Round 2: 7 More Tourneys Await GNAC VB Teams
NNU's Maren Dent was named MVP of the Otter Classic after leading the Nighthawks to a 4-0 start to their 2023 season.
NNU's Maren Dent was named MVP of the Otter Classic after leading the Nighthawks to a 4-0 start to their 2023 season.

Wednesday, September 6, 2023
by Evan O'Kelly

PORTLAND, Ore. – For the second straight week a plethora of preseason tournaments are on tap as all 10 Great Northwest Athletic Conference volleyball teams are set for more action.

It will be the second week in a row with a full slate of matches on the calendar for GNAC schools, who will compete in seven tournaments located in five different states. Headline matchups among the 39 total on the schedule include the first conference match of the season as well as highly ranked games both in Colorado and Minnesota.

Nine matches that feature nationally ranked opposition highlight this week’s slate of games, including five GNAC contests against teams ranked in the top-10 in the latest national coaches poll.

GNAC Volleyball Schedule - Sept. 7-9
Tournament Location GNAC Teams Competing
Mountain Lion Classic Colorado Springs, Colo. Saint Martin's, Western Oregon
CPP/APU Invitational Pomona, Calif./Azusa, Calif. Northwest Nazarene, Simon Fraser
Denali State Ice Block Challenge Fairbanks, Alaska #21 Alaska Anchorage, Alaska
Colorado Premier Challenge Denver, Colo. #22 Western Washington
Yellow Jacket Classic Spearfish, S.D. Montana State Billings
Cougar Classic San Marcos, Calif. RV Seattle Pacific
Up North Tournament Duluth, Minn. #23 Central Washington

GNAC Teams vs. Nationally Ranked Opponents
Date GNAC Team Opponent Location Time
9/7 Northwest Nazarene No. 24 Cal Poly Pomona Pomona, Calif. 6 p.m. PDT
9/7 Alaska No. 21 Alaska Anchorage Fairbanks, Alaska 7:30 p.m. ADT
9/8 Western Oregon No. 10 Nebraska-Kearney Colorado Springs, Colo. 1:45 p.m. MDT
9/8 No. 22 Western Washington No. 2 Concordia-St. Paul Denver, Colo. 2 p.m. MDT
9/8 Northwest Nazarene No. 20 Chaminade Pomona, Calif. 3 p.m. PDT
9/8 Simon Fraser No. 24 Cal Poly Pomona Pomona, Calif. 6 p.m. PDT
9/8 No. 23 Central Washington No. 7 Minnesota Duluth Duluth, Minn. 7:30 p.m. CDT
9/9 No. 23 Central Washington No. 5 St. Cloud State Duluth, Minn. 12 p.m. CDT
9/9 Saint Martin's No. 10 Nebraska-Kearney Colorado Springs, Colo. 12:30 p.m. MDT


This Week's Storylines

WOLVES PARTY LIKE IT’S 1999: For the first time since 1999 Western Oregon takes a 4-0 record into its second weekend of play as the Wolves swept away the competition at the Stanislaus State Tournament last week. Named the GNAC Team of the Week on Tuesday, WOU takes its perfect record to the Mountain Lion Classic in Colorado Springs, Colo. The toughest test of the young season awaits the Wolves on Friday at 1:45 p.m. MDT as they square off against No. 10 Nebraska-Kearney – their first nationally-ranked foe of the year. Saint Martin’s, which went 2-2 on opening weekend, will face the same four opponents as the Wolves in host UC Colorado Springs, Bemidji State, Western Colorado and Nebraska Kearney at the event, which kicks off Thursday. The Saints will be eager for their rematch against Nebraska-Kearney set for Saturday at 12:30 p.m. MDT, after they were dealt a 3-1 defeat by the Lopes last week in Utah.

GNAC Player of the Week Madison Hornback of WOU earned that distinction by virtue of leading the conference in both kills per set (3.92) and points per set (4.62) on her way to being named MVP of the Stanislaus State Tournament. Preseason all-conference selection Bailee Hartsook also garnered all-tournament honors, after racking up an attack percentage of .409 on the opening weekend of her season. For the Saints, Karla Soto led all GNAC players with 10.31 assists per set while totaling 165 in the Saints’ four matches. Soto also became the fifth player in program history to reach the 1,000 career assists plateau, achieving that feat in just her second season at SMU.

