SACRAMENTO — One year removed from a Big Sky Conference regular season championship, the Sacramento State volleyball program was selected to finish third out of 11 teams in the conference's preseason coaches poll.
Eleventh-year head coach Ruben Volta will oversee a roster that features 10 returners and four starters from a year ago when the Hornets went 26-10 overall, 15-1 in league and captured the program's first Big Sky regular season title since 2007. The team was a perfect 8-0 in regular season home matches against Big Sky opposition for the third straight year, and eventually qualified for National Invitational Volleyball Championship (NIVC) postseason tournament.
After splitting into a pair of six-team divisions each of the previous four seasons, the Big Sky will now be an 11-member conference. With the departure of North Dakota from the league, there will no longer be divisional play as Sacramento State had won each of the previous two South Division titles.
Idaho received nine first place votes in the poll and assumed the top spot with 99 total points, followed by Northern Arizona (87 points, two first place votes) and Sacramento State (78). The Hornets combined for a 2-1 record against those two teams last year with the lone conference loss of the year coming in Flagstaff against NAU in five sets (16-14 in the fifth).
Rounding out the final eight spots in the preseason poll were fourth-place Portland State (71) followed by Weber State (63), Northern Colorado (56), Idaho State (52), Montana State (34), Montana (28), Southern Utah (20) and Eastern Washington (17).
This marks the second straight year Sacramento State has been selected third in the preseason coaches poll after being picked fifth in 2016. The Hornets have posted three straight seasons with at least 20 wins, combining for a 72-29 overall record and 40-8 league mark over that span.
Among this year's returners are starters at outside hitter (senior Mikaela Nocetti), rightside hitter (junior Sarah Davis) and middle blocker (seniors Lana Brown and Brie Gathright). Nocetti was a first team all-conference selection a year ago while Brown was named to the second team. Also returning are outside hitter Macey Hayden, middle blocker Cianna Andrews and defensive specialist Skyler Takeda. Three players that redshirted last season (Paige Swinney, Ashtin Olin, Sarah Falk) also return.
Olin and Falk are two of seven freshmen on this year's roster. The five true freshmen are Paige Calvin, Hannah Chase, McKenna Smith, Kayla Subbert and Claudia Wilson.
Sacramento State will have to compensate for the loss of six seniors, including Big Sky MVP Kennedy Kurtz, who led the nation in assists a year ago. Also gone are outside hitter Shannon Boyle who was a first team all-league choice, and Brigitte Murdock who started every match at libero and finished 13th in the nation in digs.
There are predetermined site locations for the 2018 and 2019 Big Sky Volleyball Tournament. Big Sky teams went through a bid process, and as a result, Northern Colorado will host the tournament this year, and Sacramento State will host in 2019.
The Hornets open the season on Aug. 24-25 when the team hosts the Hornet Invitational. The two-day, four-team tournament will see Sacramento State host both Utah State and CSUN on the 24th, and Arizona on the 25th.
PRESEASON POLL - Total Points (First Place Votes)
1. Idaho - 99 (9)
2. Northern Arizona - 87 (2)
3. Sacramento State - 78
4. Portland State - 71
5. Weber State - 63
6. Northern Colorado - 56
7. Idaho State - 52
8. Montana State - 34
9. Montana - 28
10. Southern Utah - 20
11. Eastern Washington - 17