ST. LOUIS – Familiarity reigns again in the 2013 St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Volleyball Preseason poll as Webster University was picked as the favorite and Greenville College was a close second for the second consecutive year. Webster and Greenville have finished in the top two spots of the regular season standings in each of the last two years, with both teams finishing last year with a 15-1 conference mark.
Webster received 79 total points in the 2013 poll, including seven of ten first-place votes. Webster is coming off its second consecutive SLIAC Tournament championship and finished last year with a 24-10 overall record in addition to its 15-1 conference record. The Gorloks return 14 players, including all six starters from a team that advanced to the NCAA Division III National Tournament for the sixth time in school history. Leading the way for the Gorloks is a pair of First Team All-Conference players; junior outside hitter Jenny Howard and junior middle hitter Sam Kersting. Howard, the defending SLIAC Player of the Year, hit .327 and recorded 281 digs while Kersting led the team in hitting with a .363 percentage and 133 total blocks. In addition, the team returns a pair of Second Team All-Conference players in junior setter Allie O’Toole and junior outside hitter Jordan Vehlewald. The Gorloks have added four transfers, including Alex Joseph and Ashley Fawcett, as well as three freshmen to bolster their squad.
Greenville tallied 72 points in the poll, grabbing the remaining three first-place votes. The Panthers bring back four starters, and ten letter-winners, from last year’s team that finished 23-9 overall and reached the SLIAC Tournament finals for the fourth straight year. Junior setter Ellen Lueking will lead Greenville. Lueking, a First Team All-Conference performer last year, was second in the conference in assists per game and fourth on the team in digs with 198. Returnees Nicole Schaeffer and Corinne Coon, both named to the Second Team All-Conference last season, join her. Schaeffer, a junior outside hitter, led the team in digs while finishing third in kills with over 200 on the year. Coon, a senior outside hitter, was second on the team in both kills (232) and total blocks (55). The Panthers are bringing in a pair of freshman players that should compete for considerable playing time in opposite hitter Savannah Sells and middle hitter Sierah Ruffner.
The biggest jump from last season’s finish to this year’s preseason poll belongs to Spalding University who finished fifth last year and was picked tied for third this season, receiving 55 points. Spalding finished last year with an 11-19 overall mark and an 8-8 record in conference play. The Golden Eagles return four starters from last year’s team and are led by junior outside hitter Elisa Burkman. Burkman was named Second Team All-Conference last year after leading the conference in kills per game and service aces. Also returning are junior middle hitter April Fisher and sophomore setter Katelyn Cosgrove. Spalding brings in nine freshmen this season highlighted by outside hitter Victoria Heitzman and Erin Downs.
Tying for third in the poll is Principia College, who finished tied for third in the 2012 regular season as well. The Panthers were 17-16 overall and 11-5 in the conference last season and bring back five starters. Tess Roundtree, a junior outside hitter, led the SLIAC in kills with 430 last season and earned First Team All-Conference honors. Principia will be counting on Lily Richards, a freshman from Idaho, to offset the loss of Second Team All-Conference performer Kiersten Anderson.
Westminster College received 43 points in the poll, placing them fifth this year. The Blue Jays were 16-15 overall last season and 11-5 in the conference. With just four returning players, first year head coach Curtis Madson and the Blue Jays will be young this season as they seek a return trip to the SLIAC Tournament. The Blue Jays will turn to Lexi Collier and a pair of seniors in Andrea Kiser and Caroline Abraham to lead the team and replace four team All-Conference performer Alex Berry and 2012 Defensive Player of the Year Jordan Berry. Collier, a sophomore middle hitter, was named to the Second Team All-Conference last year after recording team highs in kills (300) and total blocks (103).
MacMurray College was picked sixth in the poll, receiving 39 points, after finishing 6-23 overall and 3-13 in the conference. The Highlanders return 13 players from last year’s team including five starters and will be led by senior libero Sammy Jo Petefish, an Honorable Mention All-Conference member last season. Joining the team this season is setter Hollie Schultz, middle hitter Bre Pelker and outside hitter Rachel Kilver. Schultz helped lead her junior college team to the National Tournament while Kilver was an All-Conference and All-Area performer in junior college.
Fontbonne University was picked seventh in the poll, with 37 points, after finishing 2012 with a 9-20 overall record and a 5-11 mark in the SLIAC. The Griffins return just six players but that includes four starters. Senior outside hitter Taryn Ballmann and senior middle blocker Abbie Bergtholdt each recorded over 200 kills, were named Honorable Mention All-Conference last season, and will be counted to provide leadership. Mandy DeWitt, a sophomore setter, was fifth in the conference in assists and will be back again to run the offense. Newcomers Emily Weaver, a freshman middle blocker, Maddie Stadler, a freshman libero, and Claire Domian, a junior right-side hitter, will be counted on to battle for playing time.
The SLIAC’s newest member Iowa Wesleyan College was picked to finish eighth in the poll, receiving 30 points. Iowa Wesleyan finished last season with a 4-29 record and return just three players and two starters as they enter their new conference. Senior outside hitter Lacie Tarver and senior outside hitter Kara Dennell will lead the way for the Tigers while newcomers Danielle Nelson, Kassie Vazquez and Dakota Flesner should see the court often.
Eureka College received 24 points in the poll to finish ninth. The Red Devils were 5-31 overall and 4-12 in conference play one year ago as they finished in seventh place in the regular season standings. Eureka brings back just four players and two starters from last year’s squad but that includes senior outside hitter Kelli Dunne, an honorable mention performer last year. Dunne finished with a team best 322 kills while finishing second on the team in digs. Newcomer Kelsey Shoemake, a junior middle hitter, and returning senior setter Emily Campbell will join Dunne on the court. Newcomers Arianna Young and Sydney Eberlin, both defensive specialists, will be looked on to fill the loss of Courtney Kincaid.
Blackburn College was picked 10th in the poll, with 13 total points, after a 2012 season in which they finished 1-28 overall and 0-16 in the conference. The Beavers return six players and three starters and welcome in new coach Suzannah Behnken. Returnees Amanda Miller, Allison Matt and Jamie Russow will be counted on to continue the team’s growth. Newcomer Kari Walch, a freshman outside hitter, should compete for playing time as well.