NIGHTHAWKS TAKE PERFECT RECORD TO CALIFORNIA: Hornback wasn’t the only tournament MVP and the Wolves weren’t the only undefeated GNAC team to emerge from the opening weekend, as Otter Invitational MVP Maren Dent led Northwest Nazarene to a perfect 4-0 start to its season. A tall task awaits the Nighthawks this week, as they’ll face No. 20 Chaminade and No. 24 Cal Poly Pomona at the Bronco Invitational in California. Dent’s 3.24 kills per set were sixth most by a GNAC player last week, and preseason all-conference selection Caroline McMahon led the way defensively with 4.44 digs per set to rank second among GNAC players.

WILDCATS LOOK TO BUILD OFF SUCCESS AGAINST THE BEST: Facing the toughest competition on opening weekend, Central Washington emerged with a pair of victories over ranked opponents in beating Cal State LA 3-1 and Regis 3-0 to close out the week. The preseason favorite Wildcats pick up right where they left off this week, with an immensely challenging schedule at the Up North Tournament in Duluth, Minn. Friday night at 7:30 p.m. CDT is a marquee matchup as the Wildcats square off against tournament host No. 7 Minnesota Duluth, before turning around to face No. 5 St. Cloud State on Saturday at noon CDT.

Emma Daoud-Hebert was her usual self on opening weekend, racking up 1.47 blocks per set to rank No. 9 in all of Division II volleyball. GNAC Preseason Player of the Year Tia Andaya totaled 130 assists in the Wildcats’ four matches on her way to all-tournament recognition.

A COUNTER AT THE ICE BLOCK: The first conference match of the season is set for Thursday night in Fairbanks, as No. 21 Alaska Anchorage squares off against in-state rival Alaska at 7:30 p.m. ADT. The duo will then each face Biola, Lander, and Stanislaus State during the three-day Denali State Ice Block Classic hosted by the Nanooks.

Read More: Alaska Nanooks Preview

Behind big performances by Reilly Plumhoff, Makana Eleneki and Nicole Blue, Alaska Anchorage kept itself in the national rankings by winning 3 of 4 matches last week at the Alaska Airlines Center. Alaska’s Elizabeth Jackson built off her Player of the Week nod on Aug. 28 and elevated her hitting percentage to .364 and her blocks per set figure to 1.12 through the first eight matches of the year.

Read More: Alaska Anchorage Seawolves Preview

THE OTHER YELLOW JACKETS: Montana State Billings heads to Spearfish, S.D. this weekend for the Yellow Jacket Invitational hosted by Black Hills State University. The GNAC’s Yellowjackets will look to build upon a 2-2 start to the season, and will have a chance at vengeance against Mary on Saturday after the Marauders beat them 3-1 in the 2023 season opener.

Christine Funk took home GNAC Defensive Player of the Week honors after racking up a conference-best 108 digs last week. The junior libero’s average of 6.0 digs per set was the fourth highest by any player in Division II, as she helped keep the ‘Jackets alive in both of their five-set victories. Paiten Langston also chipped in a big week, averaging 1.44 blocks per set which ranked her 13th nationally after the opening weekend of play.

VIKINGS LOOK FOR BOUNCE BACK AGAINST MORE TOP FOES: Despite a winless opening weekend for Western Washington, the Vikings held on to their national ranking as they prepare for another tough challenge this week. WWU will be tested by No. 2 Concordia-St. Paul on Friday at 2 p.m. MDT, directly after facing a Ferris State team that received votes in the national poll for the second straight week. Delaney Speer was WWU’s top performer against its four nationally ranked opponents last week, earning all-tournament recognition at the Yotes Classic Showcase.

FALCONS KEEP PACE IN NATIONAL RANKS: Seattle Pacific preps for another challenging weekend in Southern California, as the Falcons square off against four opponents at the Cougar Classic hosted by Cal State San Marcos. On paper their Saturday afternoon matchup with Colorado Mines to close the event will be the biggest test, with both SPU and Mines receiving votes in the latest coaches poll. Preseason all-conference selections Allison Wilks and Hannah Hair were exceptional on opening weekend, with Wilks ranking sixth nationally in hitting percentage at .533 and Hair checking in at 17th nationally at .465. Hair’s hitting percentage of .833 (10 kills, 0 errors, 12 attempts) against Cal State San Marcos tied the school single-match record.

