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Wayne Cavadi | NCAA.com | August 18, 2021

5 storylines to watch as the 2021 DII women's volleyball season approaches

Cal State San Bernardino wins 2019 DII volleyball national championship

The DII women’s volleyball season is quickly approaching. Several teams will get underway the weekend of August 27 with the bulk of DII commencing the following weekend.

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One of those tournaments is the Seaside Invitational in San Diego, CA, where defending DII national champion Cal State San Bernardino takes on Regis (CO) in a national semifinals rematch from the 2019 DII volleyball championship. That very same weekend, Nebraska-Kearney — the 2019 national runner-up —travels to the Molloy College Invite to go head-to-head with Gannon, the Lopers 2019 quarterfinals foe.

We have waited for what seems an eternity for a full season of NCAA DII championship women’s volleyball to be played and we aren’t wasting a single second getting right back into intense action. Here are a few storylines we will be following when the 2021 season opens.

1. Angelo State looks to build on impressive spring DII volleyball season

Now, to be fair, there was an AVCA spring national champion crowned. The 17-2 Rambelles first won the Lone Star Conference and then the national championship in the AVCA spring tournament. They did so by beating Tampa — a powerhouse program that won two national championships in the past decade.

Angelo State should be set up nicely for another successful season and a run at the DII title. A large reason is the return of Kailyn Gilbreath. Gilbreath has already been tabbed the LSC preseason offensive player of the year — just months after earning the regular season honors this past spring for the second-straight season. We’ll see the Belles back in action at their own invitational beginning Sept. 3.

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2. Welcome back, Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference

Though we were treated to spring volleyball, the NSIC never returned to action. Concordia-St. Paul has won nine of the DII national championships played since 2007 and without the Golden Bears in action, it felt like something was missing.

Well, the wait is over: the NSIC is back, and Concordia-St. Paul is the preseason favorite to win the conference. It is the 16th time in the past 17 years the Golden Bears have earned the honor. They return nine key players from the 2019 season, including record-setting libero Tori Hanson and outside hitter Jasmine Mulvihill, the 2019 AVCA freshman of the year. As always, expect the likes of Minnesota Duluth, St. Cloud State and Northern State — among a slew of other competitive teams — to make this one of the most exciting conferences in DII women’s volleyball.

3. The defending champs have a tough road to repeat

We will certainly find out a lot about Cal State San Bernardino very quickly this season. The last time we saw the Coyotes, they ran the table, going a perfect 33-0 for the first undefeated national championship season since Concordia-St. Paul accomplished the same feat in 2009. With the all-world Alexis Cardoza returning — she was the CCAA, West Region and AVCA player of the year to go along with tournament MVP honors in 2019 — Cal State San Bernardino should find itself right back in the mix.

2019 RECAP: Cal State San Bernardino caps 33-0 season with first title

That is — if the Yotes survive the first two weeks of the season, of course. First comes the previously mentioned Seaside Invitational where they not only face Gannon but Azusa Pacific, a team they defeated in a thrilling 2019 West Region final. The following weekend is the Colorado Premier Challenge where Cal State San Bernardino squares off against Rockhurst — a team that has reached the final eight in two of the past three tournaments — and Concordia-St. Paul. The Yotes are putting themselves to the test early — let’s see how long that 33-game winning streak stays intact.

4. Oklahoma Baptist hopes its dominant run continues

The Bison are becoming quite the program. The 2019 season saw them finish 28-6, winning their first-ever GAC championship and earning the first NCAA DII tournament berth in program history. Oklahoma Baptist did play this past spring and ran the table, going a perfect 18-0 en route to another GAC title.

Perhaps to no one’s surprise, the Bison were picked as the preseason No. 1 in the GAC. They return a slew of stars, including First-Team All-GAC outside hitter Malia Leatherland, GAC Setter of the Year Kaylee Buell and GAC freshman of the year Avery Hellmuth. Oklahoma Baptist travels to the Ferris State Invitational on opening weekend and close the tournament against Hillsdale — a 2019 tournament team that went 16-1 this past spring. That's a good test to get things started.

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5. The Colorado Premier Challenge can’t get here soon enough

Once again, the Colorado Premier Challenge has a loaded field, testing some of the best in the nation right out of the gate. The 24th rendition gets rolling Friday, September 10 from the campuses of both Regis and MSU Denver.

This year’s field features 12 teams — 11 of which were in the 2019 DII women’s volleyball championship bracket. In fact, four of those teams — Cal State San Bernardino, Lewis, Lynn and Regis — were all No. 1 seeds in their respective regions. And the one team that missed the tournament? That was 24-7 Wayne State (NE) — a school that was in the national and regional rankings conversation all season long. Concordia-St. Paul comes in looking to defend its crown, but it will not be easy for the Golden Bears.

The 2021 Colorado Premier Challenge field: Angelo State, Cal State San Bernardino, Central Missouri, Concordia-St. Paul, Lewis, Lynn, MSU Denver, Regis, Rockhurst, Texas A&M-Commerce, Wayne State (NE) and Western Washington.

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