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Tight Race Expected in 2015 Volleyball Season, Greenville Preseason Favorites

Tight Race Expected in 2015 Volleyball Season, Greenville Preseason Favorites

According to the 2015 St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SLIAC) Volleyball Preseason poll a tight race is expected with three teams picking up first-place votes and Greenville College earning the preseason favorite spot atop the poll. Greenville sits atop the poll with four first-place votes and 75 total points while Webster University grabbed three first-place votes and 69 total points and Westminster College nabbed three first-place votes and 66 total points.

Greenville returns 19 players and five starters from last year's team that won a second consecutive outright SLIAC regular season title and at least a share of five straight titles, finishing 22-9 overall and 16-2 in conference play. Long time head coach Tom Ackerman will feature a rotation that includes the 2014 SLIAC Defensive Player of the Year, libero Jamie Schollenbruch, and 2014 SLIAC Newcomer of the Year, sophomore Allyson Mitchell. The Panthers well balanced attack also includes junior middle hitter Sierah Ruffner, who finished second on the team in hitting percentage last season. The Panthers will need to replace Nicole Schaeffer, the second leading attacker, and setter Ellen Lueking but bring in an incoming class that should see plenty of game action. Among the incoming freshmen expected to contribute are middle hitter Riley Hannula and outside hitter Sarah Watts.

Webster was 22-13 overall and 15-3 in the SLIAC last season, winning their fourth consecutive SLIAC Tournament. The Gorloks, coached by Merry Graf, return 12 players and three starters from last year's team. Leading the way will be senior hitter Rachel Nelson, who earned Second Team All-Conference honors after leading the team in attack percentage and finishing second in kills. Outside hitter Emma Cabutti saw limited action last year but is expected to make a jump this year while Katie O'Toole will step in as the team's top defensive specialist. The Gorloks will have to offset the losses of Sam Kersting and Jenny Howard but will count on transfers Jory Siebenmorgen and Emily Knowles to fill that void.

Westminster returns a lineup that not only has on the court experience but on the court success. The Blue Jays bring back five starters, plus their libero, from a team that finished 17-14 overall and 14-4 in the SLIAC. Head Coach Curtis Madson can count on the continued development of three time All-Conference performer Lexi Collier, who finished second in the conference in attack percentage last season. Junior middle hitter Amanda Kiso also returns after earning Second Team All-Conference honors last season as does junior setter Kayla Reeg, who led the conference in assists per set. Caroline Will, a senior libero, is back as is sophomore outside hitter Hannah Marshall. Newcomers Nikki Testerman, Micha Frasher, and Bridget Ringwald will battle to find a spot in the Blue Jays rotation.

Spalding University is the final team predicted to be a conference tournament participant, claiming the fourth spot in the poll with 62 total points. The Golden Eagles were 18-16 overall last year and 13-5 in conference play under the guidance of head coach Bridget Yates. Spalding returns four starters from last year's team including middle blocker Jessica Diehl and setter Katelyn Cosgrove, both All-Conference performers in 2014. They will need to replace First Team All-Conference player Elisa Burkman but are counting on a trio of freshmen; Kohletter Weaver, Ashley Chase, and Cayla Holeirt, to step in.

Principia College was picked fifth in the poll, garnering 42 total points. The Panthers were 13-16 overall last season and finished 9-7 in the SLIAC. Head Coach Mary Ann Sprague brings back two starters in Sierra Sprague and Molly Moser. Sprague was third on the team in kills last year while Moser saw action in 28 of her team's 30 matches. The Panthers will need to replace starting setter Savanna Sprague and two-time SLIAC Player of the Year Tess Rountree. Among those seeking playing time will be newcomers Sophia Hathaway and Emily Tippetts.

Fontbonne University came in sixth in the poll with 40 total points after going 13-18 overall and 7-11 during conference play. Head Coach Meredith Heater returns five starters including First Team All-Conference outside hitter Kersten McDonough. Setter Lynsey Wehrenberg is also back after leading the team in assists last year as is junior libero Maddie Stadler. Several newcomers should battle for starting positions including freshmen Taylor Shannon and Megan McKenzie as well as junior Mariana Rogers.

MacMurray College was picked seventh in the poll, receiving 39 total points. The Highlanders finished last year with a 12-19 overall record and a 7-11 SLIAC mark. Head Coach Danielle Doerfler brings back five starters and 14 players from last year's squad with senior outside hitter Morgan Hauser, an All-Conference performer, leading the way. Senior setter Alexa Boyer and senior libero Aly Ferrari will provide leadership and experience while sophomore Kennedy Magee is also back. Newcomers Brianna Markusic, Emma Waid, and Maddie Langellier will compete for playing time.

Iowa Wesleyan University placed eighth in the poll with 29 total points. The Tigers were 6-24 overall last year, going 4-14 in the SLIAC, in head coach BJ Wagy's first season. The Tigers will be a young team with just four players and only two starters returning. Among the returning players are junior libero Cierra Howard, a Third Team All-Conference performer last year, and senior setter Lexa Mahr. The newcomers include junior Maggie Earney and freshman Ariel Smale.

Eureka College was picked ninth in the poll with 14 points and are coming off a 3-22 overall record. The Red Devils went 2-16 in conference play last season under head coach Jess Brown's first campaign and bring back two starters and five players. Leading the class of returners is outside hitter Anna Gauger. Gauger started 15 matches as a freshman and finished third on the team in kills and second in service aces. Among newcomers the Red Devils expect outside hitter Lexi Dooley and setter Heather Robinson to make an impact on the court.

Blackburn College rounds out the poll with a 10th place finish, receiving 11 total points. The Beavers were 3-29 overall and 1-17 in the SLIAC last season and bring in new head coach Jordan Barton. Blackburn returns four starters including junior libero Marlee Lindstrom and senior setter Patrece McClain. Among the team's newcomers Emily Schroeder, Mallory Scharf, and Shelsie Timmermeier should see time in the rotation.

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