Read More: Hair Named Falcon of the Week

Player to Watch


Kylie Thorne – Central Washington

The Wildcats don’t beat No. 9 Cal State LA and No. 18 Regis in back-to-back matches last Saturday without the offense of the fourth-year junior out of Chiawana High School. Thorne delivered a career-high 19 kills on a .304 attack percentage in the Wildcats’ four-set win over the Golden Eagles, helping her team to its first win of the season. CWU rode her hot hand in its second match of the day, as she led the team with a dozen kills while swinging .333 in the three-set sweep of the Rangers.

Overall on the week Thorne ranked third in the conference with 3.60 kills per set and fourth in the conference with 4.03 points per set. The breakout performance on opening weekend shouldn’t come as a surprise, as Thorne finished her 2022 campaign strong to earn honorable mention all-conference as a sophomore. Her kills per set figure of 1.67 as a freshman in 2021 rose by 0.64 to the tune of 2.31 in 2022, which was her first full season with 89 sets played. The trend upward continued through the Wildcats’ first four matches of the year, and she figures to be a threat at the net throughout 2023.

National Rankings

The AVCA/TARAFLEX NCAA Division II rankings are released every Monday throughout the 2023 season. The GNAC had four representatives in the latest rankings released on Sept. 4, with Central Washington making the jump from receiving votes to No. 23 in the poll. Alaska Anchorage slipped from No. 14 in the preseason to No. 21 after starting the year 4-4, and Western Washington maintained a spot in the national rankings at No. 22 after dropping four matches against nationally ranked teams to start the season. Seattle Pacific received votes for the second straight week.

Poll Team 1 Team 2 Team 3 Team 4
Preseason 14. UAA 15. WWU RV CWU RV SPU
Sept. 4 21. UAA 22. WWU 23. CWU RV SPU
GNAC Volleyball In The NCAA Statistical National Rankings

Through matches on Sept. 5.

Team Rankings (Top-30)
Aces Per Set: 18. WOU, 2.69; 30. NNU, 2.50
Blocks Per Set: 10. MSUB, 2.72
Digs Per Set: 29. MSUB, 18.17
Hitting Percentage: 18. WOU, .281
Team Assists: 3. UAA, 336; 4. UAF, 308
Attacks Per Set: 14. MSUB, 39.89
Digs: 2. UAA, 467; 5. UAF, 382; 10. MSUB, 327
Kills: 3. UAA, 364; 4. UAF, 331; 14. NNU, 222; 23. MSUB, 210; 23. SMU, 210
Service Aces: 2. UAA, 53; 5. NNU, 45; 19. UAF, 38; 25. SMU, 36; 25. SFU, 36
Total Attacks: 2. UAA, 1,039; 3. UAF, 984; 9. MSUB, 718; 17. NNU, 634
Blocks: 1. UAF, 58.0; 2. UAA, 55.0; 6. MSUB, 49.0
Individual Rankings (Top-50)
Assists Per Set: 20. Karla Soto, SMU, 10.31; 47; Hailey Carroll, MSUB, 9.33
Blocks Per Set: 9. Emma Daoud-Hebert, CWU, 1.47; 13. Paiten Langston, MSUB, 1.44
Digs Per Set: 4. Christine Funk, MSUB, 6.00
Hitting Percentage: 6. Allison Wilks, SPU, .533; 17. Hannah Hair, SPU, .465
Kills Per Set: 39. Madison Hornback, WOU, 39
Points Per Set: 25. Madison Hornback, WOU, 4.62
Service Aces: 2. Nicole Blue, UAA, 18; 16. Rilee White, UAF, 12; 27. Caroline McMahon, NNU, 11; 27. Ainsley Smith, UAF, 11; 38. Maddy Gooding, SMU, 10; 38. Karla Soto, SMU, 10; 50. Chloe Asciutto, WOU, 9; 50. Gabi Moore, NNU, 9; 50. Reilly Plumhoff, UAA, 9; 50. Macyn Unger, SFU, 9
Assists: 3. Ainsley Smith, UAF, 222; Makana Eleneki, UAA, 204; 12. Hailey Carroll, MSUB, 168; 16. Karla Soto, SMU, 165; 19. Gabi Moore, NNU, 161; 49. Tia Andaya, CWU, 130
Attacks: 1. Nicole Blue, UAA, 281; 3. Karli Nielson, UAF, 237; 7. Larssen Anderson, UAA, 213; 9. Bethany Tuchardt, UAA, 206; 25. Aubrey Allison, MSUB, 174; 49. Maren Dent, NNU, 153
Blocks: 2. Elizabeth Jackson, UAF, 27; 4. Paiten Langston, MSUB, 26; 6. Leilani Elder, UAA, 25; 6. Isabel Evans, UAA, 25; 12. Emma Daoud-Hebert, CWU, 22; 38. Josie Jansen, UAF, 18
Digs: 4. Christine Funk, MSUB, 108; 8. Nicole Blue, UAA, 95; 8. Reilly Plumhoff, UAA, 95; 16. Kinley Erickson, UAF, 86; 22. Makana Eleneki, UAA, 81; 22. Grace Steurer, UAF, 81; 27. Caroline McMahon, NNU, 80; 37. Madison Galloway, UAA, 76
Kills: 2. Nicole Blue, UAA, 93; 6. Karli Nielson, UAF, 76; 9. Bethany Tuchardt, UAA, 75; 16. Larssen Anderson, UAA, 70; 19. Ella Bines, UAF, 68; 37. Emily Garten, SMU, 58; 41. Julia Gordon, MSUB, 56; 46. Maren Dent, NNU, 55; 50. Kylie Thorne, CWU, 54

