Greenville College edged Webster University as the preseason favorites in the 2014 St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Preseason Coaches poll. Greenville received one additional first-place vote to push them into the lead spot.
Greenville, who captured their first outright SLIAC regular season title last year, finished 2013 with a 24-7 overall record and a 17-1 mark in conference play. The Panthers will be looking to win their first tournament title since 2010 after being upset as the top seed last season. Greenville, received 77 total points including five first-place votes, and return all six starters including a pair of First Team All-Conference players in junior libero Jamie Schollenbruch and senior setter Ellen Lueking. Also returning is Team MVP senior outside hitter Nicole Schaeffer, a Second Team All-Conference performer last year. A pair of sophomores, Sierah Ruffner and Savannah Sells, are expected to continue their growth on the court. The Panthers, coached by Tom Ackerman, return 15 players and will bring in 10 newcomers including freshman outside hitter Allyson Mitchell and junior middle blocker Billie Zack.
Webster received 75 total points with four first-place votes to finish second in the preseason poll. The Gorloks, coached by Merry Graf, went 26-9 last season while winning their third consecutive SLIAC Tournament title. Webster will look to a group of seniors to carry the team, led by middle hitter and 2013 SLIAC Defensive Player of the Year Sam Kersting. Kersting finished fifth in the SLIAC in kills and first in blocks and was named First Team All-Conference as well as the SLIAC Tournament MVP last year. She is joined by fellow middle hitter EMily Ratkewicz, who earned First Team All-Conference honors as well. The trio of Allie O'Toole, Jenny Howard, and Jordan Vehlewald each earned honorable mention All-Conference honors last year. Three transfers; Rachel Nelson, Emma Cabutti, and Abbie Pfeiffer, will provide depth for the Gorloks.
Westminster College was picked third in the poll, finishing with 61 total points including one first-place vote. The Blue Jays finished last year 17-12 overall and 12-6 in the SLIAC under their first year with head coach Curtis Madson. Westminster returns six starters highlighted by a core of young players. Leading the way is sophomore outside hitter Riley Lawrence, who was named 2013 SLIAC Newcomer of the Year. Lexi Collier, a junior middle hitter, also returns after being named All-Conference in each of the last two years. A pair of sophomores in Amanda Kiso and Kayla Reeg flush out the depth of the Blue Jays. Several incoming freshmen join the program including Hannah Marshall, Kendall Johnson, and Natalie Corrigan.
Principia was picked fourth in the poll with 56 total points. The Panthers went 21-11 last season with a 12-6 record in the SLIAC. Principia brings back six starters including 2013 SLIAC Player of the Year Tess Rountree. Rountree led the conference in kills, digs and aces per set while earning All-Region honorable mention honors. Also back are senior setter Savanna Sprague, who was third in the SLIAC in assists per set, and senior outside hitter Jess Bushong. Senior libero Summer Switzer will be the anchor on defense where she finished second in the conference in digs and earned Second Team All-Conference honors. Several newcomers, including Cha Cha Fisher, Emma Herman, and Zoe Mahler, could see time on the court.
Spalding University was chosen fifth in the preseason poll with 48 total points. The Golden Eagles went 18-11 overall and 12-6 in conference play last season under the guidance of head coach Bridget Yates. The will be led by senior outside hitter Elisa Burkman, First Team All-Conference last season, and junior setter Katelyn Cosgrove, who earned honorable mention All-Conference honors last year. Sophomore Victoria Heitzman also returns after finishing last year with 194 kills as does setter Morgan Wilson.
MacMurray College was picked sixth in the poll, receiving 38 total points. The Highlanders are coached by Danielle Doerfler and went 9-22 overall and 5-13 in the SLIAC last year. MacMurray brings back their entire starting lineup and will be led by senior middle hitter Bre Pelker. Pelker led the team in kills with 246 and blocks with 77. Also returning is Keaunna Flesner (2.01 kills per set) and a pair of setters in Hollie Schultz and Alexa Boyer. Rachel Kilver, a sophomore outside hitter, started 29 matches as a true freshman last year and will be counted on to add to the offensive attack. Newcomers Morgan Hauser, Kennedy Magee, and Megan Gillis may also see time for the Highlanders.
Iowa Wesleyan College is picked to finish seventh, receiving 34 total points in the poll. The Tigers will be guided by new head coach BJ Wagy and return five players from last year's team that went 11-19 overall and 7-8 in the SLIAC. Iowa Wesleyan will count on junior outside hitter Dakota Flesner to power them this season. Flesner was fourth in the conference in kills last year with 350 and earned Second Team All-Conference honors. Sophomore middle blocker Erica Rookstool is also back after finishing 6th in the conference in hitting percentage and 8th in solo blocks. Seniors Lindsey Johnson and Emily West will provide leadership while sophomore defensive specialists Cierra Howard is also back after averaging 3.38 digs per game. Newcomers Lexa Mahr, Alyssa Morales, and Kali Unruh should compete for time on the court.
Fontbonne University was picked eighth in the SLIAC preseason poll, receiving 32 total points. Fontbonne is coached by Meredith Heater and returns four starters from last year's squad that went 10-18 overall and 6-12 in the SLIAC. The Griffins will lean on sophomore Madeline Stadler, who earned honorable mention All-Conference honors last year. Joining her will be junior setter Mandy DeWitt (4.71 assists per set), senior libero Krista Beyer (2.98 digs per set), and sophomore defensive specialist Lynsey Wehrenberg who saw valuable minutes as a true freshman last year. A pair of high school standouts in Kersten McDonough and Emily Merick will join the program this year.
Eureka College was picked ninth in the poll, receiving 13 total points. The Red Devils are coached by first year head coach Jessica Brown and bring back four starters. Eureka finished last year with a 2-23 overall record, going 2-16 in the SLIAC. The Red Devils will look to senior outside hitter Kelsey Shoemake and junior setter Grace Keller to lead the team. Also back are a trio of sophomores that saw time last year in Molly Jugovic, Emily Harrod, and Makena Webb. Incoming freshmen Beth Mickna and Katie Schwanke should also compete for playing time.
Blackburn College was picked tenth in the poll, with six total points. The Beavers were 1-27 overall last, finishing 0-18 in the SLIAC. The Beavers, coached by Suzannah Toresdahl, will have to replace their top two leading hitters from last year in Jessica McClelland and Amanda Miller. The Beavers expect junior outside hitter Allie Matt, who averaged 1.68 kills per set last year, to fill that void. Junior setter Patrece McLain also returns after averaging 3.18 assists per set last season.
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