It’s an indication of the Pac-12’s prowess that seven of prepvolleyball.com’s top 15 recruiting classes come from the powerful conference.
That one of those classes belongs to Washington State University is an indication third-year head coach Jen Greeny, part of the school’s glory days as a player and assistant coach, is on the right path toward returning the program to prominence.
WSU’s six-player freshmen class was rated 14th nationally. Longtime observers of Cougar volleyball, including Greeny, say it’s been a decade or more since a WSU recruiting class has been ranked in the top 20.
“When we took over the program, just the way recruiting is and it’s so far out, we really started to focus on the 2013 class, even though it was two years away,” said Greeny, whose team opens the season Saturday at the Army Black Knights Invitational in West Point, N.Y. “Really Burdette (Greeny’s husband and assistant) did most of the work.”
And what was WSU’s recruiting pitch in landing Emmy Allen, Hailey Bethune, Kyra Holt, Haley MacDonald, Tani Stephens and former Mead standout Taylor Ellingsen?
“There is something to sell as far as the program having been successful in the past so we know it can be done,” Greeny said. “We really sold them on being the change.”
The newcomers have already made an impression on a team returning six starters from last year’s squad that finished 13-19, 3-17 in conference.
“I think a couple will probably make an immediate impact and the others will probably work their way in,” Greeny said. “Even with the returners we have improved so much over the last year, this new group and how talented they are, every day in practice has made the returners better as well.”
The Cougars return several familiar faces, including senior captains Marcelina Glab and Camryn Irwin, Ver’Leea Hardaway, Jaicee Harris, Stephanie Logan (Pullman High) and defensive specialists Kate Sommer and Shawna Lum.
Glab played on a Pac-12 all-star team that toured China this summer. Irwin is already sixth in school history with 2,323 assists. Harris led WSU with 442 kills. Middle blockers Hardaway and Glab combined for 460 kills and 242 blocks.
“I do think we will surprise some people,” said Greeny, whose club was picked 11th in the Pac-12 preseason poll. “Even though we didn’t necessarily have the talent (last year) we still played teams pretty close that we really had no business being in the match. I think we can surprise some people and really gain on those top teams.”
Wade Benson returns for his second stint with the Eagles after compiling a 154-55 mark from 2000-06. The Eagles were 0-22 last season before winning five of their last nine matches.
“I definitely think it’s going to be win by committee,” Benson said. “I think we’re really steady and solid everywhere, fairly deep everywhere. We need to create a few aircraft carriers, some people that can carry the load on occasion.”
Setter Lindsay Niemeier (Shadle Park) is back after missing virtually all of last season with a knee injury. Hitting options include Talia Fermantez, Kelsey Julian, Allie Schumacher and Ashley Wright, who filled in at setter for most of 2012.
Transfers Milica Nisavic and Stanka Panic, who were high school teammates in Serbia and again at Casper (Wyo.) College, and German Melissa Waelter, who played at South Alabama, should contend for playing time.
“Watch out for Eastern,” said Benson, whose team was picked to finish sixth in the Big Sky preseason poll. “We’re going to be coming, maybe sooner than advertised.”
The Bulldogs have won just four conference matches the last three seasons but they believe this young team can make inroads in the WCC, which sent six of nine members to the NCAA tournament last season.
“Within our conference, we’re doing the best we can to elevate our level of play,” fifth-year coach Dave Gantt said. “By virtue of how we’ve recruited and how we’re training the team we have improved, that’s clear to most people. How that translates into wins in conference play is hugely contingent on how healthy we remain.”
Savannah Blinn (Lewiston) earned WCC All-Freshman team honors last year with a team-high 287 kills. Blinn has recovered from a broken ankle, Gantt said.
As many as four freshmen/sophomores could start. Seniors Kristina Lavrisha and Meredith Crenshaw are steady contributors. Janelle Futch, a transfer from Pierce College in Los Angeles and Lauren Joseph, who had 439 assists last season, are options at setter.
The Vandals have one more chance to win the WAC before exiting for the Big Sky next season. Idaho has finished second the last two years and lost to New Mexico State in the 2012 WAC Tournament championship match.
Middle blocker Alyssa Schultz, who averaged 2.19 kills and 1.42 blocks per set last season, was voted preseason player of the year by WAC coaches. Senior middle blocker Taylor Wilkinson and sophomore outside hitter Katelyn Peterson also earned preseason All-WAC honors.
“I wasn’t sure what we were going to be like, just with losing a lot of core kids, but I’m really happy with the returning kids and the new kids,” coach Debbie Buchanan said. “I think offensively we’ll be right there.”
Sophomore Meredith Coba takes over at setter following the graduation of Ryann Carter and Jenny Feicht.
Kati (Tikker) Bodecker, who played at Idaho and coached at Priest River High the last six years, takes over as head coach. The Pirates finished 10-13, 6-10 in the Northwest Conference, last season.
“We return 14 players and six of them are seniors,” said Bodecker, an assistant under former head coach Steve Rupe in 2007. “We just really want them regardless of the situation to be competitors on the court.”
Top returners include senior outside hitter Jalana White (Post Falls), who was second-team All-Northwest Conference in 2012, and senior defensive specialist Whitney Santos, who had 297 digs last year and was second-team All-NWC in 2010.
North Idaho College
The Cardinals have advanced to three straight national tournaments but pollsters don’t seem too impressed.
NIC didn’t make the NJCAA preseason top 20 and was picked fourth in the tough Scenic West Athletic Conference behind defending national champion College of Southern Idaho, sixth-ranked Salt Lake and Snow, which defeated CSI at a tournament Saturday.
“I know what our strengths and weaknesses are but I don’t know how that compares to anyone else,” new coach Miles Kydd said. “We’re definitely going to be a more balanced team.”
Russia Robinson, Allison Meehan (Post Falls), Leeta Grap and Britney Chilcott saw considerable playing time as freshmen. Larissa Claassen, Brittany Aldridge and Salt Lake transfer Anyssa Matheson, a former Coeur d’Alene Viking, are key newcomers.
Community Colleges of Spokane
The Sasquatch, second at last year’s NWAACC Tournament, couldn’t be much younger with 13 freshmen, but ninth-year coach Jenni Rosselli-Hull likes what she’s seen in practice.
“We have a lot of freshmen we’re relying on,” said Rosselli-Hull, whose teams have posted six consecutive 30-win seasons. “They’re a scrappy team and they’re a team that just wants to play. They’re doing well in drills and when we let them play 6 on 6 they just go crazy. They love it.”
Outside hitters Dana Norris (Mead) and Jacy Vining (Colville) and setters Madison Zinsli and Emily Russell are expected to contribute.