2023 GNAC Volleyball Players of the Week
Date Offensive Player of the Week Defensive Player of the Week
Aug. 28 Nicole Blue, Alaska Anchorage Elizabeth Jackson, Alaska
Sept. 5 Madison Hornback, Western Oregon Christine Funk, Montana State Billings

Sept. 5 GNAC Volleyball Players of the Week

Offensive: Madison Hornback, Western Oregon

Named the MVP of the Stanislaus State Tournament, Hornback propelled the Wolves to their first 4-0 start since the 1999 season. The junior outside hitter from Oregon City, Ore., led all GNAC players with 3.92 kills per set and 4.62 points per set in the opening weekend of her 2023 season. Hornback had at least 11 kills and no more than three attack errors in all four of the Wolves’ victories while chipping in 44 digs, eight block assists, and five service aces. She notched a hitting percentage of .368 on the weekend, and had 18.0 points in the Wolves’ four-set win over Chico State.

Also Nominated: Leilani Elder, UAA; Ella Bines, UAF; Kylie Thorne, CWU; Julia Gordon, MSUB; Maren Dent, NNU; Karla Soto, SMU; Allison Wilks, SPU; Jocelyn Sherman, SFU.

Defensive: Christine Funk, Montana State Billings

Funk led the GNAC and ranked fourth in Division II over the weekend with 6.00 digs per set, a figure that was more than 1.5 digs higher than the next closest player in the conference. The junior libero racked up 108 total digs which also ranks fourth in Division II as she produced at least 23 digs in all four of the Yellowjackets’ games on opening weekend. Funk saved her best statistical performance for last, reaching a career-high 32 digs while adding three service aces against Lubbock Christian on Saturday evening.

Also Nominated: Reilly Plumhoff, UAA; Elizabeth Jackson, UAF; Emma Daoud-Hebert, CWU; Caroline McMahon, NNU; Emily Garten, SMU; Hannah Hair, SPU; Ezawa Malish, SFU; Bella MacLellan, WOU; Delaney Speer, WWU.

2023 All-Tournament Selections
Hawaii/Alaska Challenge 
Aug. 24-26 at Fairbanks, Alaska (Alaska, Host)
Alaska: Grace Steurer, OH; Karli Nielson, OH
Alaska Anchorage: Nicole Blue, OH; Makana Eleneki, S
Otter Classic
Aug. 31-Sept. 2 at Seaside, Calif. (Cal State Monterey Bay, Host)
Northwest Nazarene: Maren Dent, OH - MVP; Caroline McMahon, L; Gabi Moore, S
Stanislaus State Labor Day Tournament
Aug. 31-Sept. 2 at Turlock, Calif. (Cal State Stanislaus, Host)
Western Oregon: Madison Hornback, OH-MVP; Bailee Hartsook, OH
2023 Seawolf Invitational
Aug. 31-Sept. 2 at Anchorage, Alaska (Alaska Anchorage, Host)
Alaska Anchorage: Leilani Elder, MB; Reilly Plumhoff, DS
Alaska: Ella Bines, RS
Yellowjacket Invitational
Sept. 1-2 at Billings, Mont. (Montana State Billings, Host)
Montana State Billings: Christine Funk, L; Julia Gordon, OH; Paiten Langston, MB)
2023 Yotes Classic Showcase
Aug. 31-Sept. 2 at San Bernardino, Calif. (Cal State San Bernardino, Host)
Central Washington: Tia Andaya, S
Western Washington: Delaney Speer, OH