Let the Battle Begin for 2012 Volleyball Title

Let the Battle Begin for 2012 Volleyball Title

ST. LOUIS - The battle for the 2012 St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SLIAC) Volleyball title promises to be a tight race according to the voting among the league coaches in the preseason poll. Webster University took the the top spot in the poll with 61 total points and five first place votes. Last season's preseason favorite, Greenville College, was close behind in second place with 57 points and three first place votes.

The two teams tied for the regular season championship in 2011 after finishing 14-2 in conference action. Webster swept through the conference tournament, however, and captured their ninth SLIAC Tournament Championship.

The Gorloks' veteran coach, Merry Graf, returns 11 players from last year's squad, including five starters. She will look to a talented sophomore class that includes 2011 SLIAC Newcomer of the Year, Jenny Howard, to lead the way in 2012. Howard, an outside hitter, was First Team All-Conference last year and had a .318 hitting percentage, 285 digs and 17 service aces. Joining her is fellow sophomore outside hitter, Jordan Vehlewald, who had 233 kills, 299 digs and 29 service aces overall, while also earning Second Team All-Conference and Tournament MVP honors. Graf is also hoping that sophomore transfer Sam Kersting (middle hitter) will make an immediate impact at the net. Kersting played in 82 games and had 50 total blocks while at Indiana State University last season.

Greenville also has an arsenal of players returning to the court in 2012. Junior, opposite side hitter, Corinne Coon, averaged 4.00 kills per set in conference play last season and had a .370 hitting percentage. She was also named First Team All-SLIAC and earned SLIAC Player of the Year honors. Sophomore Nicole Schaeffer, an outside hitter, also returns after earning First Team All-Conference in 2011 and ranked second in the conference in total kills (204). Providing a strong net presence will be senior middle blocker and two-time First Team All-SLIAC player, Tricia Gall. Head coach Tom Ackerman, will also be looking for sophomore transfer Ellen Leuking (setter) and freshman Marissa Erwin (middle hitter) to make an impact for the Panthers in 2012.

Spalding University could once again pose a threat and make a run at the regular season title. The Golden Eagles finished third last year with a 13-3 conference record and were selected third in the Pre-Season Coaches Poll. Sophomore outside hitter, Elisa Burkman, returns after earning Second Team All-Conference in 2011. She averaged 2.78 kills per set in conference action and had 52 service aces overall. Spalding will also be strong at the setter position, with senior Sarah Schott and sophomore Casey Wilkerson both returning and freshman Morgan Wilson joining the ranks.

Principia College ranked fourth in the preseason poll and returns to All-Conference players in sophomore Tess Rountree (1st Team) and senior Kiersten Andersen (2nd Team). Rountree ranked first in the conference, both overall and conference-games only, in both kills and kills per set. She posted 560 kills and 4.38 kills per set overall, while recording 233 kills and 4.40 kills per set in SLIAC action. Andersen had 435 kills overall and 3.15 kills per set. In addition to the returning players, Principia will be looking to newcomer Sierra Sprague, a freshman middle blocker, to make an impact on the court.

Westminster College (Mo.) was chosen fifth among the league coaches and returns a veteran squad that includes senior outside hitters Alex Berry and Molly Owens. Berry is a three-time All-Conference honoree and has been a three-year starter for the Blue Jays. Owens has also been a three-year starter and brings back an average of 2.11 kills per set. Junior Andrea Kiser also returns at middle hitter after tallying 40 blocks last season. The Blue Jays also bring in two freshman, Jordan Berry (outside hitter/libero) and Haley Roberts (setter), who could see immediate playing time.

Eureka College, Fontbonne University, MacMurray College and Blackburn College round out the final four spots of the preseason poll. Eureka was chosen sixth and will be relying on the senior leadership of outside hitters, Kelli Dunn and Shari Steidinger. Fontbonne and MacMurray tied for seventh in the poll. The Griffins return Honorable Mention All-Conference player Ana Hibbeler (opposite side) and will have a solid player in junior transfer Taryn Ballman. MacMurray will have a veteran front line back on the court in 2012 with seniors Taylor Soat (middle hitter), Brooke Clemmons (outside hitter) and Amy Radford (middle hitter). Blackburn was chosen ninth in the preseason poll.

2012 SLIAC Volleyball
Pre-Season Coaches' Poll
1 - Webster (5)
2 - Greenville (3)
3 - Spalding
4 - Principia
5 - Westminster
6 - Eureka
7 - Fontbonne
9 - Blackburn