HENDERSON, Tenn. - After going undefeated in the regular season conference schedule last season, Freed-Hardeman (Tenn.) University has been chosen by the TranSouth Conference volleyball coaches to again be the favorite heading into 2009.
FHU, which received six of eight first-place votes, captured its second consecutive regular season banner last year with a perfect 14-0 conference mark in the regular season.
Conference tournament champion Union (Tenn.) University was close behind, receiving the remaining two first-place votes, to finish second in the poll. Last year's tournament runner-up, Trevecca Nazarene (Tenn.) University, placed third with 42 points followed closely by Lyon (Ark.) College with 39. Bethel (Tenn.) University came in fifth with Cumberland (Tenn.) University and Martin Methodist (Tenn.) College tied for sixth. Mid-Continent (Ky.) University placed eighth.
The NAIA Preseason National Rankings are scheduled to be released later today and can be found here
2009 VOLLEYBALL PRE-SEASON COACHES POLL(rank-team-total points, first place votes in parentheses)
|1. ||Freed-Hardeman (6) ||62 |
|2.||Union University (2)||56|
TEAM-BY-TEAM PREVIEWSlisted in order of predicted finish in coaches poll
FREED-HARDEMAN UNIVERSITY LADY LIONS
The Freed-Hardeman University Lady Lions will attempt to complete the hat trick this season by winning their third straight TranSouth Conference regular season championship. Last year, FHU ran the table in conference play with a perfect 14-0 record but was eliminated from post-season play during the conference tournament. As the 2009 season approaches, head coach Todd Humphry will look to get his team deeper into the post-season than ever before.
With a rapidly improving conference and a couple of key losses, it won't be an easy task. Gone are the 2008 TranSouth Conference Player of the Year, Crissandra Perez, and a four-year starter at setter, Martha Ray, leaving some production to be replaced. However, Humphry still brings back a solid core with last year's conference freshman of the year, Fernanda Alves, returning as well as all-conference players Karim Raymond and Sydney Rice on the front row. The trio combined for 7.5 kills per game last season.
Claire Pennington and Morgan Faulkner are additional returning options at outside hitter. Pennington, a two-year starter, is also a solid addition to the back row. Also returning on the back row are libero Carissa Foshee and defensive specialists Emily Hicks and Rachelle Prince.
Humphry will look to sophomore Amber Turner to replace Ray at setter. Turner averaged 4.9 assists per game last season in limited action.
FHU brings in another strong international recruit in middle hitter Nataly Gutierrez (Santa Domingo, Dominican Republic/Miami Dade CC), who is expected to make an instant impact. She joins defensive specialist Callie West (Memphis, Tenn./Harding Academy) and outside hitter Hunter Logan (Nashville, Tenn./David Lipscomb) in another solid freshman class.
UNION UNIVERSITY LADY BULLDOGS
The Union University volleyball team is coming off an outstanding 2008 season that saw the Lady Bulldogs claim the TranSouth Tournament Title and advance to their second NAIA National Tournament.
Union head coach Steven Gream looks to build on the successes of last season. Union lost five players from the 2008 squad, but will have three returning starters to help carry the momentum. Gream, now in his fifth season with Union, needs just two wins to reach the 100 win milestone for his career.
The 2009 season brings eight new faces to the Union roster, all coming from competitive programs and volleyball clubs. These new players bring a balance of youth and experience to the program with three players transferring from junior college programs, one from an NCAA DI program and four entering Union as freshmen.
The lone senior on the 2009 squad is Katie Adams, returning for her second and final year at Union. In 2008, Adams was an all-conference player in 2008.
The junior class includes four players. Heather Lieberman returns to Union for her second season after her play in the conference tournament earned her all-tournament honors. The other three juniors, Marcela Madeira, Kelsey Duling and Kacie Ritter, are all transfers from junior college programs. Madeira and Ritter come from nationally ranked Jefferson (Mo.) CC. Duling comes to Union from Mt. San Antonio (Calif.) College.
Anna Sims returns as the only sophomore on the roster and was an all-conference player as a freshman.
Five freshmen make up the remainder of the roster as they begin their college volleyball careers at Union including Caroline Robbins, Shelby Swink, Lauren Sprouse, Meagan Gipson and Holly Smith.
