Three GNAC Teams Prepare For West Regional Battles
Kayleigh Harper (No. 11) was a First Team All-West Region selection by both the AVCA and D2CCA while Malia Aleaga (No. 6) was a first-team choice by the D2CCA.
Kayleigh Harper (No. 11) was a First Team All-West Region selection by both the AVCA and D2CCA while Malia Aleaga (No. 6) was a first-team choice by the D2CCA.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. - For the three teams that will represent the GNAC at the NCAA West Regional Volleyball Championships, the postseason setting is anything but new.

Both Western Washington and Central Washington are in the field for the eighth consecutive year. Alaska Anchorage is returning for the first time since 2017, but was part of the field each of the previous five seasons.

All three teams have the ability to advance far in the tournament, which begins Thursday at The Den on the campus of Cal State San Bernardino.

Western Washington, the tournament’s No. 2 seed, would love to capture a second straight trip to the NCAA Division II Championships next week in Denver. The Vikings won last year’s West Regional, which the team hosted in Bellingham, and advanced to the national championship match before taking a five-set loss to Tampa.

Entering the regional with a 26-2 overall record and a No. 4 national ranking, WWU opened the season by winning 17 straight matches before taking a four-set loss at Alaska Anchorage on Oct. 19. In fact, both of Western Washington’s losses have come at the hands of the Seawolves, the No. 4 seed in the regional field. The two teams would only meet in the regional final.

The Vikings lead Division II with 2.95 blocks per set and are ranked sixth with a .273 hitting percentage. Western Washington leads the GNAC in hitting percentage, blocks per set, opponent hitting percentage (.126), kills per set (13.97) and assists per set (13.21).

The Vikings are led by senior middle blocker Kayleigh Harper, who was named the GNAC Player of the Year and earned First Team All-West Region honors from both the AVCA and D2CCA. Just the third player in conference history to be named First Team All-GNAC four times, finished the season leading the GNAC and ranked 16th in Division II with a .386 hitting percentage while also ranking second nationally with 1.45 blocks per set. She also ranks third in the GNAC with 4.15 points per set and eighth with 3.23 kills per set.
Harper finished with double-digit kills in 16 of her 28 matches and finished with 10 blocks on two occasions. She is the all-time GNAC leader with 583 and counting.

Outside hitter Calley Heilborn was the GNAC Freshman of the Year and also earned First Team All-West Region honors from the AVCA. She was joined on the AVCA First Team by sophomore outside hitter Gabby Gunterman while freshman setter Malia Aleaga was named to the D2CCA First Team.

Alaska Anchorage enters the regional tournament with a 22-6 record and was second in the GNAC behind Western Washington at 17-3. The Seawolves did not advance past the opening round of the 2017 West Regional, but won the 2016 regional at their own Alaska Airlines Center and advanced to the national final.

Alaska Anchorage has a 3-3 record against the regionals field. In addition to the wins over Western Washington, the Seawolves split the season series with Central Washington, winning in three sets in Anchorage on Oct. 3 and losing in five sets in Ellensburg on Oct. 26.

Sophomore right-side hitter Eve Stephens joined Harper as being named to both the AVCA and D2CCA All-West Region first teams in addition to First Team All-GNAC accolades. Stephens leads the GNAC and is 14th in Division II with 4.70 points per set while also leading the conference and ranking 30th in Division II with 3.97 per set. Stephens finished with double-digit kills in 22 matches and registered double-doubles in 11 of those matches.

Sophomore setter Ellen Floyd earned First Team All-West Region honors from the AVCA in addition to her First Team All-GNAC plaque. Floyd finished the regular season second in the GNAC with 10.23 assists per set while also averaging 2.72 digs and 0.72 blocks per set. She posted double-doubles (assists and digs) in 17 matches and had a season-high of 52 assists twice, most recently against Montana State Billings on Sept. 28. Floyd was named the AVCA Division II National Player of the Week on Nov. 19.

Led by GNAC Coach of the Year Chris Green, Alaska Anchorage is averaging 12.42 kills and 15.41 digs per set with a .236 hitting percentage, which ranks second in the GNAC and 31st in Division II. The Seawolves lead the GNAC and rank eighth in Division II with 2.17 aces per set and are second in the GNAC and sixth in Division II with 2.56 blocks per set.

Lower seeds are familiar territory for Central Washington in the West Regional, but certainly not an insurmountable challenge. A No. 5 seed or lower in five of their last seven tournaments, the Wildcats broke through last year with a five-set win over No. 3 seed Cal State LA before falling in the semifinals in four sets to this year’s first-round opponent, Cal State San Bernardino.

Entering the tournament with an 18-10 overall record, Central Washington is 2-4 against the regional field this season with one win over Alaska Anchorage and one win over Cal State LA in the D2 West Region Showcase. Central Washington enters the West Regional ranked third in the GNAC with 12.93 kills per set. The Wildcats are second in the GNAC and 32nd in Division II with 18.23 digs per set. The team is also second in the GNAC with a .155 opponent hitting percentage.

The Wildcats are led by senior libero Kyla Morgan, who repeated as the GNAC Defensive Player of the Year. She earned Second Team All-West Region honors from the D2CCA and was an honorable mention on the AVCA team. Morgan leads the conference and ranks 13th in Division II with 5.87 digs per set. She registered double-digits in digs in all but two of the Wildcats’ 28 matches and surpassed 30 kills in five matches.

Junior outside hitter Makala Swart was named both First Team All-GNAC and Honorable Mention AVCA All-West Region. She finished seventh in the GNAC with 3.30 kills per set and eighth with 3.74 points per set. She finished with double-digit kills in 21 matches in the regular season.

Tournament host and No. 1 seed Cal State San Bernardino, the CCAA regular-season and tournament champion, enters with an unblemished 27-0 record and a No. 1 ranking in the AVCA Coaches Top-25 Poll. No. 3 seed Cal State LA is 22-6 on the season and is ranked No. 24. The Golden Eagles lost in five sets to Cal State San Bernardino in the CCAA Tournament finals.

UC San Diego is the No. 5 seed. In their last season as a Division II member, the Tritons are 18-8 on the season and were upset by Sonoma State in five sets in the first round of the CCAA Championships. Azusa Pacific, the No. 6 seed, was the PacWest Conference champion. The Cougars are No. 25 in the AVCA poll and enter with a 26-4 overall record and a 10-match win streak.

The No. 7 seed, Hawaii Hilo finished second in the PacWest and enters the regional with a 23-7 overall record.