Aug. 24, 2010

By Amy Farnum

No. 1 Concordia-St. Paul (37-0)
The three-time defending national champions enter the 2010 season riding an NCAA Division II 74-match winning streak  The Golden Bears will return eight letterwinners and four starters from last year, headlined by two-time AVCA First Team All-America middle blocker Emily Palkert, who helped the squad rank second in the nation in hitting percentage (.317).  CU will have to fill the void of two-time AVCA Division II National Player of the Year Maggie McNamara, who led the nation with 13.26 assists per set last season.  The Golden Bears do not have an easy road in front of them as they chase their fourth straight NCAA title with three matches against three preseason Top 10 teams in the first two weeks of play.
Opening Up:  Sept. 3-4 at University Tampa Classic (Northern Kentucky, Grand Valley State, at No. 3 Tampa, No. 5 Central Missouri).

No. 2 Cal State San Bernardino (33-2)
The Coyotes welcome back 13 letterwinners, including four starters and a libero, from last year's squad that advanced to the NCAA semifinals before falling in four sets to eventual national champion Concordia-St. Paul.  Highlighting the group of returning starters is All-America senior outside hitter Jane Chafeh, who ranked fourth in the nation with 4.66 kills per set, for a team that finished fourth in hitting percentage (.291) in Division II.  The Coyotes have claimed two consecutive NCAA West Region titles and four straight California Collegiate Athletic Association championships.  CSUSB has been ranked No. 14 or higher for 11 straight seasons.
Opening Up: Sept. 3-4 at Phoenix Inn GNAC Conference Challenge (Central Washington, at Western Oregon, Alaska-Anchorage, Western Washington).

No. 3 Tampa (31-3)
The Spartans are loaded with a talent and experience as they have six starters and their libero back from last year's Sunshine State Conference co-championship squad.  The group includes three AVCA Americans - outside hitters Melissa Vanderhall and Kaleigh Cunningham and setter Meghan Sherman.  Vanderhall is a two-time SSC Player of the Year, who averaged 3.92 kills per set with a .360 hitting percentage.  Tampa paces the nation with .326 hitting percentage, and ranked second in Division II with 15.05 kills per set, while Sherman turned 11.86 assists per set, good for fifth in the nation last season.  The Spartans are the preseason favorite in the SSC, and have claimed at least a share of the league title for five straight years.
Opening Up: Sept. 3-5 in Tampa Classic (No. 13 Nebraska-Kearney, Northern Kentucky, No. 1 Concordia-St. Paul, Grand Valley State.

No. 4 University of Indianapolis (38-2)
The Greyhounds are coming off the best season in program history and will look to build on that success with six starters and nine letter letterwinners returning.  UIndy advanced to the NCAA quarterfinals after winning the Great Lakes Valley Conference title, spurring the Greyhounds to their first-ever appearance in the AVCA Division II Preseason Top 25.  Leading the attack will be AVCA First Team All-America setter Cheneta Morrison, who anchored a team that ranked 14th in assists per set (13.06) and seventh in hitting percentage (.279) last year.
Opening Up:  Sept. 3-4 in UIndy Volleyball Invitational (Wayne State (Mich.), Nova Southeastern, Tusculum, Truman State).  

No. 5 Central Missouri (34-5)
The Jennies will be looking to build on a successful 2009 campaign with 14 letterwinners, five starters and the libero back from a team that won the program's first Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletic Association title since 2000.  Two starters - senior libero Rachel Fister and junior outside hitter Allie Humman - garnered AVCA All-America honorable mention last season as UCM claimed its' first outright MIAA championship since 1999.  The Jennies ranked in the top 25 nationally in assists (12.99), blocks (2.28) digs (17.5) and kills (13.96) per set, along with hitting percentage (.245).
Opening Up: Sept. 3-4 at Tampa Classic (No. 13 Nebraska-Kearney, Northern Kentucky, Grand Valley State, No.1 Concordia-St. Paul).

No. 6 Washburn (33-5)
The Lady Blues are ready to contend for a title in the highly competitive MIAA and on the national scene with 12 letterwinners and six starters from a squad that advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the sixth consecutive year.  However, the Lady Blues will have to fill the void left by setter Kate Hampson, who ended her career as the school's all-time assists leader.  Washburn returns the majority of last year's hitters from a team that ranked sixth in the nation with 14.66 kills per set, including All-America middle hitter Mollie Lacy, who ranked fifth nationally with a school-record .405 hitting percentage.
Opening Up:  Sept. 3-4 at St. Mary's (TX) University Tournament (Southwestern Oklahoma State, St. Mary's, Maryville, Wheeling Jesuit).

No. 7 West Texas A&M (38-4)
After making a run all the way to the 2009 NCAA title match, the Lady Buffs will look to add to their lengthy resume of Lone Star Conference titles and NCAA Tournament appearances.  Sophomore libero Lauren Beville is the squad's top returnee with 3.86 digs per set, while the Lady Buffs added two transfers and seven freshmen to a solid core of tournament-tested players.  WTAMU has captured four straight LSC titles, going unbeaten against league foes during that span.
Opening Up: Sept. 3-4 in BritKare Lady Buff Classic (UT-Permian Basin, St. Edward's (TX), Lubbock Christian, Dallas Baptist).

No. 8 UC San Diego (27-3)
The Tritons welcome back 10 letterwinners from a team that battled for the California Collegiate Athletic Association crown and advanced to the NCAA West Regional semifinals last year.  Headlining the group is All-America Roxanne Brunsting, who led the squad in digs and 0.55 aces per set.  In addition, All-CCAA picks Hillary Williamson and Julia Freidenberg are back on the court for the Tritons.  Williamson posted 2.73 kills per set, while Freidenberg posted a .390 hitting percentage, which ranked tenth nationally in 2009.  Two of the Tritons' three losses last year came at the hands of No. 2 Cal State San Bernardino, the favorite to win the CCAA title.
Opening Up:  Sept. 3-4 at Phoenix Inn GNAC Conference Challenge (Central Washington, at Western Oregon, Alaska-Anchorage, Western Washington).

No. 9 Minnesota-Duluth (23-9)
The Bulldogs lost just one player from a team that advanced to the NCAA Central Regional semifinals last year, returning a strong group that includes senior middle blocker Alyssa Nelson and junior setter Eleena Iisakka.  Nelson, an AVCA First Team All-America, led the Bulldogs in kills (396) and total blocks (137), while Iisakka ranked fourth in Division II with 12.0 assists per set in her first season as a starter, garnering AVCA All-America honorable mention.  As a team, the Bulldogs ranked in the top 15 nationally in assists, blocks and kills per set, and hitting percentage.
Opening Up: Sept. 3-4 at University of Nebraska-Omaha Tournament (University of Arkansas-Fort Smith, Adams State, Northwest Missouri State, Emporia State).

No. 10 Metro State (26-8)
The Roadrunners capped off their 10th straight trip to the NCAA Tournament with a school-record victory total and a Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Tournament title.  Metro State junior outside hitter Bri Morley was voted as the RMAC Preseason Player of the Year after averaging 3.75 kills and 2.18 digs during a season in which she was selected to the AVCA All-America Third Team.  
Opening Up:  Sept. 3-4 at Phoenix Inn GNAC Conference Challenge (Central Washington, at Western Oregon, Alaska-Anchorage, Western Washington).