ST. LOUIS – Fresh off its fifth regular-season title and second MVC Tournament championship, Wichita State has once again been tabbed as the league favorite in the annual coaches’ preseason poll, receiving 87 points and four first-place votes. The Shockers narrowly out-distanced second-place pick UNI (85 points, two first-place votes) and third-place Illinois State (78 points, three first-place votes).
The Valley will look to continue to build off the success of another successful season in 2013 that saw four league teams win 20+ matches.
The Valley finished with a league RPI of 13 in 2013, including four teams in the top-100 – Wichita State (No. 38), UNI (No. 61), Missouri State (No. 70) and Illinois State (No. 91).
The foundation is in place as league teams return 33 starters and five liberos (54-percent of starters), three first team all-conference selections and another three players who earned second-team accolades.
Wichita State returns one starter, plus the libero, from a squad that went 28-7 (15-3 MVC) and played in the NCAA Tournament for the seventh-straight season. The Shockers will look to replace four first team all-conference players, including All-Americans Chelsey Feekin and Ashley Andrade, along with Elizabeth Field and Sam Sanders. Wichita State welcomes back two players that knocked down over 200 kills last season, including juniors Ashlyn Driskill (261 kills, 37 blocks) and Katie Reilly (249 kills, 234 digs, 63 blocks, 34 aces). Sophomore libero Dani Mostrom (423 digs, 18 aces), a member of the league's all-freshman team in 2013, will hold down the back row, along with junior Gaby Urban (176 digs).
UNI brings back three starters, plus the libero, from a 23-8 (15-3 MVC) team that posted at least 20 wins for the 16th-straight season. On the outside, senior Eryca Hingtgen (303 kills, 164 digs, 41 blocks) returns as the Panthers go-to option offensively, and will be joined by sophomore Leigh Pudwill (173 kills, 62 blocks). Junior setter Kinsey Caldwell, a second team all-MVC selection in 2013, is back to pilot the UNI attack after ranking second in the league in assists per set (10.84), while also tallying 116 kills, 54 blocks and 32 aces. Sophomore libero Amie Held (524 digs, 27 aces), a member of last year's all-freshman team, returns to the floor for the Panthers, while junior Haley Wandrey (224 digs, 17 aces) will add to the depth in the back row.
Illinois State returns four starters, plus the libero, from last season's 19-13 (11-7 MVC) team and is a veteran squad loaded with experience. The Redbirds welcome back three attackers that registered over 200 kills in 2013, and will be led by two-time first team all-MVC selection Ashley Rosch (389 kills, 298 digs, 52 blocks, 24 aces). Seniors Stacey Niao (272 kills, 308 digs, 44 blocks, 20 aces) and Emily Schneider (239 kills, 136 blocks) will also add to the Redbird front line attack. The offense will once again be commanded by senior setter Kaitlyn Early (10.51 assists/set, 291 digs, 40 blocks, 34 aces), while senior Emily Orrick (572 digs, 32 aces), the Valley's reigning Libero of the Year, also returns to the floor for Illinois State.
Missouri State returns two starters from a squad that finished 21-11 (12-6 MVC), eclipsing the 20-win mark for the 14th time in 15 seasons. Senior outside hitter Olivia Brand, a second team all-MVC selection a season ago, returns to action after tallying 283 kills and 42 blocks in 2013. The Bears also welcome back senior Andrea Beaty, who set out the 2013 season with an injury, and was a second-team all-conference performer in 2012 (284 kills, 120 blocks). Sophomore middle blocker Simone House (1.65 kills/set, 0.94 blocks/set, .340 attack efficiency), a member of the 2013 MVC all-freshman team, will also be a key cog for Missouri State at the net.
Southern Illinois enters the 2014 season on the heels of back-to-back 20-win campaigns under Justin Ingram, as the Salukis finished 2013 with a 20-13 (13-5 MVC) record and advanced to the MVC Tournament title match for the first time since 2002. Southern Illinois welcomes back three starters, plus the libero, and will be led offensively by junior middle blocker Taylor Pippen (332 kills, 142 blocks), who was a first team all-MVC selection a season ago. Sophomore right side Meg Viggars (227 kills, 361 digs, 83 blocks, 24 aces) will add to the offensive firepower for the Salukis, while sophomore setter Hannah Kaminsky (10.57 assists/set, 261 digs, 56 blocks, 31 aces) will once again distribute the ball in the SIU offense. Both Kaminsky and Viggars were members of the league's all-freshman team in 2013, while Kaminsky is also the Valley's reigning Freshman of the Year. Defensively, senior libero Alex Rivera (523 digs, 33 aces) will lead the charge in the back row, while sophomores Leah Edgerton (248 digs, 24 aces) and Katie Baki (258 digs, 21 aces) also add to the depth on the back line.
