After battling to the finish in 2017 for the league title, Northern Iowa and Missouri State claimed all the first-place votes in the preseason Missouri Valley Conference poll. In the end, the Panthers come out as the MVC preseason favorites while Missouri State winds up in second.
Northern Iowa got seven first-place votes en route to 95 points as they look to claim the league title after being unable to trip up Missouri State last season. This year though, the Bears lose all-everything outside hitter Lily Johnson while the Panthers return five starters plus the libero, including a pair on the MVC Preseason All-Conference Team in Karlie Taylor and Piper Thomas. That all comes back to a squad that won 27 matches in 2017 and made the second round of the NCAA Tournament. They’re also ranked #20 in our VolleyMob 2018 Preseason Top 25.
“Northern Iowa has weathered some changes to their roster, but return two solid attackers,” Bradley head coach Carol Price-Torok said to VolleyMob. “They are a seasoned group that knows what it takes to win.”
Missouri State wasn’t far behind with 89 points and three first-place votes. The loss of the aforementioned Johnson will hurt, but they are still receiving votes in the AVCA Preseason Coaches Poll. Three starters plus the libero are back in the fold for a unit that went undefeated in conference action (regular and post-season) en route to 28 total victories and an NCAA Tournament appearance. Of the players coming back, there’s plenty of quality with two preseason all-league picks.
“Missouri State is just going to reload and they have people just waiting for their opportunity,” Northern Iowa head coach Bobbi Petersen told VolleyMob. “I think they are going to be a team that definitely fights for a team championship even though they lost five really key players.”
Illinois State rounds out the top three at 84 points. They have five starters plus the libero back just like Northern Iowa as they had their eighth straight winning season in 2017 by going 22-13 (13-5 MVC) and appearing in the NIVC Tournament. Drake, who returns the same amount of starters to a 23-win (12-6 MVC) team from 2017 and Valparaiso, who does the same with starters from a bunch that went 17-16 (8-10 MVC), push the list to the top five.
“Drake hardly lost anyone and, besides the conference tournament, had a really good year,” Petersen said. “[Illinois State] lost one key player and now they are in the new system and used to their head coach. Last year was her first year. I think they are going to be a powerhouse, especially at the pin area, which is going to be their strength just because of who they lost in the middle.”
Petersen added: “Valpo, they gave us a five-set match here at home. They lost one player. They are going to be extremely good. They have that defense and attitude. They are just looking for one more hitter to push them over the edge.”
Kicking off the back half is Indiana State, who upended Drake in the MVC Tournament in 2017, and Bradley, who placed outside hitter Erica Haslag on the all-conference preseason team. That finishes off with the bottom three of Loyola Chicago, Evansville and Southern Illinois.
“The way I see it, there may be only one or two teams who shouldn’t vote for themselves as the champion, but in my opinion, if you have a shot, you should be voting for yourself,” Petersen stated. “I really think that’s the depth we are going to have in the conference. I think it’s going to be a tough conference race.”
The entire preseason projections along with individual honors can be seen below:
MVC Volleyball Preseason Poll:
- Missouri State
- Illinois State
- Indiana State
- Loyola Chicago
- Southern Illinois
MVC Preseason All-Conference Team:
L – Emily Butters (Missouri State)
OH/DS Cathryn Cheek (Drake)
OH – Aubrey Cheffey (Missouri State)
OH – Erica Haslag (Bradley)
L – Courtney Pence (Illinois State)
OH – Karlie Taylor (UNI)
MB – Piper Thomas (UNI)