Every time I take another look at the non-league schedule UWM volleyball coach Susie Johnson has put together, it gets even tougher.
At first glance, fans would probably notice two matches against Iowa State and contests against Ole Miss and Ohio State, maybe just because those are BCS schools. And indeed, led by the Cyclones (who are 13th in the nation in the preseason AVCA poll and reached the Elite Eight last season), that group is indeed daunting on its own.
But then as I began to compile information for the opponent section of this year's media guide (now available online at the main site), it became apparent that a number of other Panther opponents were bringing back a large portion of their team from a season ago. In fact, seven of nine UWM non-league opponents have at least three of their starters back from a season ago, with five of them having at least four starters back.
Side note ... This doesn't include Alcorn State, for which I am still seeking information. As you might note in the opponent section of the guide, the info I did find is more than a little thin, and for the first time I can remember I had to say a schedule was "not available" ... ugh!
At the Panther Invite alone, Western Michigan has all of their starters back after going to the Sweet 16 last year. Somehow, WMU didn't crack the preseason top 25, though the Broncos are 30th when you consider where they sit in the "Others Receiving Votes" category. And, Ohio State has all but one of its starters back and looks poised for a major rise up the Big Ten standings.
But don't sleep on the trip to Mississippi, where Ole Miss is on its homecourt and UAB brings a couple of starters back from a team that went to the second round of the NCAA Tournament last year. Throw in a single game at Northern Illinois - a place UWM pulled out a five-setter two years ago - and there's not an easy stretch on the slate.
It all starts in a week at Iowa State ...