Courtesy: Northeast Conference
SOMERSET, N.J. — LIU Brooklyn captured its second consecutive NEC championship in 2017, and the league’s head coaches believe a third straight may be heading to the borough this season.
The 2018 women’s volleyball preseason coaches’ poll was released, and five first-place votes were awarded to the Blackbirds, who have claimed five of the last six conference titles. LIU Brooklyn returns 11 of its 13 players from last season, including the reigning NEC Player of the Year, Viktoria Fink (Vienna, Austria/Polgarstrasse).
Each of the next three teams in the preseason accounted for one first-place vote. After notching a program-best 21 wins last season, Bryant finished second in the rankings for the upcoming season.
After reaching the postseason for the 18th time in 19 years, Robert Morris took the third spot in the poll as the Colonials return the bulk of their main core, including eight sophomores.
Central Connecticut, the runner-up of the 2017 NEC Tournament, grabbed fourth place after being one of three teams to claim a share of the NEC regular season title in 2017.
“Long Island (defending champ) and Central Connecticut probably lost the least among of talent from last year in the conference,” Robert Morris coach Dale Starr told VolleyMob. “They will be the teams to beat. Bryant will be very good as well and Sacred Heart is always dangerous. Farleigh Dickinson, St. Francis U and St. Francis Brooklyn will all be improved, so the conference should shake out to be pretty competitive. Everyone will have to be on their game every weekend to rise to the top in 2018.”
Coming in at number five in the preseason poll are the Pioneers of Sacred Heart. Saint Francis U (sixth), Fairleigh Dickinson (seventh) and St. Francis Brooklyn (eighth) finished out the selections.
With all but one of last year’s starters returning, LIU Brooklyn is poised to make another deep postseason run, and is looking to grab a third conference championship under the leadership of head coach Ken Ko. The Blackbirds have qualified for the NEC Tournament for each of the last 16 years.
In 2017, LIU Brooklyn won a share of the NEC regular-season title, along with Bryant and CCSU. All three teams finished with a conference record of 11-3. The Blackbirds came out on top over the Blue Devils in the NEC championship game in a thrilling five-set affair. Ko helped lead LIU to its 11th conference championship, a conference record, as well as the program’s 11th NCAA Tournament bid.
Fink, who was also a four-time NEC Player of the Week in 2017, ranked fifth in the league with 3.43 kills per set. The senior outside hitter also racked up 2.68 digs per set. Returning with Fink is All-NEC second team selection Filippa Hansson (Ystad, Sweden/ProCivitas Privata Gymnasium), a junior middle blocker who earned second-team honors after recording a .283 hitting percentage last season. The Blackbirds also return the tandem of junior Amanda Hubbard (Hillsborough, CA/St. Francis) and sophomore Piper Matsumoto (Fort Myers, FL/Seacrest Country Day), who both ranked in the conference top-ten in assists, collectively averaging over 13 per set. Matsumoto also capped off LIU’s dramatic NEC title victory with a performance to remember – she recorded the first triple-double in an NEC final in at least 20 years, piling up 10 kills, 15 digs and 55 assists.
The Bulldogs’ share of the NEC regular season title was its first in program history. Bryant is led by senior setter Kirstyn Sperry (Phoenix, AZ/Desert Vista), who became the third consecutive Bulldog to take home NEC Setter of the Year honors, earning the accolade last season. The two-time All-NEC selection was named to the All-NEC first team a year ago with 6.50 assists and 3.03 digs per set. All-NEC first-teamer Julia Flynn (Pembroke, MA/Notre Dame Academy), who showed off using every limb from head to toe (literally) to earn SportsCenter and NCAA top-play recognition, returns as Bryant’s leading attacker. She averaged 3.30 kills per set in 2017 as a junior.
For the Colonials, keep an eye out for sophomore middle blocker Emma Granger (Dalton, OH/Dalton), who was named the NEC Rookie of the Year last season. The Dalton, OH native was an NEC Rookie of the Week four times and set a program single-season record with 61 service aces, which was tied for third in the nation. She added 2.92 kills per set and a .336 hitting percentage, good for second in the conference. She culminated her first collegiate season by being the only freshman to be named to either All-NEC team.
The eight NEC squads will contest a double-round robin league schedule, and the top-four finishers in the conference standings will advance to the postseason. The 2018 NEC Tournament will take place November 16-17 at the home venue of the top-ranked seed.
Two-time All-NEC selection Sacred Heart outside hitter Makayla Dole (Cypress, CA/Western) led the conference in total kills with 404 as she returns for her senior campaign.
Bryant head coach Theresa Garlacy returns to Smithfield for her 23rd season at the helm and is currently the longest-tenured head coach in the NEC.
Central Connecticut had the most players named to the All-NEC teams in 2017, with four players nabbing second-team spots. Two of those players, 2016 NEC Rookie of the Year Morgan Woycik (Lapeer, MI/Lapeer) and Madelyn Kaprelyan (Huntington Beach, CA/Huntington Beach) will return as juniors in 2018.
The Blue Devils have punched an NEC postseason ticket in 14 of the last 15 seasons.
Granger was a four-time NEC Rookie of the Week for Colonials, the most among all conference newcomers last season.
Four teams in the NEC were ranked among the nation’s best in digs per set – Saint Francis U (13), LIU Brooklyn (22), Fairleigh Dickinson (26) and CCSU (36). The Red Flash posted a league-best 18.05 digs per set.
LIU Brooklyn’s 11 NEC Tournament titles is the most among league members.
Bryant, Central Connecticut, Saint Francis U and Saint Francis Brooklyn are all looking to win their first-ever NEC championship.
2⃣0⃣1⃣8⃣ Preseason 🏐 Coaches' Poll Results 👀#PollWeek #necvb pic.twitter.com/jcWO3e0Ccy
— Northeast Conference (@NECsports) August 15, 2018