SACRAMENTO, Calif. — One year removed from a 20-win season and a Big Sky Conference South Division title, the Sacramento State volleyball program was selected to finish third out of 12 teams in the Big Sky Conference's preseason coaches poll.
Tenth-year head coach Ruben Volta will oversee a roster that features 12 returners from a year ago, including four starters. Last year, the Hornets posted a 20-12 overall record, a 13-3 mark in the Big Sky, and the team was perfect at home against conference opposition (8-0). The Hornets finished the regular season with eight straight wins and eventually pushed that winning streak to nine with a Big Sky Tournament quarterfinal victory over Eastern Washington.
The Hornets have posted back-to-back seasons with 20-plus wins, combining for a 46-19 overall mark and 25-7 in league over that span.
For volleyball, the Big Sky is split up into two six-team divisions, and the Hornets won the South Division last year and assumed the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament. North Dakota won the North Division, and by virtue of having a better conference record than the Hornets, was the No. 1 seed and earned the right to host the Big Sky Tournament. The Hornets would eventually lose in the semifinal round, 3-1, to Northern Arizona at last year's postseason event.
North Dakota, which also won last year's tournament title, received 10 first place votes, 120 points overall and was selected by the league's coaches to repeat as conference champions. Trailing North Dakota in the poll were Northern Colorado (103 points, two first-place votes), Sacramento State (99), Northern Arizona (96), Portland State (82), Idaho State (71), Idaho (63), Weber State (69), Eastern Washington (44), Montana State (24), Montana (21) and Southern Utah (20).
A year ago, the Hornets were selected fifth in the coaches poll before winning the South Division title.
The winner of the regular season championship will host the Big Sky Tournament on Nov. 16-18. The winner of the conference tournament receives an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament.
Among this year's returners are starters at setter (senior Kennedy Kurtz), outside hitter (senior Shannon Boyle, junior Mikaela Nocetti) and middle blocker (junior Brie Gathright). Kurtz was a first team all-conference selection after quarterbacking an offense that finished first in the league in both kills (13.80) and assists (12.83) per set. Boyle was a second team all-league choice after leading the team in kills with 3.49 per set.
Also returning are seniors Hannah Meadows, Brigitte Murdock, Julia Wright and Erin Cochran, juniors Lana Brown and Skyler Takeda, and sophomores Sarah Davis and Paige Swinney. The four newcomers are freshmen Cianna Andrews, Sarah Falk, Macey Hayden and Ashtin Olin.
Sacramento State will have to compensate for the losses of rightside hitter Madeline Cannon, middle blocker Courtney Dietrich and libero Lexie Skalbeck. All three received second team all-league honors a year ago and Skalbeck was named the Big Sky's Libero of the Year.
During the Hornets' season-opening tournament in Queens, N.Y. on Aug. 25-26, Sacramento State will play UConn and host St. John's on Friday, and both Holy Cross and New Hampshire on Saturday. The Hornets will play 11 of their first 12 matches away from Colberg Court with the home opener scheduled to take place on Aug. 30 vs. Pacific at 7 p.m.
PRESEASON POLL - Total Points (First Place Votes)
1. North Dakota - 120 (10)
2. Northern Colorado - 103 (2)
3. Sacramento State - 99
4. Northern Arizona - 96
5. Portland State - 82
6. Idaho State - 71
7. Idaho - 63
8. Weber State - 49
9. Eastern Washington - 44
10. Montana State - 24
11. Montana - 21
12. Southern Utah - 20