Vikings Unanimous Pick To Repeat As Volleyball Champs
Led by All-American Abby Phelps (5), Western Washington finished with a 27-4 overall record in 2017 and tied the GNAC single-season conference win mark at 19-1.
Led by All-American Abby Phelps (5), Western Washington finished with a 27-4 overall record in 2017 and tied the GNAC single-season conference win mark at 19-1.

Friday, August 17, 2018

PORTLAND, Ore. – During the 2017 season, Western Washington was virtually unbeatable en route to the conference championship. This season, coaches expect nothing different.

The Vikings collected all 11 first-place votes, becoming the unanimous pick to win the title again in the 2018 Great Northwest Athletic Conference Preseason Volleyball Coaches Poll. Western Washington received a maximum 121 points in the poll after going 27-4 overall last year and tied the GNAC single-season wins mark with a 19-1 conference record.

Central Washington, which tied for third last year, is picked second with 106 points. The Wildcats received all but two second-place votes. Simon Fraser is picked third with 91 points while Alaska Anchorage and Northwest Nazarene are tied for fourth in the poll with 82 points.

Seattle Pacific is selected sixth with 72 points. The Falcons are followed by Alaska (49 points), Concordia (47 points), Montana State Billings (29 points), Western Oregon (24 points) and Saint Martin’s (23 points).

Western Washington is ranked No. 5 in the AVCA Division II Preseason Coaches Poll and has the potential for a special season with the return of six starters from last year’s championship run. The Vikings lost just once during the GNAC season, at Northwest Nazarene on Sept. 16, and proceeded to build a 20-match win streak before falling to Cal State San Bernardino in the NCAA West Regional final. Western Washington led the GNAC and ranked 14th in Division II with 14.25 kills per set. The team’s 20.39 digs per set was fourth nationally and its .249 hitting percentage was 12th.

Senior outside hitter Abby Phelps leads five WWU returners back from last year’s squad. The 2017 GNAC Player of the Year and All-American ranked sixth in Division II with 12.87 attacks per set, 12th with 4.93 points per set and 14th with 4.31 kills per set, leading the GNAC in all three categories. She led a WWU squad that led the GNAC and ranked 18th nationally with a .249 hitting percentage.

Phelps is joined by two other First Team All-GNAC performers in senior setter Brette Boesel and senior middle blocker Michaela Hall. Boesel led the GNAC and was 11th in Division II with 11.72 assists per set while Hall was fifth in the GNAC and 24th nationally with 1.24 blocks per set. All three were GNAC Preseason All-Conference selections with Phelps named the GNAC Preseason Player of the Year.

Also back for the Vikings is senior libero Aubrey (Buckner) Stephens, who was an Honorable Mention All-GNAC selection last year, and junior middle blocker Joslyn Bopray. The team also welcomes back junior middle blocker Kayleigh Harper, who did not play in 2017. Harper finished with a .358 hitting percentage and 0.60 blocks per set in 2016, earning All-GNAC and All-American accolades.

Central Washington used a combination of solid net presence and defense to earn its sixth consecutive trip to the NCAA West Regional last season. The Wildcats led the GNAC and finished second in Division II with 2.77 blocks per set while compiling a .204 hitting percentage. Defensively, the Wildcats were second in the GNAC with a .159 opponent’s hitting percentage.

Senior outside hitter Shelby Mauritson finished sixth in the GNAC last year with 3.59 kills per set and was 11th in Division II with 12.29 attacks per set. She will lead the Wildcats on offense as will senior outside hitter Madison Weg, who had a .206 hitting percentage while averaging 1.66 kills per set. Both Mauritson and Weg were GNAC Preseason All-Conference Team selections. Senior middle blocker Sara Joffs will step into the spot vacated by graduated All-American Sabrina Wheelhouse. Joffs amassed a .143 hitting percentage while averaging 1.07 blocks per set, seventh in the GNAC. Experienced senior libero Kyla Morgan also returns after finishing fifth in the GNAC with 5.11 digs per set.

