Northwest Best: Vikings, Nighthawks In AVCA Top-25
Western Washington, led by GNAC Player of the Year Abby Phelps (left), finished at 27-4 in 2017. Northwest Nazarene, led by Cami Heninger, finished at 25-5.
Western Washington, led by GNAC Player of the Year Abby Phelps (left), finished at 27-4 in 2017. Northwest Nazarene, led by Cami Heninger, finished at 25-5.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

LEXINGTON, Ky. – The top two teams in the GNAC in 2017, Western Washington and Northwest Nazarene open the season with sports in the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Division II Coaches Top-25 Poll, which was released on Thursday.

The Vikings, the defending GNAC champion, are the top West Region team in the poll, opening the year at No. 5. It is the highest preseason ranking in program history. After finishing second in 2017, the Nighthawks start 2018 ranked No. 19.

Cal State San Bernardino was the only other West Region team to crack the top-25, entering the season at No. 11.

In addition to the Vikings and Nighthawks, Alaska Anchorage (20) and Central Washington (14) were listed among teams receiving votes. The Seawolves and Wildcats finished tied for third in last year’s GNAC standings.

Western Washington finished last year with a 27-4 overall record and tied the GNAC single-season record for conference wins with a 19-1 mark. They advanced to the finals of the NCAA West Regional, losing the match to Cal State San Bernardino. The Vikings led the GNAC and ranked in Division II in hitting percentage (.249), kills (14.25 per set) and digs (20.39 per set) and were second in the GNAC and third in Division II blocks (2.75 per set). In all, Western Washington ranked in the Division II top-20 in eight different statistical categories.

The Vikings return 10 players and six starters from last year’s championship squad. The team is led by senior outside hitter Abby Phelps. The 2017 GNAC Player of the Year and First Team All-American led the conference and ranked 12th in Division II with 4.93 points per set and finished 14th nationally with 4.31 kills per set. Also returning are First Team All-GNAC selections in senior setter Brette Boesel and senior middle blocker Michaela Hall. Also returning in junior middle blocker Kayleigh Harper, who sat out the 2017 campaign after earning All-GNAC and All-American honors as a sophomore.

Northwest Nazarene posted its best season as a GNAC member, compiling a 25-5 overall record while finishing second in the conference at 16-4. The Nighthawks were one of four GNAC teams invited to the NCAA West Regional and won the program’s first-ever Division II playoff match with a five-set victory over Central Washington in the opening round. Northwest Nazarene led the conference and ranked 15th in Division II with 13.42 assists per set. The Nighthawks finished second in the GNAC in hitting percentage (.244) and kills (13.91 per set).

Unlike the Vikings, Northwest Nazarene will be replacing a number of key players in All-GNAC performers and All-Americans Kendra Bodine, Madi Farrell and Hailey Cook. The Nighthawks will be paced by senior outside hitter Cami Heninger, who finished 2017 with a .201 hitting percentage and 1.94 kills per set. Senior libero Shayli Siegfreid also returns after finishing the season averaging 4.45 digs per set.

The 2018 GNAC schedule begins with non-conference play on Thur., Aug. 23. Western Washington will open on Fri., Aug. 24, with matches against No. 24 Wheeling Jesuit and No. 2 Southwest Minnesota State at the West Florida Invitational in Pensacola, Fla. Northwest Nazarene will host Cal State Monterey Bay and Dixie State the same day at the Fairfield Inn Invitational.

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