Aug. 11, 2009

By Amy Farnum

LEADERS OF THE PACK:  The Pacific-10 Conference has annually fielded several of the traditional collegiate volleyball powers, and expectations for the league are high once again as six Pac-10 squads are listed in the 2009 Volleyball Magazine Preseason Poll.

Washington was the highest-ranked league team at No. 4, while Stanford and California followed the Huskies at fifth and sixth, respectively.  UCLA was picked at No. 10, USC came in at No. 12 and Oregon was No. 14.  Last year, the Pac-10 had six teams ranked in the top 11 of the preseason poll.

The Huskies will be led by three returning All-Americans -- libero Tamari Miyashiro, the two-time National Defensive Player of the Year, junior setter Jenna Hagglund, and junior outside hitter Becky Perry.

Stanford returns 10 letterwinners from a squad that won its third straight Pac-10 title and advanced to its third consecutive NCAA championship game.

CONFERNECE CONSISTENCY: Despite sharing the Western Athletic Conference regular season title with New Mexico State last year, Hawaii has been voted as the favorite to win the league as the Rainbow Wahine vie for their 14th straight conference title.

Hawaii has four starters returning from a team that compiled a 15-1 WAC record last year and claimed the league tournament championship.  The Rainbow Wahine advanced to the NCAA quarterfinals last year.

Head coach Dave Shoji will lead the Rainbow Wahine for the 35th season.  They will open 2009 on Aug. 28 as they host the Chevron Rainbow Wahine Invitational with guests UCLA, Santa Clara and Western Michigan.

The University of San Diego earned the No. 1 spot in the West Coast Conference preseason poll on the foundation of five returning starters, including the league’s reigning Player of the Year Amy DeGroot.  The Toreros won the WCC championship for the fourth time in the last five years in 2008, and checked in at No. 20 in the Volleyball Magazine Preseason Poll.

The WCC sent five teams to the NCAA Tournament, which was the highest percentage of teams to make it from any conference. The league also finished fourth in the NCAA RPI rankings, to tie for its highest ever finish.

The Toreros will immediately be put to the test when they open the season at the Long Beach Invitational on Aug. 28, and face the 49ers, recently selected as the favorites to win of the Big West Conference.  Long Beach State has made 22 straight trips to the NCAA Tournament, and returns three starters from a 2008 squad that won a league title.

NOTABLE:  The 2009 Runza/AVCA College Volleyball Showcase will be broadcast nationally on CBS College Sports Network as Big 12 foes Kansas State and Nebraska and Big Ten members Michigan and Minnesota collide in the conference challenge format at the Qwest Center in Omaha, Neb.  Kansas State and Minnesota will square off in the event's first match at 6 p.m. (CT) on Aug. 28, with Nebraska and Michigan to follow at 8:30.  The next evening, Kansas State will face Michigan at 6 p.m., and Nebraska will face Minnesota at 8:30 p.m. The tournament will be played on a three-color court, instead of the customary two colors, with the third color being used in-between the 3-meter lines  … Portland State boasts six returning starters, including the 2008 Big Sky Tournament MVP Nique Fradella, and has been chosen as the preseason favorite to win the league by conference coaches.  The Vikings won their first-ever championship title downing top-seeded Eastern Washington in the Big Sky final.  Portland State also claimed its first NCAA Tournament appearance last year … Two-time defending NCAA champion Penn State was the No. 1 ranked team in the Volleyball Magazine Preseason Poll, followed by No. 2 Texas and No. 3 Nebraska.