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College: Non-Power 5 Conference Previews (Part 2)

PVB takes a look at the Big Sky through Conference USA conferences in Part 2 of our non-power 5 previews.

Can Adlee Van Winden and her Cal Poly teammates overtake Hawaii in the Big West standings this season? (Courtesy of Cal Poly Athletics)

So far, PrepVolleyball.com has covered the Power 5 Conferences.

You can find those preview and predictions by clicking on the respective links below:

Big 12 

Big Ten

Pac-12 

SEC 

ACC 

Next up, we take a look at the Non-Power 5 conferences, breaking it down in five parts.

In Part 1, we looked at the America East through Big East conferences.

In Part 2 below, we examine the Big Sky through Conference USA conferences, in alphabetical order.

Big Sky

Predicted Order of Finish

1. North Dakota

2. Northern Colorado

3. Northern Arizona

4. Sacramento State

5. Portland State

6. Idaho State

7. Idaho

8. Eastern Washington

9. Weber State

10. Montana State

11. Southern Utah

12. Montana

Note – The defending champion Fighting Hawks are going to be tough to dethrone in 2017. Last year’s conference MVP and setter Sydney Griffin leads a large returning cast that also features outside Tamara Merseli and middle Faith Dooley. Northern Colorado, with middle Alex Kloehn and outside Kortney Lockey back, should be the biggest threat to North Dakota’s repeat attempt. Setter Kennedy Kurtz and outside Shannon Boyle are among those returning for Sacramento State, though the starting lineup is going to look different. The good news is Kurtz led the conference in assists per set in 2016. We have middles Abby Akin and Brittni Dorsey and their Northern Arizona teammates coming in ahead of Sacramento State this fall.

***

Big South

Predicted Order of Finish

1. High Point

2. Radford

3. Liberty

4. Charleston Southern

5. Campbell

6. UNC Asheville

7. Winthrop

8. Gardner-Webb

9. Presbyterian

NoteHigh Point returns seven starters and is the defending champion, so the Panthers are the favorites to take home the conference crown. But, for a team that finished first with an 11-5 mark a season ago, there’s certainly opportunity for those close behind to make a move. Included among the returners for High Point is outside Haley Barnes and middle Molly Livingston. Radford could be the one to spoil High Point’s good times. Coming back is senior outside Maddie Palmer, the reigning conference Player of the Year who ended last season with 495 kills. She is joined by setter Haley Kleespies. Liberty will remain in the hunt, helped along by setter Anna Willey and middle Anna Gragg.

Big West

Predicted Order of Finish

1. Hawaii

2. Cal Poly

3. Long Beach State

4. UC Santa Barbara

5. UC Davis

6. UC Irvine

7. Cal State Northridge

8. UC Riverside

9. Cal State Fullerton

Note – A coaching change and the loss of two-time conference Player of the Year Nikki Taylor leaves Hawaii’s chance at another Big West title more in doubt than a season ago. Setter Norene Iosia returns, as does middle Emily Maglio and senior libero Savanah Kahaki. They’ll need to help carry the Rainbow Wahine this fall, because Cal Poly is a team on the rise, and coming on quickly it would appear. The Mustangs took third last year, but should challenge for first this season with the addition of sophomore right side Torrey Van Winden, who transferred from UCLA and will team with her sister, Adlee, to give Cal Poly a strong 1-2 punch. They combine with senior setter Taylor Nelson and senior outside Raeann Greisen to give the Mustangs hopes of being the best in the Big West. Long Beach is also undergoing a coaching change. Back for the Long Beach is the middle duo of Ahsley Murray and YiZhi Xue. With its returning 1-2 duo on the left in Lindsey Ruddins and Chanel Hoffman, UC Santa Barbara might be able to sneak up on Long Beach in the standings and make the race for third interesting.  

***

Colonial Athletic Association

Predicted Order of Finish

1. Hofstra

2. College of Charleston

3. James Madison

4. Towson

5. Northeastern

6. UNCW

7. Delaware

8. William & Mary

9. Elon

Note – With the loss of Janey Goodman and her 500-plus kills, it’ll be difficult for James Madison to stay on top of the conference. Though middle Taylor Gail and libero Taylor Austin are back, we have two teams finishing ahead of the Dukes this fall. Hofstra is our pick for the conference crown, bolstered by the return of last year’s conference Rookie of the Year and sophomore outside Laura Masciullo. The Pride will also rely on last season’s block leader Michela Rucli in the middle. However, the chase for first is going to be a tight one, as College of Charleston could be improved this season. Middle and last year’s kill leader Kennedy Madison’s return is one reason why the Cougars are dangerous.

***

Conference USA

Predicted Order of Finish

1. Western Kentucky

2. Rice

3. Texas-San Antonio

4. Southern Miss

5. Marshall

6. North Texas

7. Florida Atlantic

8. Middle Tennessee

9. UTEP

10. Florida International

11. UAB

12. Charlotte

13. Louisiana Tech

Note – After going 14-0 last fall and returning the likes of outside Alyssa Cavanaugh, setter Jessica Lucas and middle Rachel Anderson, it’s hardly surprising to see us pick Western Kentucky to be the darlings of the conference for the fourth consecutive season. Rice brings back setter Madison McDaniel and former Senior Ace Portia Okafor as the Owls try to make up ground on the Hilltoppers. A familiar face on the outside for Texas-San Antonio is senior Marijeta Runjic, who was voted to the Pre-Season All-Conference Team. North Texas has a pair of players on the Pre-Season team in middles Amanda Chamberlain and Holly Milam. Both Southern Miss and Marshall were in the mix last season, tying for second place. Both have underclassmen that’ll help them try and stay in the running in 2017, including sophomore outside Jac’cara Walker for Marshall and junior setter Sarah Bell for Southern Miss.

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