiate tournaments, including the NCAA Tournament, where they’ve appeared 18 times. Of those 18 appearances, half have been since the year 2000. In 2005, the team succeeded in reaching the semifinal stage. Although the University of Tennessee brought in a new head coach, Eve Rackham, in 2018, the team is expected to continue its powerhouse ways.
The University of Texas at Austin
Since its founding in 1974, the women’s volleyball program at The University of Texas has established itself as a major powerhouse. An NCAA Division I team, the Longhorns, competed in the Big 12 conference, which it won a whopping ten times, including in 2015 and 2017. Additionally, the team has qualified for the prestigious NCAA tournament every year but two and has even been named tournament champion three times, most recently in 2012.
University of Washington
Pac-12 powerhouse University of Washington has been a dominant force in women’s volleyball since about 1988. Coached by Keegan Cook, the Huskies have traveled the globe to compete with the best the world has to offer. They’ve reached the NCAA Tournament 23 times, including every single year since 2002. Of those 23 appearances, the Huskies have reached the semifinals four times and were even named tournament champions in 2005. As for the very competitive Pac-12 conference, Washington has won the title of regular season champion six times, including in 2013, 2015, and 2016.
University of Wisconsin
University of Wisconsin in Madison has a long tradition of success with both men’s and women’s volleyball. Its women’s team has proven itself especially strong since the program’s founding in 1974. In 2007, the Badgers fought for the title of NCAA National Champion but ended up runner-up. Nearly the same story occurred in 2013. Still, the Wisconsin women’s volleyball team is nearly always ranked at the top of the NCAA and conference rankings. Also worth mentioning is the fact that the team usually ranks among all Division I volleyball programs for the average number of fans at each match.