INDIANAPOLIS -- Milwaukee, seeking its sixth Horizon League volleyball championship in the last nine seasons, has been pegged as the preseason favorite in the 2014 conference race. The Panthers received six first place votes to earn the top spot in a preseason poll of the league’s eight head volleyball coaches. Coaches were not allowed to vote for their own team in the poll.
Milwaukee, which received 47 points in the poll, lost last season’s Player of the Year, Rachel Neuberger, to graduation, but returns five of the six players that recorded over 100 kills last season, as well as their top-setter, Kayla Price (1020 assists, 218 digs and 53 blocks) and starting libero, Taylor Golabowski (488 digs).
Senior Julie Kolinske led the Panthers and ranked second in the conference last season with 343 kills, while sophomore Myanna Ruiz will look to build off a terrific rookie campaign that saw her record 232 kills and 294 digs.
Valparaiso received one first place vote and finished with 39 total points to finish second in the preseason poll. The Crusaders fell to Milwaukee, 3-1, in the championship match last season as VU, despite making the conference tournament every season since joining the conference for the 2007 season, is still looking for its first HL volleyball championship.
Senior Morgan Beil is the top returnee for the Crusaders. The St. Louis, Mo., native had 294 kills and an attack percentage of .296 last season and will try to become one of few players in Horizon League volleyball history to make the All-League team all four years they are eligible. Fellow senior Kelsey Victor (219 kills and 101 blocks) also returns for Valpo.
The Crusaders finished last season with a record of 25-8, their 12th consecutive campaign with 20 or more victories.
Oakland also received one first place vote and with 37 points is picked third in the preseason poll. The Golden Grizzlies return seven starters from last season’s 15-15 squad. Oakland returns their top-performer from every offensive and defensive category last season. Seniors Taylor Humm (355 digs) and Brooke Wadsworth (121 blocks) and juniors Cassie Pelloni (339 kills) and Ciara Schultz (586 assists) highlight the returning Golden Grizzlies.
With 29 points, Cleveland State slipped past Green Bay (26) for fourth place. Like Oakland, Cleveland State returns seven starters from last season, led by senior Maggie Hannon (297 kills and 100 blocks) and junior Nikki Holmes (495 digs). The Phoenix lost some front line players to graduation, but do return last year’s Freshman of the Year Shannon Hurley, who led the League in kills in her rookie season with 351. Also back for Green Bay are All-League performers Emily Riese (1,182 assists) and Jillian Bauer (563 digs).
UIC edged Youngstown State by one point to take sixth place. After missing the tournament last season, the Flames will look to rebound behind senior Sara Jo Sternard (329 kills, .293 hitting percentage), while Youngstown State has a lot of pieces to replace from last season’s team that reached the semifinals of the Horizon League Tournament. Seniors Lexi Egler (All-League last year) and Aly Ryan (1.12 blocks per set to rank third in the Horizon League) will try to push the Penguins even further in the tournament.
Wright State rounds out the poll. The Raiders have a very young squad with just two seniors listed on the roster, but have plenty of young talent led by sophomores Haley Garr (176 kills and 76 blocks) and Miranda Puthoff (415 assists and 347 digs).
The volleyball season for all eight teams starts Friday, Aug. 29. The Horizon League Tournament will feature the top six teams in the league and will run from Nov. 21-23, with all matches played at the venue of the No. 1 seed.
2014 Preseason Poll
Rank School (1st) Points
1. Milwaukee (6) 47
2. Valparaiso (1) 39
3. Oakland (1) 37
4. Cleveland State 29
5. Green Bay 26
6. UIC 20
7. Youngstown State 19
8. Wright State 7