Vikings Clear Favorites To Repeat As Volleyball Champs
Western Washington went 25-5 overall and 17-1 in conference play. The Vikings won both the GNAC and West Region championships.
Western Washington went 25-5 overall and 17-1 in conference play. The Vikings won both the GNAC and West Region championships.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

PORTLAND, Ore. – Western Washington left little doubt about its dominance in 2021. Conference coaches expect nothing different in 2022.

The Vikings received all but one first-place vote from conference coaches to lead the 2022 Great Northwest Athletic Conference Preseason Volleyball Coaches Poll.

Western Washington received 98 of a possible 100 points. The Vikings finished 2021 with a 25-5 overall record and a 17-1 GNAC mark, winning the conference championship by five games over Central Washington and Alaska Anchorage, who tied for second in the conference standings.

The Wildcats were picked second with 89 points and received all but one second-place vote. Alaska Anchorage is projected third with 74 points and received the remaining first-place vote.

Simon Fraser is picked a close fourth with 70 points with Seattle Pacific fifth with 61 points. Rounding out the poll is Alaska (50 pts.), Northwest Nazarene (43 pts.), Montana State Billings (25 pts.), Saint Martin’s (22 pts.) and Western Oregon (18 pts.).

After going 5-4 over the first three weeks of the season against nationally-ranked opponents, Western Washington could not be beaten. The Vikings won 20 straight matches to capture both the GNAC and NCAA West Region titles and advanced to the Division II national semifinals for the fourth time in program history. The team led the GNAC and was second among Division II teams with 2.75 blocks per set. The Vikings also ranked in the Division II top-30 with a .246 hitting percentage and 13.61 kills per set.

Western Washington comes back loaded with 12 total returners, including all six regular starters. Senior outside hitter Gabby Gunterman was named the 2021 GNAC Player of the Year and earned AVCA First Team All-American honors after finishing the season with 3.24 kills per set, a .236 hitting percentage, 3.42 digs per set and 0.61 blocks per set. Senior outside hitter Calley Heilborn and senior middle blocker Olivia Fairchild were AVCA Honorable Mention All-American selections. Heilborn averaged 3.22 kills and 4.18 digs per set. Fairchild led the GNAC and ranked seventh in Division II with 1.36 blocks per set while amassing 2.46 kills per set and a .346 hitting percentage.

Central Washington went 17-9 last season and advanced to the program’s ninth straight West Regional. The only GNAC team to beat Western Washington in 2021 (a four-set win on September 23), the Wildcats surged into the postseason by winning six of their final seven regular-season matches. Central averaged 12.42 kills per set and ranked 22nd in Division II with 2.31 blocks per set. Like the Vikings, CWU returns 12 players and five of six starters.

Junior setter/outside hitter Tia Andaya returns after earning Third Team AVCA All-American and GNAC Newcomer of the Year honors. Andaya averaged 2.27 kills per set, 5.07 assists per set, 2.24 digs per set and 0.54 blocks per set after transferring from Division I Gonzaga. She set the GNAC single-season record with eight triple-doubles. Junior outside hitter Ashley Kaufman averaged 3.13 kills and 2.27 digs per set en route to First Team All-GNAC honors. Sophomore libero Hannah Stires led the conference with 4.68 digs per set.

Alaska Anchorage parlayed a strong start to the season into another trip to the postseason. The Seawolves won seven of their first eight matches of the season and nine of their first 10 conference matches on their way to a 19-12 overall record and a tie for second in the conference standings with Central Washington. The Seawolves averaged 12.61 kills per set while leading the GNAC and finishing 15th in Division II with 2.08 aces per set. A stout defensive team, UAA was second in the GNAC with a .163 hitting percentage.

Alaska Anchorage returns nine players and four starters. Senior right-side hitter Eve Stephens will be aiming for her fourth straight First Team All-GNAC selection in 2022. The Second Team AVCA All-American and Third Team CoSIDA Academic All-American averaged 3.84 kills and 4.67 points per set, ranking second in the conference in the top 30 in Division II in both categories. Senior setter Ellen Floyd was a First Team All-GNAC choice. She averaged 10.07 assists per set and led the conference with 0.48 aces per set.

Simon Fraser surged over the second half of the season to finish with a 17-9 overall record. One of three teams tied for fourth in the GNAC at 11-7, SFU emerged from that tie to round out the conference’s four selections to the NCAA West Regional. Simon Fraser closed the regular season by winning nine of 12 matches. Simon Fraser ranked second in the GNAC with 13.53 kills per set and was third with 16.62 digs per set. The team returns 11 players and six starters.

