York, Pa. - It's unusual in the CAC that the top three teams are clear and separated in a coaches pre-season poll, but that's the case in women's volleyball this year. Defending champion Christopher Newport is the unanimous No. 1 pick, followed by Salisbury and Mary Washington. The fourth position, where St. Mary's landed, seems to be where the battle for playoff seeding will happen – if things go according to the vote. And how often does that really happen?
In its first year in the CAC, Christopher Newport "ran the table" in 11 regular-season and playoff matches to win the 2013 crown. The Captains gained all nine possible first-place votes (coaches are not eligible to vote for their own team) to compile the maximum 81 points in the preseason poll. Salisbury gained the other first-place vote and collected 70 points while Mary Washington was the third-place pick with 63 points.
The voting then produced a strong battle for the final three playoff positions. St. Mary's gained 50 points to finish fourth, followed closely by Marymount (49 points) and Southern Virginia (47 points). A second-year member of the CAC, Southern Virginia is eligible to compete in the conference playoffs for the first time this year. Based on results against CAC teams last year, the Knights would have finished fourth in the 2013 CAC standings.
York (36 points), Frostburg State (25 points), Wesley (17 points) and Penn State Harrisburg (10 points) complete the 2014 CAC coach's preseason poll. YCP and FSU have been regulars in the CAC playoffs in recent years.
Three teams – St. Mary's, Southern Virginia and Penn State Harrisburg – enter the 2014 season with new coaches. It's the second-straight year the CAC has had at least three new coaches entering the season.
The 2014 season opens on Labor Day Weekend in 10 different tournaments throughout the region, including events hosted by Mary Washington and York. Conference play opens Sept. 30 when CNU visits Salisbury in a re-match of the 2013 title contest. The 2014 CAC playoffs are scheduled for the first week in November, leading to the championship clash on Nov. 8.
Here is a brief look at each team heading into the 2014 season:
After capturing the Capital Athletic Conference Championship in 2013, the CHRISTOPHER NEWPORT volleyball team will look to defend its title with an experienced roster that includes 11 players who saw action last season, including five starters and the libero. Leading the way for Lindsay Birch's squad will be sophomore Briana Sutton, who was named the 2013 CAC Rookie and Co-Player of the Year. Fellow All-Conference honorees Rachel Conway andHannah Miller are also back, while Krista Hughes, Brooke Moore and 2012 All-American Jessie Kolden will provide the veteran leadership as CNU's senior class.
Fourth year head coach Becky Fletcher is looking to turn the corner this fall in her rebuilding of the FROSTBURG STATE volleyball program and she the talent and depth to just that. Juniors Aimee Petrides (340 kills) and Caitlyn Collins (772 assists, 53 aces) led the Bobcats in several categories last fall and should continue to improve on their numbers this season. Senior Morgan Hoover returns for her final season with 490 kills and 219 blocks over her career.
Second-year MARY WASHINGTON head coach Matt Troy welcomes back All-CAC selections Emma Murphy and Emma Olson, as the Eagles look to advance in the CAC Tournament after a 17-win season in 2013. Sophomore libero Caroline Porco also returns for the Eagles, who are joined by a seven-member freshman class seeking to return the Eagles to the CAC Championship for the second time in four seasons.
Entering her 22nd season at MARYMOUNT, head coach Beth Ann Wilson welcomes back a wealth of experienced players from the 2012 and 2013 Saints squads that finished second and fourth, respectively, in the CAC. Senior captains Erin Allison and Cassidie Watson headline the returners, with Allison boasting two All-CAC selections over her tenure and Watson finishing second in the CAC for total digs last year. Junior Morgan McAlpin also returns to the hardwood this fall after garnering an All-CAC First Team bid in 2013.
The 2014 season is one of change for PENN STATE HARRISBURG. The Lions have a new head coach manning the helm of the women's volleyball program in Randy Hood. The ladies return four players from a year ago including three starters in senior defensive specialist/libero Erin Goodyear, junior right side Megan Sheaffer, junior middle hitter Kiara Carter and redshirt freshman Izabella D'Onofrio. D'Onofrio, the team's 5-11 middle hitter, missed the entire 2013 campaign due to injury and should play a key role in the team's rotation this fall. Coming off a disappointing, injury-plagued season a year ago, the ladies believe there's nowhere to go but up in 2014.
ST. MARY'S is welcoming a new coach for the second straight season in Jeremy Sands. Coach Sands will count on two-time CAC all-star, Mandy Goodspeed, and a strong veteran group to continue the Seahawks' winning ways in 2014. St. Mary's will open up the season with the Seahawk Invitational before traveling to Puerto Rico to face tough competition as the Seahawks begin their preparation to return to the CAC playoffs.
SALISBURY looks to build of the success of head coach Justin Turco's first season in 2013 and compete for the program's ninth Capital Athletic Conference championship. The Sea Gulls bring back senior defensive specialist Michelle Meehan, sophomore outside hitter Katie Stouffer, and senior right-side hitter Julie Poston, to lead the team in 2014. Meehan returns after leading SU and the CAC with 578 digs, moving her into seventh in program history with 1,431 digs. Stouffer and Poston both finished in the top ten in the conference with 334 and 276 kills, respectively, good for fifth and 10th in the CAC, respectively.
Arguably SOUTHERN VIRGINIA's most successful team in the Capital Athletic Conference last season (15-9 overall, unofficial 5-4 CAC record), the Knights' volleyball team looks to qualify for the CAC postseason tournament with access now in place. First-year head coach Brittney Lee leads the team with a handful of returning starters from a year ago. Junior setter Katelynn Tlustek had a breakout sophomore season last year and will have outside hitter Shannon Romito and senior middle blocker Kaitlyn Eaton at her services to distribute the ball to. Sophomore libero April Bennett had an impressive freshman campaign and looks to continue leading the team in digs this season. Bennett and Eaton were named to the All-CAC second team last season. Southern Virginia will be without the services of graduates Tori Tuttle and Shyanne Ison as well as freshman McKenzie Weaver, who left the program to serve a church service mission.
A solid trio of Arnelle Akakpo, Rachel Hausler and Meghan Marshall return for WESLEY and coach Juli Greep's squad after recording its best season in program-history in 2013. Akakpo led the Wolverines in kills as a freshman a year ago while Marshall is closing in on the school's digs record despite being just a junior. Wesley also expects to get contributions from sophomore newcomers Kadijah Doughty and Megan Fernandez, as well as true freshmen Tionne Graves-Brown, Jessica Tynes and Codi Ziolkowski.
YORK head coach Sue DuMars begins her 17th year at the helm of the program looking to guide a strong class of upperclassmen into the upper echelon of the conference. DuMars will look to seniors Katie Huston, Kristin Martinak, and Jackie Schwarm to provide leadership for the Green and White. Juniors Katie Graziano, Emma Geisser, and Alison Dorsey will also be key contributors for the Spartans. DuMars will look to junior transfer Charlotte Sabatano and freshmen Kayla Gibbs to provide York with an immediate impact on the floor in 2014.
2014 CAC Volleyball Preseason Coaches Poll
|1. Christopher Newport||9 first-place votes||81 points|
|2. Salisbury||1 first-place vote||71 points|
|3. Mary Washington||63 points|
|4. St. Mary's (Md.)||50 points|
|5. Marymount (Va.)||49 points|
|6. Southern Virginia||47 points|
|7. York (Pa.)||36 points|
|8. Frostburg State||25 points|
|9. Wesley||17 points|
|10. Penn State Harrisburg||10 points|