Picked third in this year’s poll, Simon Fraser finished a competitive fifth in the standings in 2017 after earning its first NCAA West Regional berth in 2016. The Clan proved a solid all-around team, ranking second in the GNAC and 16th in Division II with 19.32 digs per set while also ranking third in the conference in kills (13.29 per set) and assists (12.76 per set). Simon Fraser returns one of the league’s most experienced lineups with six starters and 11 players back.

Senior middle blocker Tessa May leads the way after earning First Team All-GNAC and AVCA Honorable Mention All-American honors. May finished second in the GNAC and 19th in Division II with a .366 hitting percentage while averaging 2.83 kills per set. Her 1.08 blocks per set was seventh in the GNAC. May and sophomore setter Julia Tays both earned Preseason All-GNAC nods. Tays averaged 9.10 digs per set to finish fifth in the GNAC while adding 2.34 digs per set. The Clan also return junior middle blocker Angelica Kilberg, the GNAC Co-Newcomer of the Year, and Honorable Mention All-GNAC libero Jayme Bratsberg.

Northwest Nazarene and Alaska Anchorage tied for fourth in preseason poll voting. The Nighthawks are coming off one of their best seasons as a Division II member with a 25-5 overall record, and opened the season with a 16-match win streak. Northwest Nazarene led the GNAC and was 15th in Division II with 13.42 assists per set. The Nighthawks were also second and among the Division II top-30 in hitting percentage (.244) and kills per set (13.91).

While earning a No. 19 ranking in the AVCA Preseason Coaches Top-25, the Nighthawks have a lot of holes to fill with the graduation of four key starters, including All-Americans Madi Farrell and Kendra Bodine. Senior outside hitter Cami Heninger will be looked at to pick up much of the offensive load. The Preseason All-GNAC selection finished with a .201 hitting percertage and averaged 1.94 kills per set last year. Senior libero Shayli Siegfreid paces the defense after she averaged 4.45 digs per set last year.

Likewise, Alaska Anchorage will look to fill some key holes in the lineup to supplement a strong core of three returning starters. The Seawolves averaged 12.66 kills and 2.06 blocks per set en route to its fifth consecutive postseason appearance. The team also led the GNAC and ranked 42nd in Division II with 1.74 aces per set.

Senior outside hitter Chrisalyn Johnson will step into a bigger leadership role with the UAA offense with the departure of All-American Leah Swiss. An Honorable Mention All-GNAC selection in 2017 and a Preseason All-GNAC choice in 2018, Johnson averaged 3.05 kills and 2.47 digs per set. Junior middle blocker Vanessa (Hayes) Boyer and senior middle blocker Tara Melton provide a solid presence at the net. Boyer averaged 1.65 kills per set and amassed a .256 hitting percentage while Melton, the Co-GNAC Newcomer of the Year, averaged 1.46 kills and 0.97 blocks per set. The Seawolves also welcome back setter Casey Davenport, who was the 2017 GNAC Freshman of the Year and earned Preseason All-Conference honors.

Picked to remain in sixth place, Seattle Pacific improved by four wins last year under first-year head coach Abbie Wright. The Falcons excelled at the net, finishing third in the GNAC and 48th in Division II with 2.14 blocks per set. Seattle Pacific averaged 12.54 kills per set and held opponents to a .180 hitting percentage.

First Team All-GNAC outside hitter Gabby Oddo leads four returning SPU starters. The junior averaged 3.50 kills per set in 2017, ranking seventh in the GNAC, while adding 1.68 digs per set. Senior setter Symone Tran was an Honorable Mention All-GNAC choice last year and joined Oddo on the Preseason All-Conference Team. Tran was third in the GNAC and 51st in Division II with 10.32 assists per set. Senior middle blocker Shaun Crespi provides a strong net presence, averaging 1.83 kills and 1.14 blocks per set last year.

