Greenville University received six first-place votes and are the favorites in the 2017 St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Volleyball Preseason Coaches Poll. Westminster College was picked second, receiving two first-place votes, while Webster University and Spalding University each picked up the remaining first-place selections.
Greenville picked up 77 total points as they are in search of an eighth consecutive SLIAC regular season title. The Panthers finished 25-8 overall last year, going 18-2 in SLIAC competition. Head Coach Tom Ackerman will have to replace a trio of All-Conference players in Kirsten Laune, Sierah Ruffner, and Savannah Sells. However, they will bring back senior outside hitter Allyson Mitchell as the focus of their attack. Mitchell has topped 300 kills in all three of her seasons at Greenville including finishing second last year with 421 total kills. Also returning are senior middle hitter Brittni Bell (126 kills with 116 total blocks) and junior outside hitter Sarah Watts (71 kills and 52 digs). The Panthers return 11 players from last year's team and will look to newcomers Anna Finch and Abby Freeman to add to the rotation.
Westminster College, who has advanced to the last two SLIAC Tournament Championship matches, was picked second in the poll with 70 total points. The Blue Jays return eight players and four starters from last year's team that went 19-12 overall. One of the new faces for the Blue Jays will be first-year head coach Natalia Koryzna. Westminster will have several familiar faces however including former SLIAC Player of the Year Hannah Marshall and last year's SLIAC Newcomer of the Year Elizabeth Kelley. Marshall, a senior outside hitter, recorded 410 kills, 198 digs, and 67 service aces last season. Kelley, a sophomore middle blocker, made an immediate impact on the court for the Blue Jays by hitting .420 with 236 kills. Junior libero Bridget Ringwald is also back after averaging 3.98 digs per set last season. Westminster will have to replace two key pieces in Amanda Kiso and Kayla Reeg but a strong incoming class, led by Allie Kennebeck and Natalie Needy, should add to the team depth.
Webster University was a close third in the poll, picking up 69 total points. The Gorloks, coached by Merry Graf, went 19-13 overall last season and bring back 14 players and four starters. Among those returning are senior middle hitter Emi Beining, who made the SLIAC All-Tournament team last fall. Junior setter Kelsey Hamann led the team in assists while also finishing second in hitting percentage. Senior defensive specialist Maria Soffner finished with 281 digs last season and will be counted on to up that total after the graduation of SLIAC Defensive Player of the Year, and the program's career leader in digs, Katie O'Toole. The Gorloks will also need to replace their top two attackers in Emily Knowles and Jorey Siebenmorgen. The Gorloks could look to their junior class to step up for the attack with Samantha Budrovich, Torie Grassi, and Macee Owen all ranking in the top five on the team in kills last season. The Gorloks incoming class includes Izzy Carroll, a member of the junior college national champion runner-up team, as well as Taylor Kissel and Sam Kruse.
Spalding University totaled 54 points for fourth place in the poll. The Golden Eagles were 21-10 overall last season, going 13-5 in conference play. Head Coach Bridget Yates returns eight players but just two starters from last year's squad that qualified for the conference tournament. The Golden Eagles will need to replace SLIAC Player of the Year Jessica Diehl and a pair of Second Team All-Conference players in setter Katelyn Cosgrove and outside hitter Victoria Heitzman. Returning junior Ashley Chase will have an opportunity to take over the open setter role for the Golden Eagles. Also back are junior defensive specialists Jill Dunagan and Koti Weaver as well as sophomore right-side hitter Morgan Berning. Spalding welcomes in freshman middle hitter Claudia Spivey and sophomore transfer Kendra Mahan.
Principia College received 49 total points, picked fifth in the poll, and will be looking to fight for a spot in the conference tournament after a three-year absence. The Panthers finished 18-10 overall last season, going 10-8 in conference play. Head Coach Mary Ann Sprague returns 10 players and six starters and will once again feature a young team with just one senior on the roster. Returning to the team are the top two attackers from last year; juniors Sophia Hathaway (302 kills) and Emily Tippetts (347 kills). Sophomore setter Devon Marunde also returns to run the offense after averaging 8.72 assists and 2.83 digs per set last season. Freshman middle blocker Sarah Ungerleider is the lone newcomer for the Panthers.
Fontbonne University was chosen sixth in the poll with 38 total points. After graduating record setting performers Kersten McDonough and Lynsey Wehrenberg the Griffins and head coach Meredith Heater will have a youthful team with just five returners and eight newcomers. Top returners include a pair of juniors in Kristina Eason and Megan McKenzie. Eason, an outside hitter, was second on the team last year with 267 kills while McKenzie, a right-side hitter, was third with 192 kills. Among the new players expected to fill in key roles are Megan Brown, a defensive specialist who set her high school record for digs; Victoria Curtice, a junior middle blocker transfer, and Abby Grumich, an All-Conference performer as a senior in high school.
Eureka College received 34 total points in the poll for seventh place. In her first season head coach Becca Idell improved the team's win total by nine games, going 12-16, the program's best record since 2009. Idell and the Red Devils will be in a good position to continue the program's rise as they bring back all six starters and 11 total players. The Red Devils do lose their top attacker, Destiny Adkins, but bring back their next four attackers from last year. Junior outside hitter Lexi Dooley finished with 214 kills last season, adding a team high 29 service aces. Versatile Heather Robinson, a junior setter, led the team with 533 assists while also finishing third with 179 kills. Seniors Meagan Hanney and Beth Mickna each topped 150 kills while junior defensive specialist Jordan Detmers is back after leading the team with 389 digs. Newcomers include freshmen Katlyn Arrenholz and Caitlin Miller.
MacMurray College was chosen eighth with 26 total points. The Highlanders will turn to their sophomore class, a group that saw plenty of court time for head coach Danielle Doerfler last year while the team finished 5-29 overall. The team returns five starters and eight players while building the roster with two transfers and 11 freshmen. Janelle Benson, a setter, saw action in 24 matches last season as a freshman and totaled 190 assists. Peyton Spitzner and Kaycee Turasky are also back as is Olivia Wall, who led the team with 267 kills and 279 digs. The large group of newcomers includes sophomore transfer Brooke Hadley and freshmen Hannah Harbaugh and Bailey Johnson.
Iowa Wesleyan University received 20 total points and are picked ninth in the poll. The Tigers finished last season with a 6-25 record and return 13 players and four starters. Head Coach BJ Wagy will work in a group of nine newcomers with a strong junior class. Heading up the list of returners is Syndey Ellsworth and Cassandra Schwamborn. Ellsworth, a junior middle blocker, totaled 154 kills while hitting a team high .165 last season. Schwamborn, a junior outside hitter, led the team with 280 kills and added 332 digs. Senior defensive specialist, sophomore Hannah Lien, and junior setter Ariel Smale will see time on the court after gaining experience last season. Newcomers Addison Buscher, Anna Leidl, and Jenna Murphy should compete for time as well.
Blackburn College picked up 13 total points in the poll after going 1-27 last season. Head Coach Jim Hunstein has five starters returning and brings in an incoming class that will add depth while competing for playing time. The Beavers bring back their top eight attackers from last year including junior Alanni Young (190 kills), sophomore Maria Cline (127 kills) and junior Emily Schroeder (117 kills). Other top returners include Alexis Dick and Shelsie Timmermeier. Dick, a senior libero, finished with 261 digs last season while Timmermeier, a junior middle hitter, was fourth on the team with 100 kills while ranking second with 74 total blocks. Kendall Knop, a junior college transfer, was a member of the two-time junior college national champion finalist and will compete for playing time.
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