Loyola returns all six starters, plus the libero, from the 2013 squad that finished 13-18 (7-11 MVC) and narrowly missed out on the MVC Tournament after finishing tied for sixth place, but were on the short end of the league's tiebreaker procedures. The Ramblers will be led offensively by sophomore Morgan Reardon (213 kills, 75 digs, 20 blocks), who returns at full strength after missing half of 2013 due to injury. Reardon will be joined by senior right side Laura Purcell (196 kills, 24 blocks), a second team all-MVC selection a season ago, and juniors Maureen Carls (205 kills, 55 blocks) and Kathleen Vogel (195 kills, 238 digs, 24 blocks, 19 aces) and senior Libby Bresser (172 kills, 96 blocks). Loyola's offense will be directed by junior setter Brittany Brown (7.60 assists/set, 250 digs, 176 kills, 51 blocks, 30 aces), while junior defensive specialists Stephanie Kinane (522 digs, 18 aces) and Kelly Feigh (231 digs, 43 aces) will control the Ramblers' back row.
Bradley returns four starters from a 2013 team that finished 13-15 (7-11 MVC) and returned to the MVC Championship for the first time since 2005. The Braves will be without two of the league's top kill-artists from a season ago, in losing Amy Angelos and Alise Tupuritis to graduation, but return a pair of junior outside hitters in Jessie Tulacka (249 kills, 34 blocks) and Kristi Chynoweth (158 kills, 20 blocks). Senior Madison Kamp, who came on strong for the Braves towards the end of the season and earned MVC All-Tournament team honors, also returns at the outside hitter position, as does sophomore Melissa Hoerber, who ranked second in the MVC in aces/set as a freshman.
Evansville enters its second season under head coach Manolo Concepción, as the Purple Aces registered a record of 9-20 (4-14 MVC) in 2013. The Aces bring back two starters from that team and will look to senior Ashley Ring (354 kills, 310 digs, 57 blocks, 25 aces) as their go-to hitter. Evansville also returns senior Meaghan Holmes (191 kills, 97 blocks) and junior Stephanie Cerino (87 kills, 35 blocks). Junior Kim Deprez (180 digs) Evansville's most experienced returner on defense, and the Purple Aces also welcome nine newcomers to the mix.
Indiana State welcomes back four starters from a Sycamore squad that finished 13-17 (6-12 MVC) last season. The Sycamores' attack will be powered by the trio of hitters that tallied over 200 kills apiece in 2013, including sophomore outside hitter Bree Spangler (244 kills, 186 digs, 21 blocks), junior middle blocker Cassandra Willis (240 kills, 90 blocks) and senior middle blocker Kyla Thomas (201 kills, 91 blocks). Junior outside hitter Victoria Swigart (170 kills, 37 blocks) will also add to the battalion at the net for the Sycamores, while junior setter Erika Nord, who shared time at the setter position last season, also returns to the floor for Indiana State.
Drake enters its second season under head coach Darrin McBroom, welcoming back four starters from the 2013 Bulldog squad. Senior Amanda Platte (262 kills, 36 blocks) and sophomore Capris Quaites (141 kills, 25 blocks) will lead the charge on offense. Sophomore middle blocker Katie Allen (99 kills, 54 blocks) will add to the action on the Bulldog frontline, while junior setter Rebecca Brown will command the Drake offense. The Bulldogs also added several talented newcomers to the 2014 team, including local high school standout Kyla Inderski and transfers, Nicole Woods and Chandelle Davidson, who will compete for floor time this fall.
The 2014 regular-season campaign begins Friday, Aug. 29, with all 10 teams in non-conference tournament action. UNI will host the 2014 MVC Championship, Nov. 27-29, in Cedar Falls, Iowa, where the league's top-six teams will battle it out for the Valley's automatic bid to the 2014 NCAA Tournament.