Western Washington Opens At No. 14 In AVCA Preseason Poll
Western Washington enters the season ranked No. 41 with 471 points.
Western Washington enters the season ranked No. 41 with 471 points.

Monday, August 23, 2021

LEXINGTON, Ky. – A week after being picked to win the GNAC once again, Western Washington leads three conference teams in the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Division II Coaches Top-25 Preseason Poll.

The Vikings open the season ranked 14th, receiving 471 points in the poll. Western Washington is one of just two West Region teams to make the top-25. Cal State San Bernardino, the 2019 national champion, enters the season at No. 3.

Alaska Anchorage and Central Washington are among 36 teams listed as receiving votes. The Seawolves, picked second in the GNAC Coaches Preseason Poll, received 114 points to rank seventh among the team receiving votes. Central Washington, picked third in the conference, received 10 points.

In winning their last conference title in 2019, Western Washington was simply dominant. The Vikings led Division II in blocks per set (2.99), ranked fifth in hitting percentage (.270) and ninth in assists per set (13.15), leading the GNAC in all those categories. They also led the conference in opponent hitting percentage (.132) and kills per set (13.93). Finishing with a 27-3 record, Western Washington advanced to the NCAA West Region semifinals. During the COVID abbreviated 2020-21 season, Western Washington finished with a 9-2 record and led all GNAC programs in kills per set (13.40) and blocks per set (2.65).

Junior Gabby Gunterman and sophomore Calley Heilborn, both GNAC Preseason All-Conference selections, lead the Vikings’ offense. Gunterman, who was named a Third Team AVCA All-American in 2019, averaged 2.45 kills and 2.95 digs per set in the spring. Heilborn, the 2019 GNAC Freshman of the Year, led WWU in the spring with 3.53 kills and four digs per set. Sophomore setter Malia Aleaga, also a GNAC Preseason All-Conference pick was a Third Team D2CCA All-American in 2019 and averaged 7.76 assists per set in the spring season.

Alaska Anchorage is the only GNAC squad to beat Western Washington over the last two full seasons. The Seawolves led the conference and finished ninth in Division II with 2.11 aces per set in 2019 and finished second to WWU in the conference rankings in hitting percentage (.233) and blocks (2.56 per set). Playing 15 matches during the spring 2021 season, UAA led all competing GNAC squads with a .238 hitting percentage while averaging 12.89 kills per set while amassing an 11-4 record.

Senior right-side hitter Eve Stephens, the GNAC Preseason Player of the Year, sets the pace for the UAA offense. A Second Team AVCA All-American in 2019, Stephens averaged 4.16 kills and 2.54 digs per set with a .290 hitting percentage last spring. Junior setter Ellen Floyd, a GNAC Preseason All-Conference pick, was a First Team All-West Region selection and Honorable Mention All-American in 2019. She averaged 9.53 assists per set over the spring.

Central Washington has finished no worse than third in each of the last three full seasons. The Wildcats went 23-7 in 2019, finishing with a .191 hitting percentage and ranked third in the GNAC at 12.88 kills per set and finished second with a .159 opponent hitting percentage. Central Washington compiled a 1-6 record in the abbreviated spring 2021 season, averaging 10.29 kills per set.

Sophomore outside hitter Ashley Kaufman, a GNAC Preseason All-Conference selection, steps in as the offensive leader. She opened her CWU career with averages of 2.50 kills and 2.96 digs per set in 2019 with 39 service aces. She did not play last spring. Freshman Kylie Thorne led the team during the spring with 2.47 kills per set while freshman defensive specialist Hannah Stires averaged five digs per set. Sophomore setter Sydney Remsberg averaged 4.22 assists and 2.30 digs per set during the spring.

Other West Region teams list among those receiving votes include Azusa Pacific (93), Hawaii Hilo (60), Cal State LA (41), Chaminade (23) and Biola (6).