Aug. 19, 2009

By Amy Farnum

ROARING START:  Two-time defending NCAA champion Penn State is starting 2009 where it left off last season – on top of the collegiate women’s volleyball world.

The Nittany Lions were voted as the preseason No. 1 team in the AVCA Division I Coaches Top 25 after turning in a perfect 38-0 record in 2008 and extending their record-setting winning streak to 64 matches.

Despite losing four-time All-American Nicole Fawcett from last year’s squad, Penn State returns five starters and 10 letterwinners, highlighted by AVCA First Team All-Americans Megan Hodge and Alisha Glass.
The Nittany Lions travel to the Active Ankle Challenge hosted by No. 20 Saint Louis on Aug. 28-29.

OFF THE HOOK:  University of Texas senior outside hitter Destinee Hooker helped the Longhorns to their first NCAA semifinal appearance since 1995 last season, and the expectations are high for the two-sport star as she garnered Preseason Big 12 Player of the Year honors.

The native of San Antonio, Texas, paced the Big 12 with 4.89 points per set, while ranking second in the league with 4.10 kills per game, on her way to First Team AVCA All-America honors.  Hooker followed it up last spring with her third NCAA Outdoor high jump title, becoming the second female in NCAA history to accomplish the feat, and was tabbed Big 12 Female Athlete of the Year for her extraordinary performances.

The second-ranked Longhorns will begin the season on the road with five matches against nationally-ranked opponents, beginning at the Long Beach State Baden Classic against the No. 23 49ers.  Texas will also look to do some early season damage against No. 6 California, No. 7 Hawaii, No. 15 San Diego and No. 20 Saint Louis.

GATOR BAIT:  Year in and year out the University of Florida has proven it is the team to beat in the Southeastern Conference, and the league’s coaches have no reason to predict a different outcome in 2009.  The Gators are the favorites to win the SEC Eastern Division title after winning its 18th straight league title in 2008 – an NCAA record for consecutive conference championships.

The Gators are listed at No. 8 in the Preseason AVCA Division I Coaches Top 25 following their NCAA semifinal appearance last season.  Florida has earned a spot in the preseason top 10 for 13 straight years joining Nebraska and Stanford as the only two other schools to do so.

TOP BILLING:  After claiming its first NCAA Tournament victory in program history last year, Saint Louis will mark another first in 2009 as the Billikens enter a season nationally ranked for the first time.

No. 20 Saint Louis was perfect in the Atlantic 10 Conference last season, becoming the first league team since 1997 to go unbeaten, and then captured the conference tournament championship.  SLU returns five starters from the stellar 2008 squad, including four players who earned AVCA All-American nods last year. 

The Billikens, who played the eighth toughest schedule in the nation last year, will be challenged immediately when they host the Active Ankle Challenge on Aug. 28-29, which includes No. 1 Penn State.

NOTABLE:  Western Michigan returns all seven starters from the 2008 squad that advanced to the NCAA Round of 16 last year … No. 18 Wichita State boasts its highest preseason ranking in program history as the Shockers return six starters, including last year’s Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year Emily Stockman and MVC Freshman of the Year Mary Elizabeth Hooper.  Stockman averaged 3.65 kills and 3.07 digs per set, while Hooper averaged 10.47 assists, 1.28 kills and 1.94 digs per set in 2008 for the 30-2 Shockers.