Gonzaga is coming off its best volleyball season in two decades. The Bulldogs don’t want to wait as long to reach more milestones.
The Zags won eight WCC matches and 17 overall, their most in the last 20 years. GU’s .246 hitting percentage was its highest in a decade.
Senior outside hitter Savannah Blinn (Lewiston High) was honorable mention All-American, the first for a Zag since 1992. The Zags, picked fourth in the WCC preseason poll, welcome back four seniors, seven starters and 11 upperclassmen.
“It’s nice to be in the conversation,” seventh-year coach Dave Gantt said.
Imani Wimbush, Paige Folger, McKayla Ferris, Jordan Gasser, Lauren Joseph, Kaylie Loewen and Morgan Douglass (Mead) were prominent in the rotation last season. Joseph and sophomore Nikki Leonard are batting for the setter job. Washington State transfer Emmy Allen, who had 147 kills last season, is eligible immediately.
“I thought we competed well in the nonconference and the first part of conference but we didn’t finalize in the last half,” Gantt said. “We’re looking to push that success deeper into the fall.”
Gonzaga has a chance to make an early statement when it entertains No. 10 Washington today in the Northwest Challenge.
The Cougars added another nationally ranked recruiting class, including five players 6-feet-3 or taller.
“We are finally looking like a Pac-12 volleyball team after five years,” coach Jen Greeny said. “Last year we were giving up 12 inches across the front line to many of our opponents in conference.”
WSU is without five of its top six kills leaders from last year’s squad that went 1-19 in conference, but an influx of talent from recent recruiting classes gives Greeny confidence the program is on the right track.
“From where we came from when we took over and we literally only had six bodies it was not in a good place,” the fifth-year coach said. “We’re one of 15 programs to have two top 25 recruiting classes and honorable mention class in the last three years.”
Kate Sommer, who is on course to become the program’s all-time digs leader, outside hitter Kyra Holt, who is closing in on 1,000 career kills, and setter Haley MacDonald pace the returners. Newcomers and several upperclassmen that were in smaller roles should compete for time.
“There’s always a learning curve,” Greeny said, “but it’s a great group of freshmen that we’re excited about.”
The Vandals, picked fifth in the Big Sky preseason poll, will have a new look in their second season back in the conference. Ten of Idaho’s 15 players are true freshmen, redshirt freshmen and sophomores and several of those youngsters will be in the mix for court time.
“Some of the younger kids tend to make a few more errors so that’s something we’re going to have to clean up,” coach Debbie Buchanan said. “We’re definitely physical, athletic and we’re able to do some things.”
First-team All-Big Sky setter Meredith Coba has returned from a severe knee injury last November.
“We’re still trying to figure out that balance of how much she can go but she still has great touch and she’s running the same tempo,” Buchanan said.
The Vandals, who lost four of their top five kills leaders, will lean on outside hitters Katelyn Peterson, Becca Mau and Tineke Bierma for firepower. Ali Forde, tops last season with 275 kills, has decided to concentrate on basketball.
Seniors Allie Schumacher, Ana Jakovljevic, and Ryann Ensrud, setter Nicole Rigoni and Memphis graduate transfer Alexis Wesley, a Silverdale, Washington, native who put up strong numbers with the Tigers, are expected to be cornerstones on a youthful roster.
“Alexis could be a real force in the middle,” coach Wade Benson said. “Allie needs to have a big year. If she does, we could be better than what people think. If she has an OK year, I still think we’ll be good.”
The Eagles, 9-20 last season, list 14 freshmen and sophomores. Benson called it one of the top freshman classes in program history but the flip side is it’s unproven at the collegiate level.
“I wouldn’t bet against us for finishing higher and getting into the (Big Sky) tournament but we’re young so it’s hard to tell,” said Benson, whose team was picked eighth in the Big Sky.
The Pirates return every key player, including player of the year Maddye Dinsmore and first-team selection Nicole Leonard, from last season’s 21-6 team that shared the Northwest Conference title and advanced to the NCAA Division III tournament.
Brenna Bruil, Cassandra Mendoza (Tekoa-Oakesdale), Haley Vick, Shawna Korshavn, Mallorie Schoesler (West Valley) and Elizabeth Ginley were major contributors last year.
“Our expectations are higher,” coach Kati Bodecker said. “We’re just starting from a better place this fall. It all starts in practice and holding our team accountable and having those same expectations in practice.”
North Idaho College
The Cardinals went 3-1 in preseason scrimmages against four-year schools last weekend.
“We have a lot of potential,” said second-year coach Kelsey Stanley, whose team came up one win short of reaching nationals last season. “Experience is going to be huge because we have such a young group. It’s going to take some time to be where we want.”
Sophomores Matilda Altin, Brenna Meehan (Post Falls) and Jadan Ross, and newcomers Penny Gwynn, Brittany Gay (Lake City), Hannah Christianson and Brazilian Julia Silva are expected to contribute.
The Sasquatch, who won 35 matches last year, have a new roster outside of sophomore outside hitter Siera English, a Deer Park product who was slowed by a broken finger last season.
The newcomers include sophomore Alaina Gentili, a 6-3 transfer from Montana State-Billings and former Central Valley Bear, outside hitter Jessica Schmautz (Lakeside), libero Bianca Sanchez and setter Leilani Moody.
“We’re just trying to figure out how we should place our talent on the court,” coach Jenni Hull said. “We’re excited to see what pans out in the next few weeks.”