TREVECCA NAZARENE UNIVERSITY TROJANS
After a successful first season on the Trojans' bench, Trevecca volleyball coach Jayme Crowley now enters the 2009-2010 season with high expectations for the team. "This year we will hold ourselves to a higher standard," Crowley noted. "There is no better motivator than getting a taste of success like we did at the TranSouth tournament last season, and I think that will help push this year's team."
The Trojans return four seniors to the mix for 2009-2010, two who have played four years at Trevecca. Kaley Ward, Kimi Coffey, Jessica Hood, and Rachel Spotten all begin their final year of eligibility this fall, and all will be looked to for leadership. "All four of those girls have the ability to lead by example," said Crowley, "but we need them to go above and beyond that and become more vocal leaders as well."
In addition to the four seniors, the Trojans will bring back four other players from the 2008-2009 squad. Brooke Cannon and Jennifer Peterson return for their junior seasons, while Kristen Evans and Halley Wiggins come back as sophomores.
Evans and Wiggins each saw significant time on the court for the Trojans last year, and Crowley believes this makes them even more dangerous in 2009-2010. Cannon missed most of last season, and Crowley has noticed a difference in her approach this summer. "She has been really hungry to get back out there," said Crowley. Peterson sees a position change to the right side. Crowley stated, "She has explosive leaping ability and she's a good blocker, which will help us build depth on that side of the front line."
Six new players enter the mix for the Trojans in 2009-2010. The Trojans bring in two juniors - Teegan Hunziker (5'9" - Milford, Iowa) and Cortney Keagle (6'0" - Oakwood, Ill.) - and four freshmen - Maddie Burford (5'11" - Franklin, Tenn.), Cassidy Watkins (5'9" - Tucson, Ariz.), Casey Kania (5'7" - Columbia, S.C.), and Haley White (5'4" - Arlington, Tex.).
Hunziker - an all-American at Iowa Lakes Community College - joins the Trojans and is expected to make an immediate impact. "Teegan is a natural athlete," said Crowley. "She has a tremendous work ethic and that will help push the other girls on the team." Watkins and Kania will also provide depth on the outside, with Kania and White also getting some reps at defensive specialist.
LYON COLLEGE PIPERS
It doesn't take a mathematics major to tell you that first-year Lyon College Head Coach Ray Green's aggressive, attacking style of play yielded immediate positive results in 2008.
Lyon finished 19-12 overall, placed fourth in the TranSouth with an 8-6 record and advanced to the TranSouth Conference Tournament semifinals last season for just the second time in school history. The style also produced the Pipers' first Honorable Mention All-American nod and a school-record five all-conference selections at the end of the '08 season.
With seven returning players and another year of experience in Green's system, hopes are high for the Pipers in the upcoming 2009 season.
AVCA NAIA All-American and First Team All-TranSouth middle hitter Katie Beineke, leads a group of six returning starters, including all-conference selections Lauren Castleberry, Meghann LaBorn and Julie Arnold, as well as outside hitters Ashley Daniel and Chelsea Hinton. The Pipers lost only two players to graduation - All-TranSouth Honorable Mention libero Ann Sullivan and defensive specialist Leah Eifling.
Green has 13 newcomers hitting the roster but makes mention of four that could have an immediate impact this year. The quartet included juniors Catherine Carter (5-8, setter) and Kelsie Christian (5-8, setter) of North Lake College (Tex.) and 6-2 freshman middle hitters Suzanne Fincham (Royal, Ark.) and Jennifer Jones (Beaumont, Tex.).
BETHEL UNIVERSITY LADY WILDCATS
Last season the Bethel Lady Wildcats' volleyball team finished fifth in the TranSouth Conference and won the most conference games (7) since rejoining the TSAC in the 2006 season. Head coach Starla Cupples enters her fifth season with an overall record of 56-73. Last season Cupples guided the team to a 15-14 (7-7) record. The Lady 'Cats went 1-2 in the conference tournament falling to Cumberland University, 1-3.
