Idaho, Eastern contenders
Whitworth, NIC, CCS also should battle for titles
It happens late in the preseason practice grind of every sport.
“We’re definitely ready to play somebody else,” second-year Washington State volleyball coach Jen Greeny said. “We’ve had a great preseason but you get to the point where you’re tired of seeing the same people across the net.”
That probably rang true for programs across the region as most opened their seasons Friday. And Idaho and WSU collided Saturday night in the final match of the Idaho Nike Challenge at Memorial Gym.
“We’re kind of at that point where it’s, ‘Are we playing at the level we think we are?’ Or is it, ‘We just haven’t played anybody to see where our weaknesses are,’ ” Vandals coach Debbie Buchanan said.
Here’s a look at area teams:
The Cougars are picked to finish 11th in the rugged Pac-12, which produced last year’s national champion (UCLA) and a Final Four qualifier (USC). WSU placed 11th in 2011.
WSU lost outside hitter Meagan Ganzer, third on the all-time kills list, to graduation, but returning starters include junior middle blocker Marcelina Glab, sophomore outside hitter Jaicee Harris, junior right-side hitter Rachel Todorovich and junior setter Camryn Irwin.
“I think you’re going to see a lot of players more experienced,” Greeny said. “Glab is definitely a lot more experienced; she’ll be a bigger part of our offense. Rachel is doing a great job. Jaicee is much improved and (Ver’Leea) Hardaway in the middle is much improved.”
The Cougars added one freshman and three transfers, including setter Alyssa Wold, a West Valley High product who played two seasons for Greeny at Lewis-Clark State College.
The Vandals, second in the Western Athletic Conference last season, appear to have the pieces to make a run at the conference championship. First-team All-WAC outside hitter Allison (Walker) Baker returns along with five seniors, including second-teamers Alex Sele and Jenny Feicht.
“I think we’re better than we were last year,” Buchanan said. “Defensively, we led the WAC from the blocking and digging aspects and I feel we should be up there again. Comparing ourselves to Top 25 teams, it’s the same thing I’ve been saying the last few years. We have to get our offensive numbers up – more kills, less errors.”
Idaho was picked to finish second in the WAC behind New Mexico State. Sixteen-time defending champion Hawaii exited the WAC for the Big West Conference.
The Eagles return five starters, paced by first-team All-Big Sky selection Cora Kellerman and Shelby Puckett, who made second team. EWU, fourth in the Big Sky last season, is picked to finish third.
“Cora and Shelby carried the load for us last year,” fifth-year head coach Miles Kydd said. “And we’ll lean heavily on (setter) Lindsay Niemeier.”
EWU has run a 6-2 offense the last few years with Niemeier (Shadle Park) and Laney Brown (Tekoa-Oakesdale) setting, but Brown is sidelined with a broken toe. Sophomore middle blocker Talia Fermantez hit over .300 last season.
The Bulldogs have struggled the last two seasons, going 12-46 overall and just 3-27 in West Coast Conference matches. They’ll try to turn it around with four returning starters and nine newcomers.
Key returners include outside hitter Terran Poindexter and middle blocker Kylie Edinger. Senior Mengya Wang and Colorado State transfer Katie Rutherford are competing for the setting job.
“I think we lost close to 70 percent of sets (in conference) by two points last year,” fourth-year coach Dave Gantt said. “We didn’t close the deal nearly as often as we’d have liked to. I like that we beat Oregon State, that we finished the season really strong by beating BYU at BYU. Hopefully we can carry some of that over.”
The Pirates are aiming for their third straight Northwest Conference title, but they were hit hard by the graduation of the Rocha sisters – Kaimi was the league MVP – outside hitter Amanda Grumbach and setter Bree Riddle.
Whitworth will rely on juniors Jalana White (Post Falls), Kristine Kardell and Whitney Santos.
“The days of the power offense on the outside are kind of gone, but we have some nice pieces,” coach Steve Rupe said. “I think we’re going to be better than some people think.”
The Pirates open against Trinity (Texas) on Friday at the Marriott National Invitational in Springfield, Ohio.
North Idaho College
The Cardinals return three players, led by first-team All-Region 18 middle blocker Yang Yang, from last year’s SWAC-championship club that placed ninth at the national tournament. Middle blocker Kaitlyn Molloy transferred from Montana, where she saw playing time as a freshman last season.
“We have good leadership from the sophomore class and we have great freshmen,” coach Kandice Gregorak said. “What worked for us last year was passing, defense and paying attention to the little details. It comes down to playing together and working together.”
Marissa Verduci (Mt. Spokane), HayleeMae Dennis, Allison Meehan (Post Falls), Britney Chilcott and Russia Robinson are among the freshmen competing for playing time.
After a string of second-place finishes, the Sasquatch last year brought home their first NWAACC East Division title in coach Jenni Rosselli-Hull’s seven seasons.
CCS is led by sophomore middle blocker Kate Hart (Riverside), who is closing in on the school’s blocks record, and sophomore defensive specialist Andrea Heartburg (Central Valley).
“We have a lot of new faces and they’re kind of open to all the new things we’re showing them,” Rosselli-Hull said. “We’ve had some successful practices and hopefully that equates to winning matches.”
CCS opens against Big Bend on Friday at the Chemeketa (Ore.) tournament.