Concordia-St. Paul looks for its seventh national title
Any season preview in DII women's volleyball has to start with the Golden Bears of Concordia-St. Paul. However, they're far from the only team in the discussion. Here's a look at the contenders as we see them.
No. 1 Concordia-St. Paul
Concordia-St. Paul is set to begin their pursuit of a seventh consecutive national championship. They enter the season with high expectations as the preseason No. 1 team in AVCA preseason poll. The Golden Bears will have some continuity with two returning first team All-Americans in seniors Amanda Konetchy and Kayla Koenecke, but they'll also have some new faces in the lineup this year.
"We are trying to get back into a rhythm with four new kids starting and we're trying to get things figured out there. We know that we have some talented kids to fill these spots," head coach Brady Starkey said about the roster turnover from last year. "Communication is big for us with four new starters in the lineup. We want to see the team continue to gel as a unit on the court over the next few weeks and if that happens we could be a very tough team late in the year."
Things won't be easy early in the season for the Golden Bears as they face five ranked opponents in their first seven games with the other two teams receiving votes.
"It's going to be interesting in the early going. We schedule tough every year knowing that we could be taking some hits early and our record could really be anything after the first two weeks of the season," Starkey said.
No. 2 Tampa
The second-ranked Spartans have won at least a share of the past eight Sunshine State Conference volleyball titles, including an outright 2012 SSC title with a 16-0 conference record.
Tampa returns four starters plus its libero from the 2012 squad which lost in the national championship game. The Spartans will be without 2012 American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) National Player of the Year and SSC Female Athlete of the Year Danielle Selkridge for the first time in four years. They do, however, return All-Americans Meagan Burke and Holly Reschke as well as All-SSC Second Team setter Kahley Patrick.
No. 3 Nebraska-Kearney
The Lopers went 35-3 last fall, winning both the MIAA regular season and tournament titles. Going 16-1 in league action, UNK has won at least a share of a regular season conference title (RMAC or MIAA) the past nine seasons.
Head coach Rick Squiers, sporting a 452-61 record in his Kearney tenure, must replace All-Americans Ariel Krolikowski (outside hitter) and setter Jenna Rouzee (setter) but first-team All-American libero Liz McGowan returns as do senior middle hitters Ellie Pesavento and Katie Sokolowski.
No. 4 Minnesota-Duluth
The Bulldogs' schedule starts tough and does not get any easier with five AVCA Preseason Top 25 teams on the slate, including No. 18 Wheeling Jesuit and No. 19 West Florida this Friday as the team opens play in the West Florida Opening Weekend Tournament.
After she was named the preseason player of the year in one of the strongest volleyball conferences in the league, it should be no surprise that the Bulldogs' roster breakdown begins with senior outside hitter Kate Lange. Lange and her fellow captains Elizabeth Benua and AVCA All-Central Region honorable mention Julie Rainey will lead the way on a team with returns nearly all of its top contributors from 2012 while adding five freshmen to the roster.
The other returning starters include junior outside hitter Katie Ledwell, sophomore middle blocker Monica Turner, and sophomore setter Ashley Hinsch, the latter two earned All-NSIC First Team honors in 2012.
No. 5 BYU-Hawaii
Returning are All-Americans Shih Ting Chen and setter Ying Chun Chen along with fellow All-PacWest honorees middle blocker Erh Fang Hsu and libero Melanie Manutai.
BYU-Hawaii finished the 2012 campaign with a 25-4 record and a No. 4 national ranking. The team made a deep run in the NCAA tournament to the semifinals, losing only to the eventual champs, Concordia-St. Paul.