Coaches expect a leap in the standings from Alaska, picked to finish seventh after tying for ninth last year. The Nanooks were the most improved team in the GNAC in 2017, finishing at 12-17 after going 3-24 the year before. Alaska finished third in the GNAC with a .206 hitting percentage while averaging 12.59 kills per set.

To continue the upward trend, however, will require younger players to step up after the loss of four starters. Junior middle blocker Kim Wong led the way. The Honorable Mention All-GNAC and Preseason All-Conference selection finished sixth in the GNAC with her .306 hitting percentage while averaging 1.62 kills per set. Sophomore outside hitter Lahra Weber performed strong as a freshman, averaging 2.39 kills and 1.88 digs per set.

Concordia finished just short of its third consecutive winning season as a GNAC member at 13-14. The Cavaliers were fourth in the GNAC in assists (12.07 per set), kills (12.80 per set), blocks (2.07 per set) and aces (1.38 per set) last year while compiling a respectable .192 hitting percentage.

The Cavaliers will be led by a pair of outside hitters that are being expected to step into leadership roles. Senior Tori Johnson averaged 1.34 kills per set after starting 14 matches last year while junior Jessica Wheeler averaged 1.39 kills per set. Senior middle blocker Britt Beyer hopes to be a larger presence at the net after finishing with 1.29 kills and 0.71 blocks per set.

Picked ninth, Montana State Billings struggled to a 9-21 overall record with a very young lineup. The Yellowjackets averaged 11.37 kills per set and had a .160 hitting percentage and was fifth in the GNAC with 18.06 digs per set.

Youth last year translates to more experience in seven returning starters for the Yellowjackets in 2018. Sophomore libero Izela Alvarez earned Honorable Mention All-GNAC honors and was named to the Preseason All-Conference Team after she averaged 5.76 digs per set and finished fifth in the GNAC with 0.33 aces per set. Senior middle blocker Miranda McConnell and senior defensive specialist Taylor Sherman will be looked to for leadership while sophomore Maddi Vigil is the team’s top returning hitter after averaging 3.19 kills per set.

Western Oregon hopes that four returning starters and 10 returning players will lift the Wolves to a higher spot in the standings. The team is led by senior opposite Mariella Vandenkooy, who finished last year with 2.84 kills per set and a .204 hitting percentage. The Wolves return a solid combination of setters in seniors Leila Holt and Maddie Mehciz. Holt averaged 7.02 assists per set while Mehciz averaged 5.08 assists per set.

Saint Martin’s welcomes back six players, four of which were starters in 2017. The group is led by senior outside hitter Rachel Gondrezick, who finished with averages of 2.65 kills and 1.19 digs per set. The offense will be further bolstered by senior outside hitter Megan Vernoy, who averaged 2.09 kills per set, and sophomore Emily Gooding, who averaged 1.49 kills per set as a freshman.

The 2018 season begins on Thursday, Aug. 23, with five conference teams participating in tournaments in Portland, Anchorage and Hawaii. All 11 teams will be in action on Friday, Aug. 24. Conference play begins on Tuesday, Sept. 4, when Western Oregon hosts Concordia.

Rank Team (1st Place Votes) 2017 Record GNAC Record (Finish) Pts.
1. Western Washington (11) 27-4 19-1 (1st) 121
2. Central Washington 19-10 14-6 (tie 3rd) 106
3. Simon Fraser 15-13 12-8 (5th) 91
4. Alaska Anchorage 19-11 14-6 (tie 3rd) 82
  Northwest Nazarene 25-5 16-4 (2nd) 82
6. Seattle Pacific 15-13 10-10 (6th) 72
7. Alaska 12-17 5-15 (tie 8th) 49
8. Concordia 13-14 8-12 (7th) 47
9. Montana State Billings 9-21 5-15 (tie 8th) 29
10. Western Oregon 7-20 3-17 (11th) 24
11. Saint Martin's 9-19 4-16 (10th) 23
Points awarded on 11-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 basis.