Sophomore opposite Brooke Dexter impressed in her first year, earning GNAC and AVCA West Region Freshman of the Year honors and was also named a Third Team AVCA All-American. She led the GNAC and ranked 12th in Division II with 4.16 kills and 4.70 points per set. Junior middle blocker Kalyn Hartmann averaged 2.04 kills per set with a .258 hitting percentage and ranked 10th in the conference with one block per set.

Seattle Pacific found itself in contention for the West Region berth late in the season, winning six of its final nine matches to close with a 15-10 record. It was the program’s first above .500 season since 2017 (not counting the 2020-21 COVID season). The Falcons were one of three teams in the GNAC’s fourth-place juggernaut at 11-7. The Falcons finished third in the GNAC with 13.09 kills per set and ranked sixth in Division II with 2.63 blocks per set.

The team’s 15 returners look to climb another rung in Jason Rhine’s first season as head coach. Junior middle blocker Hannah Hair earned Honorable Mention AVCA All-American and First Team All-GNAC honors. She led the conference with a .333 hitting percentage and was second with 1.35 blocks per set, ranking eighth in Division II. Sophomore setter Emily Tulino was named Honorable Mention All-GNAC after averaging 6.53 assists and 1.60 digs per set. Tulino ranked third in the conference with 0.43 aces per set.

The third team in the conference’s fourth-place tie, Alaska finished 18-12 to compile the program’s fourth straight winning season. The Nanooks made their case for a postseason berth late, winning five of their last six matches. Alaska averaged 12.72 kills per set and finished 12th in Division II with 2.49 blocks per set. The team also led the conference with a .161 opponent hitting percentage.

The Nanooks will be challenged to replace five starters. Sophomore outside hitter Rilee White is the lone returning starter. She averaged 2.11 kills and 2.08 digs per set with a .135 hitting percentage. Sophomore outside hitter Karli Neilsen averaged 2.66 kills per set and a .209 hitting percentage in 56 sets.

Northwest Nazarene looks to a wealth of experience to bounce back from an eighth-place finish in 2021. The Nighthawks return 14 players and seven starters from a team that averaged 11.82 kills per set and led the conference with 17.76 digs per set. Senior outside hitter Natalie Sullivan earned First Team All-GNAC honors after finishing with 3.66 kills and 2.77 digs per set with a .188 hitting percentage. Junior Caroline McMahon ranked second in the conference with 4.66 digs per set.

While Montana State Billings closed 2021 with a 12-16 record, the team finished strong. The Yellowjackets won three of their final six matches, averaging 11.71 kills per set with a .183 hitting percentage. Senior outside hitter Skylar Reed leads the MSUB offense. She averaged 2.85 kills per set with a .166 hitting percentage in 2021. Junior setter Hannah Hashbarger finished fifth in the GNAC with 8.43 assists per set.

After placing ninth last year, Saint Martin’s also hopes that a year of experience will help the team climb in the standings. The team made a significant stride in 2021 as the team’s 10 wins marked the first time the Saints had amassed double-digit victories in the GNAC era. The Saints averaged 11.63 kills per set and was second in the GNAC with 17.22 digs per set. Sophomore outside hitter Tia Allen was a difference maker as a freshman, averaging 2.88 kills and 2.60 digs per set. Sophomore middle blocker Maddy Gooding added 2.63 kills per set and had a .155 hitting percentage.

Western Oregon looks to stability after the team worked through a midseason coaching change in 2021. First-year head coach Kaiao Nahale-a will work with a program that returns 14 players, including six starters. Junior outside hitter Isabel Hurliman led the Wolves in 2021 with 2.91 kills per set and a .178 hitting percentage. Sophomore outside hitter Bailee Hartsook averaged 2.78 kills per set.

The 2022 season begins on Friday, August 19, with Alaska and Alaska Anchorage taking part in the Hawaii-Alaska Challenge in Honolulu. The conference’s remaining eight teams commence the season the following weekend. Conference play commences with four matches on Thursday, Sept. 8.

Rank Team (1st Place Votes) 2021 Record GNAC Record (Finish) Pts.
1. Western Washington (9) 25-5 17-1 (1st) 98
2. Central Washington 17-9 12-6 (tie 2nd) 89
3. Alaska Anchorage (1) 19-12 12-6 (tie 2nd) 74
4. Simon Fraser 17-9 11-7 (tie 4th) 70
5. Seattle Pacific 15-10 11-7 (tie 4th) 61
6. Alaska 18-12 11-7 (tie 4th) 50
7. Northwest Nazarene 7-19 4-14 (8th) 43
8. Montana State Billings 12-16 7-11 (7th) 25
9. Saint Martin's 10-18 3-15 (9th) 22
10. Western Oregon 4-21 2-16 (10th) 18
Points awarded on 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 basis.