The University of Hawai’i has been unanimously selected to repeat as the Big West Conference women’s volleyball champion, according to the Big West women’s volleyball preseason coaches poll as voted on by the nine head coaches.
The Rainbow Wahine, who reclaimed the title last season with a perfect 16-0 mark, captured all nine first-place votes en route to a perfect 81-point total. Last year’s championship was the third in four years for Hawai’i and it became the 10th team to finish the conference season undefeated and fourth Hawai’i team to master the feat. The Rainbow Wahine, who advanced to the NCAA Regional final, finished the 2015 season with a 29-2 record and a ranking of No. 7 in the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) final poll. Their success was fueled by Big West Player of the Year, junior opposite Nikki Taylor, who posted career-high numbers and led the conference with 468 kills, 4.46 kills per set, 44 service aces,0.42 aces per set, 575.5 total points and 5.48 points per set. Senior middle hitter and All-Big West First Team member Olivia Magill led the Big West with a .412 hitting percentage, 1.44 blocks per set and 153 total blocks.
While Hawai’i loses Magill, they do welcome back Taylor for her final season along with junior middle hitter Emily Maglio, who posted the league’s second-best hitting percentage of .384 a year ago. She also led the league in blocks with a 1.44 average. Look for junior libero Savanah Kahakai to anchor the back row on defense. The 2015 All-Big West Honorable Mention member started all 31 matches and led UH with 424 digs.
Long Beach State secured the second slot after securing 68 points. The 49ers finished 2015 winning nine of their final 10 contests en route to a 25-6 overall mark and a 13-3 conference record, good enough for second place in the standings. This year LBSU will be headlined by All-Big West First Teamer Nele Barber. The senior outside hitter paced the conference with 23 double-doubles on the season. She ranked third in the conference with 3.98 kills per set and was 10th in dig average with 3.37 digs per set. Joining Barber in the starting lineup is 2014 Big West Freshman of the Year Ashley Murray who ranked seventh in the conference in hitting at .319 and was second on the team in kills (270) and blocks per set (0.71). While Long Beach State welcomes back two all-conference members, it is suffering at the setter position with the loss of Jenelle Hudson. The two-time All-Big West First Teamer and 2014 Big West Player of the Year led the conference in assists per set with 10.74, helping the Beach rank second in the Big West in kills per set and hitting percentage. She also finished third on the team with 2.37 digs per set, led the team with 22 service aces and recorded 117 kills with a .304 attack percentage.
Earning the third spot with a point total of 66 is Cal Poly. Sam Crosson’s Mustangs could be a threat in 2016 as they return a bulk of their talent that posted a 19-8 overall record, their best finish since the 2010 squad went 22-7, and an 11-5 conference mark to finish third in the Big West standings. Cal Poly’s roster includes four All-Big West First Team members - senior middle blocker Taylor Gruenewald, junior setter Taylor Nelson, junior outside hitter Raeann Greisen and sophomore outside hitter Adlee Van Winden. Last year’s Big West Freshman of the Year honoree, Van Winden started all 27 matches and finished fourth among conference players in 2015 in kills (391) and kills per set (3.91). Nelson finished second among conference players in assists per set (10.73), assists (1,052) and, after just two seasons, ranks seventh in program history with 1,932 career assists. Gruenewald was Cal Poly’s leading blocker in 2015 with 0.83 per set, while Greisen ranked seventh among Big West hitters in kills per set (3.21) and kills (321).
The Anteaters of UC Irvine sit fourth with 47 points and is followed by UC Davis after tallying 44 points. UC Santa Barbara, who welcomes the No. 24 recruiting class in the nation, according to PrepVolleyball.com, nabbed the sixth slot after registering 39 points. CSUN holds the seventh spot with 29 points and UC Riverside locked-in the eighth position after grabbing 20 points. Rounding out the nine-team field is Cal State Fullerton with 11 points.
The 2016 women’s volleyball season gets underway Friday, August 26.
2016 Big West Women’s Volleyball Preseason Coaches Poll
1. Hawai’i (9) - 81
2. Long Beach State - 68
3. Cal Poly - 66
4. UC Irvine - 47
5. UC Davis - 44
6. UC Santa Barbara - 39
7. CSUN - 29
8. UC Riverside - 20
9. Cal State Fullerton - 11
( ) Denotes first place votes