Courtesy: American Athletic Conference
THE AMERICAN TODAY
First set of the 2018 season for all 12 American Athletic Conference volleyball teams will get underway on Friday, August 24. Teams will continue nonconference action throughout the weekend, combining for 34 matches to start the year. Seven of these opponents made an appearance in the 2017 NCAA tournament.
The league is coming off four postseason bids in 2017, including Wichita State hosting in the NCAA tournament—the first program in conference history to do so. Teams will begin their month-long nonconference slates prior to the start of conference play on September 21.
- The Wichita State Shockers were favored in the Preseason Coaches’ Poll for the second-straight season and received votes in the AVCA Preseason Poll, following a historic inaugural American Athletic Conference campaign. After going 29-4 last year, Wichita State begins its 2018 season on the road in Washington, D.C., facing three 2017 NCAA tournament teams: James Madison, Howard and VCU. The Shockers used an explosive offense in 2017, leading the conference with 14.70 kills, 13.81 assists and 2.60 blocks per set, averaging a league-high .301 hitting percentage, while holding its foes to hitting a league-low .150. Outside hitter Tabitha Brown and libero Giorgia Civita were Preseason All-Conference selections.
- Cincinnati will head to Oxford, Ohio to face UC Santa Barbara, Saint Louis and Miami (Ohio). After finishing sixth in last year’s conference standings, the Bearcats jumped to No. 2 in the Preseason Coaches’ Poll. They welcome back a core of key players, including three-time Preseason Player of the Year and 2016 unanimous conference Player of the Year Jordan Thompson, who redshirted in 2017. The Bearcats additionally return 2016 Setter of the Year Jade Tingelhoff, three-time First Team All-Conference outside hitter Carly Nolan, Second Team All-Conference outside hitter Erica Kostelac, middle blocker Jasmine Jones and senior libero Abby Williams.
- Temple is set to begin its 2018 campaign at home against Rhode Island, LMU and Hofstra. The Owls enter the year on the heels of their fourth-straight 20-win season and first postseason bid in 15 years. After a season-ending injury last year, two-time First Team All-Conference outside hitter Irem Asci will return to the court. Preseason All-Conference selections Iva Deak and Dana Westfield will join her in the front row.
- SMU shared second place with Temple in 2017 after going 21-11, and earning a third-consecutive postseason bid. The two-time American champion Mustangs have tallied at least 20 wins in five straight seasons and will begin 2018 at the LUV Invitational, facing Lipscomb and Iowa. The 2016 conference Freshman of the Year Kendall Patterson and Second Team All-Conference outside hitter Brittany Adams will help lead the Mustangs.
- Both UCF and USF will stay in the Sunshine State to open the year. UCF rounded-out the top-five of the Preseason Coaches’ Poll after earning a postseason trip last year. The Knights will head to Coral Gables to take on Florida Gulf Coast, Florida Atlantic and 2017 NCAA tournament participant Miami (Fla.) on the ACC Extra Network. USF kicks off the year with a home tournament, welcoming San Jose State, Jacksonville State and reigning America East champion Stony Brook.
- Tulsa is set to head to West Lafayette, Ind. for three matches against Bowling Green, Wofford and No. 23 Purdue, who made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament last year. The Golden Hurricane returns big numbers to both rows. Libero of the Year Taylor Horsfall broke the league record with 755 digs in 2017. All-Conference outside hitter Emily Thorson knocked down 525 kills and averaged 4.20 kills per set to lead the conference.
- ECU will look to build off a successful 2017 season, where the Pirates earned their first 20-win season since 2005 and first major conference award with setter Shelby Martin voted Freshman of the Year. Head coach Julie Torbett became the winningest coach in program history, as the Pirates’ 22 victories are the most in program history since 1982. ECU kicks off its season in Hattiesburg, Miss. against Spring Hill College, Alcorn State and Southern Miss.
- Houston returns its top offensive and defensive players, welcoming back outside hitter Megan Duncan to the front row and libero Katie Karbo to the back row. The Cougars moved up four spots in this year’s Preseason Coaches’ Poll and will start off the year in New Orleans with matches against Murray State, New Orleans and Nebraska-Omaha.
- Tulane will host UTEP, Incarnate Word and Louisiana in the I-10 Challenge to start things off in 2018. The Green Wave enjoyed a strong nonconference slate last season, going 11-2 from Aug. 25-Sep. 16 to start off the year. Memphis will also host a tournament to begin its season with Stephen F. Austin, Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Arkansas State making the trip to Elma Roane Fieldhouse. The Tigers begin a new era under first year head coach Sean Burdette.
- UConn heads to Morgantown, W.Va. for a tournament featuring Wright State, West Virginia and Georgia Southern. The Huskies return nine players from last year’s roster, as head coach Kris Grunwald enters the year just four wins away from the 100-wins milestone with UConn.