If preseason predictions for area college volleyball programs are correct, Eastern Washington and North Idaho College have the best chances at winning their respective conferences.
EWU, regular-season champions of the Big Sky last year, is picked second. By winning the title last year, the Eagles, 9-0 at home in 2008, will host the 2009 Big Sky Conference tournament.
NIC captured the Region 18 tournament title as a third seed and finished 11th at nationals. The Cardinals are No. 8 in the NJCAA preseason poll with regional rivals Salt Lake fifth and College of Southern Idaho 14th.
There isn’t a preseason poll in the NWAACC, but Community Colleges of Spokane should contend for the East Division crown.
Here’s a look at area programs:
The Eagles return a deep and talented cast, many of whom helped EWU win 18 matches last season.
“Since I’ve been here in 2004, this is the most athletic group we’ve had,” coach Miles Kydd said. “From 1-16, we have depth at each position.”
Outside hitter Hayley Hills, the Big Sky player of the year in 2008, leads a returning group that includes Jacque Brown, Alysha Cook, Chenoa Coviare, Ashley Hamilton, Allison Reinstein and Cora Kellerman. Arizona State transfer Sara Todorovich should figure into the mix.
New coach Dave Gantt, who replaced Kip Yoshimura, faces a sizable challenge. Gonzaga went 1-2 at a tournament in Utah last weekend and was picked to finish tied for seventh in the WCC.
“We competed very well, but we do have a default behavior that we have to continue working on,” Gantt said.
Key players span every class: seniors Michelle Boevers, Emily Johnson and Layne Brosky; juniors Caitlin Cozad and Allyson Powell; sophomores Kaprina Goodwin and Denise Van de Mortel; and freshman Terran Poindexter.
The Cougars have finished ninth or 10th in the rugged Pac-10 five straight seasons, but second-year head coach Andrew Palileo believes his team can climb up in the standings.
“The biggest thing is there’s a little more stability at the setting position (with Renee Bordelon),” said Palileo, whose 2008 team went 10-19, 3-15 in the Pac-10. “The talent and physicality is there. It’s just a matter that these players haven’t won at this level since they’ve been here. We have to put them in that position and see how they react.”
WSU made a good impression last week, going 3-0 to win the Nike Cougar Invite, but the schedule toughens this weekend with dates against Missouri, Utah and Utah Valley at a tournament in Orem, Utah. All three are 3-0 and Utah is ranked 17th.
Returning starters are Bordelon (Lake City High, NIC), Jackie Albright, Brittany Tillman, Cassie Robbins and libero Kelly Hyder, the school-record holder for digs. Meagan Ganzer, Rachel Todorovich and Oceana Bush (Lewis and Clark) also will see court time.
The Vandals lost four key seniors, including four-time All-WAC selection Haley Larsen, from a team that went 19-10 overall, 11-5 in the WAC, but the cupboard isn’t empty.
Idaho’s rotation includes outside hitters Sarah Conwell, Alicia Milo and Cassie Hamilton, middle blockers Anna McKinney and Debbie Pederson, right-side hitter Kelsey Taylor (Moscow High), libero Meredith Rice and setters Katie Tribley and Jennifer Feicht, one of nine freshmen.
“You are rebuilding because you have to get these kids to feel comfortable and they’re stepping into new positions, but on a college team that’s what you do,” said head coach Debbie Buchanan, who has guided Idaho to a conference record of .500 or better six straight years. “You prepare them and get them ready.”
The Pirates dropped three straight home matches to open the season, but veteran coach Steve Rupe sees a bright future with sophomores being the core of the team.
Sisters Kaimi and Ka’ipo Rocha, setter Bree Riddle (Freeman) and Jordon Hoffnagle (Mt. Spokane) were impact freshmen last season. Hoffnagle and Ariana Obert (Deer Park) are candidates at defensive specialist. Hitting options include Brynn DeLong (Shadle Park/CCS), Tracy Schwada, Alex Bolduc and Kaimi Rocha, a first-team All-Northwest Conference selection last year.
After losing its first three matches, CCS has won six of its last seven.
Sophomores Nicole Graybeal (North Central), Beth Altena (Mead), Kasey Jurich (University) and Casey Williams are joined by nine freshmen, including setters Kelsey Kurtz (East Valley) and Reghan Thronson.
“We have a ton of local talent and it’s just fun to watch them compete,” coach Jenni Rosselli said.
North Idaho College
The Cardinals swept Salt Lake, but lost to College of Southern Idaho at a tournament in Twin Falls last week. Those three figure to battle for the Region 18 title.
“We’re a lot deeper than last year and it’s just so different in so many ways,” second-year coach Chris Kosty said. “This team feels like they have a lot more confidence.”
Region 18 player of the year Marketa Hanzlova and setter Maddie Dolny (Moscow) return. Contributions should come from Fei Gao, a 6-1 freshman from China, Kaylee Ponce, Callie Johns and Aubree Chesnut (Post Falls), who is eligible under NJCAA rules after finishing a standout four-year basketball career at Arizona State.
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