First Team All-Conference selection Jessica Vieira (JR/Matozinhos, Brazil), an outside hitter, returns. She is joined by Second Team All-Conference setter Abby Masters (SR/Chino Hills, Cal.) and Honorable Mention All-Conference libero Michele Cunha (SR/Brazil).
Lisa Sellers, who played in the middle, was lost to graduation.
An important incoming player is outside hitter and middle back Thaise Vieira (SO/Matozinhos, Brazil), the sister of Jessica Vieira. Thaise Vieira is a transfer from the University of Tulsa. Also coming in is Lori Magnusen (JR/Rancho Cucamonga, CA) and is a defensive specialist.
CUMBERLAND UNIVERSITY BULLDOGS
Despite a sixth-place finish in the TranSouth Conference a year ago, Cumberland University volleyball coach Dwayne Deering believes his team ended the season better than expected. Those expectations will be much higher in 2009 with one of the best recruiting classes in recent memory joining six returning letterwinners.
Leading the charge will be two-year starter Taylor Denney - a junior setter/outside hitter from Cookeville, Tenn. - who led the team in assists last season with nearly 24 per match. The Bulldogs will also benefit from the return of defensive specialist/outside hitter Jordan Pescatore. The senior from Birmingham, Ala., redshirted last year after tallying 70 kills as a junior.
The Bulldogs, who finished 21-18 overall and 6-8 in the conference, were bounced from the TranSouth Conference Tournament after going 2-2 and will have the difficult task of replacing All-Conference middle hitter Katie Ball, who is now a student assistant coach.
Much of the excitement surrounding the incoming class focuses on twins Kayla and Kaysi Arnold from Greenbrier, Tenn. Both 6-foot freshmen play outside hitter/middle hitter and are expected to help make an immediate impact for Cumberland. Other key newcomers include Laura DeGear, a 5-11 middle hitter/outside hitter from Big Rapids, Mich.; junior college transfer Jessica Gericke, who was named All-Region at John A. Logan Community College; and freshman defensive specialist/setter Brooke Bowers of Lafayette, Tenn.
Deering, entering his 22nd season, will lead the Bulldogs into action on August 28, when Cumberland opens the 2009 campaign by hosting its annual Volleydawg Classic at the Dallas Floyd Recreation Center.
MARTIN METHODIST COLLEGE REDHAWKS
Martin Methodist College volleyball looks to bounce back in 2009 after a disappointing 2008 season. Coach Rose Powell is in her 12th year at the helm of the RedHawks volleyball program and has spent the off-season looking for new talent to fill her squad. The RedHawks will return four starters from last year's team and will have plenty of new faces dotting the court as they look to find the right combination and fit for a winning team. The girls will be working hard in the next couple of weeks and Coach Powell is looking forward to re-gaining respect as a dominate team in the tough TranSouth Conference.
MID-CONTINENT UNIVERSITY COUGARS
With a completely new team and renewed optimism, Mid-Continent University volleyball has begun preparation for the 2009 season which begins with TranSouth Athletic Conference matches against defending TSAC Tournament champion Union University, Monday, August 31, and Cumberland University, Wednesday, September 2, in MCU's Cougar Center.
Arriving in Mayfield in June, 2009, Brittany Nicley begins her first season of collegiate coaching with no returning players. The new-look Cougars feature seven freshmen and three juniors with not an ounce of prior collegiate experience among them.
Knowing that MCU is picked to finish eighth again in the TSAC after finishing last season with records of 0-26 and 0-14 in conference, Nicley is determined to build a strong foundation this season and set the tone for the program she desires to build at Mid-Continent during upcoming seasons through recruiting. But it starts with 2009 with a youthful, fresh team. "Our main foci this season are learning to play hard-nosed, scrappy defense, staying mentally prepared, and overcoming our inexperience," says Nicley.
Junior outside hitter Katie Perry (5-11; Anchorage, Alaska/Grace Christian School) is a prime outside hitting candidate, replacing last season's hitting, blocking, and serving leader, Nicole French, who completed her eligibility along with defensive ace Brittany Butler, who led MCU in digs and service receptions. Junior Lindsey Davis (5-6; Charlestown, Ind./Charlestown HS) and freshman Kelsey Swindler (5-5; West Memphis, AR/West Memphis HS) are locked in a battle for the primary setter duties.