Courtesy: American Athletic Conference
PROVIDENCE, R.I. – It was a close race to the top in the 2018 American Athletic Conference Volleyball Preseason Coaches’ Poll, as reigning conference champion Wichita State was chosen as the favorite for a second-straight year.
The Shockers collected 113 points and six first-place votes. Cincinnati followed in second place with 108 points and five first-place votes, while Temple finished third with 106 points and one first-place vote. The top five teams remained identical to last season’s poll with SMU in fourth place (94 points) and UCF fifth (74 points).
Cincinnati’s Jordan Thompson was named Preseason Player of the Year for the third-consecutive season.
The Shockers enter their second year in The American on the heels of a 29-4 season that included a 20-0 mark in conference play, earning their 11th trip to the NCAA tournament. They set the conference’s record, winning 32-straight sets from October 27 through December 1. Wichita State used an explosive offense, 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—both of which are conference records. All-America outside hitter Tabitha Brown was a unanimous preseason all-conference selection, while libero Giorgia Civita joined her on the preseason team.
Cincinnati will welcome back 2016 unanimous conference Player of the Year Thompson who redshirted in 2017. Thompson is a 2016 AVCA All-America Honorable Mention and picked up her fifth major conference accolade with her third-straight Preseason Player of the Year nod. A two-time first team all-conference selection, she holds conference records with 5.50 points per set in 2016 and 4.42 career kills per set. The Bearcats finished sixth place in last year’s standings but return a core group of starters, including 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 enters 2018 coming off a second-place finish in last year’s American standings. The Owls went 20-10 overall and 15-5 in league play, securing their fourth-straight 20-win season. Temple traveled to Morgantown, W.Va., for its first postseason appearance in 15 seasons, sweeping Campbell in the first round of the NIVC before falling to West Virginia. Temple finished second in the league in hitting percentage (.247), assists (12.88), kills (13.68) and blocks (2.41).
The Owls had the most preseason all-conference selections with three. Two-time first team all-conference selection Irem Asci, who suffered an injury early last season, returns to the front row for the Owls and was voted a unanimous preseason all-conference choice. She averaged 4.34 kills per set in 2016. Middle blocker Iva Deak ranked top 10 in the league in hitting percentage and blocks and joined Asci as a unanimous preseason all-conference selection. Dana Westfield was a second team all-conference selection last year and earned a spot on the preseason team.
SMU shared second place with Temple in 2017 after going 21-11, and earned a third-consecutive postseason bid. The two-time American champion Mustangs have tallied at least 20 wins in five straight seasons after ending last year’s slate in NIVC action against Texas Tech. SMU led the conference with 17.93 digs per set, which ranks second in conference history. The 2016 conference Freshman of the Year Kendall Patterson and 2017 second team all-conference outside hitter Brittany Adams earned spots on the preseason all-conference team.
UCF finished fifth in the 2017 conference standings and was one of three league teams to earn a trip to the NIVC. The Knights won their final six conference matches and finished the year with a 20-14 overall record. UCF led the league with 298 blocks, which rank third all-time.
Tulsa finished four points behind UCF with 74 to take sixth place. The Golden Hurricane returns big numbers to both rows. Libero of the Year Taylor Horsfall broke the league record with 755 digs in 2017 and was placed on the preseason team. Outside hitter Emily Thorson knocked down 525 kills and averaged 4.20 kills per set to lead the conference and join Horsfall on the preseason team.
ECU followed in seventh place with 68 points. The Pirates finished fourth in the 2017 standings with a 13-7 conference record. Setter Shelby Martin was named Freshman of the Year and earned a spot on the preseason all-conference team.
Rounding out the final five spots in the preseason poll, Houston finished eighth with 44 points, USF took ninth with 41 points, Tulane finished 10th with 33 points, followed by UConn (29 points) and Memphis (12 points).
Opening day for the 2018 volleyball season is set for Friday, August 24, and conference play begins Friday, September 21.
2018 Preseason Coaches’ Poll
|Place||School||Points||First Place Votes|
Preseason Player of the Year:
Jordan Thompson, RS/OH, Cincinnati
Carly Nolan, OH, Cincinnati*
Jordan Thompson, RS/OH, Cincinnati*
Shelby Martin, S, ECU
Brittany Adams, OH, SMU
Kendall Patterson, S, SMU
Irem Asci, OH, Temple*
Iva Deak, MB, Temple*
Dana Westfield, OH, Temple
Taylor Horsfall, DS/L, Tulsa
Emily Thorson, OH, Tulsa*
Tabitha Brown, OH, Wichita State*
Giorgia Civita, L, Wichita State
[*] Denotes unanimous selection