INDIANAPOLIS -- Oakland, seeking to repeat as Horizon League Volleyball Regular Season and Tournament Champions, has been pegged as the preseason favorite in the 2015 League race. The Golden Grizzlies received eight first place votes to earn the top spot in a preseason poll of the league’s nine head volleyball coaches. Coaches were not allowed to vote for their own team in the poll.
Oakland returns six starters from last season’s squad which went 21-8 overall and had a 12-2 record in League play. The Golden Grizzlies return two All-League performers in sophomore middle hitter Sammy Condon (257 kills, 2.34/set) and senior outside hitter Cassie Pelloni (358 kills, 3.03/set). Also back for Oakland is junior outside hitter Melissa Deatsch (332 digs, 2.77/set), junior Jessica Dood (310 kills, 2.58 set) and senior setter Ciara Schultz (10.37 assists/set).
Milwaukee is picked to finish second in the poll after receiving one first place vote and 53 points overall. The Panthers have been one of the League’s most consistent programs as UWM has finished first or second in the League 16 of the last 18 seasons. The Panthers will be led in 2015 by two-time All-League performer Kayla Price. Price ranked second in the conference last season with an average of 11.47 assists per set. Also back for UWM is senior Maggie Dunbar (231 kills, 2.75/set), senior Nicole Latzig (second in HL last season with .333 attack percentage) and junior Myanna Ruiz (270 kills and 347 digs last season).
Valparaiso finished third in the poll, three points behind Milwaukee. The Crusaders finished last season with a record of 25-8, their 13th consecutive campaign with 20 or more victories. Valpo returns five starters and its libero from last season’s team. Junior outside hitter Emily Campbell leads the returning Crusaders. Campbell was the HL’s Co-Player of the Year last season. She finished the season with 480 kills (4.32 per set). Also back for Valpo is setter Kelsey Berrington. An All-League performer last season, Berrington is the lone senior on Valpo’s roster and ranked second in the HL last season with 1,281 assists.
With 33 points, UIC stands in fourth place. The Flames return three starters from last season including Co-Horizon League Player of the Year Stephenee Yancy and Freshman of the Year Nicole Johnson. Yancy led the HL last season with 512 kills and an attack percentage of .358, while also ranking among league leaders with 106 total blocks. Johnson recorded 1,365 assists in her rookie season last year to lead all Horizon League players.
Cleveland State is picked fifth in the preseason poll, just edging out Northern Kentucky and Youngstown State. The Vikings are led by junior outside Grace Kauth who was an All-League selection last season. Kauth led CSU with 277 kills last year. Also back for the Vikings are senior libero Nikki Holmes (315 digs), sophomore setter Gina Kilner (534 assists and 134 digs) and senior outside hitter Christina Toth (253 kills and 90 blocks).
Northern Kentucky and Youngstown State both picked up 31 points to finish in a tie for sixth in the preseason poll. The Norse are playing in their first season in the Horizon League and return two players who earned All-Atlantic Sun Conference recognition last year in setter Taylor Snyder and outside hitter Keely Creamer. Snyder averaged 10.5 assists per set with 1,207 assists on the season, while Creamer had 306 kills and a team-best 95 blocks last year.
YSU returns four starters and its libero from last year’s team that advanced to the semifinals of the Horizon League Tournament. Junior Val Jeffery is the leading returner for the Penguins. Jeffery was named the HL’s Setter of the Year last season after averaging 10.47 assists per set. Also back for YSU is sophomore outside hitter Sam Brown (All-Freshman team last year after averaging 2.53 kills/set and 2.16 digs/set) and senior defensive specialist Nikki Thompson (school-record 495 digs last season).
Green Bay and Wright State round out the poll in eight and ninth place, respectively. The Phoenix missed the Horizon League Tournament last year for the first time since the League went to the current six team format in 2008, but do have the potential to make a return trip this year. Green Bay returns five of the six players to record 100 or more kills last season, as well as their setter and top defensive player. Junior Megan Powers led GB last season with 209 kills and 74 digs. Also back for GB is senior setter Emily Riese and senior libero Jillian Bauer (second in HL with 4.99 digs per set).
Like Green Bay, Wright State is loaded with returnees and has the ability to move up the standings. The Raiders return five of their six players that recorded 100 or more kills last season and just like the Phoenix also welcome back last season’s starting setter and libero. Sophomore defensive specialist Maddie Lohmeier is back for the Raiders. Lohmeier led the HL in her rookie campaign with an average of 5.43 digs per set. Also back for WSU are sophomores Katie Klusman (team-best 230 kills last season) and Megan Hopkins (218 kills), junior Haley Garr (204 kills) and senior Marisa Aiello (177 kills, team-best 79 blocks).
The volleyball season for all nine teams starts Friday, Aug. 28. The Horizon League Tournament will feature the top six teams in the league and will run from Nov. 20-22, with all matches played at the venue of the No. 1 seed.