Tight Race Expected for 2012 GNAC Volleyball
Shelby Swanson led the GNAC in assists last season.
Shelby Swanson led the GNAC in assists last season.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

PORTLAND, Ore.  -   There might  be a little bit of a shuffle this fall in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference volleyball race.

Two-time defending champion Seattle Pacific, which has made three consecutive NCAA post-season appearances,  was picked to finish just fourth in the GNAC Coaches pre-season poll.

The three teams ranked ahead of the Falcons – Western Washington, Western Oregon and Alaska Anchorage – finished in a virtual dead heat for first place  in the balloting.

Western Oregon earned the most first-place votes (4), but Western Washington, which last won the conference title outright  in 2007, edged the Wolves by one point (72-71) to grab the favorite’s role.

The Vikings received three first-place votes.  Alaska Anchorage received the other two first-place votes and finished third with 70 ballot points just two points back of the favorites.

Outside hitter Marlayna Geary is back to lead Western Washington, which has won five GNAC titles under   head coach Diane Flick (249-70, 12 years) including 2010 when it finished in a tie for first-place with Seattle Pacific.

Geary was a first-team all-GNAC pick and an honorable mention AVCA NCAA Division II All-American last season.

"Marlayna brings a wealth of experience, and my hope for her this season is that she reaps the benefits of all the effort that she has put in," Flick said.

"She'll be the focus of every scouting report, and the rest of our team has to focus on alleviating the responsibility of her carrying the load."

Geary is one of three returning first-team all-conference players from a year ago including outside hitter Danielle Reese of Western Oregon and Seattle Pacific setter Shelby Swanson.

Geary is also one of three returning conference statistical champions. Last year she led the GNAC in both kills per set (4.24) and points (4.61). 

Swanson led the GNAC in assists (11.25), while Alaska Anchorage outside hitter Nikkie Viotto was the conference leader in service aces with 39.

Reese was the conference’s No. 3 ranked player in both kills (4.03) and points (4.44).

In all five of the GNAC’s top eight kill producers from last year return. 

In addition to Geary and Reese also back are Kristyn Ross of Saint Martin’s, Jordan Offutt of Central Washington   and Cailin Fellows of Seattle Pacific.

Ross ranked fourth with 3.91 kills per game in earning GNAC Freshman-of-the-Year honors, while Offutt and Fellows averaged 3.76 and 3.45 to rank sixth and eighth last season.

Offutt is one of five returning second team all-stars back along with setter Kimya Jafroudi of Alaska Anchorage, middle blocker Monica Grimsrud of Montana State Billings, middle blocker Krissi Kemper of Western Oregon and Western Washington setter Laurie Yearout.

Northwest Nazarene might have the best chance among the conference’s other teams to break into the upper echelon. 

The Crusaders finished fifth in the balloting.  Central Washington placed sixth, while Montana State Billings, Saint Martin’s, Alaska Fairbanks and Simon Fraser were seventh, eighth, ninth and 10th, respectively.