CAMBRIDGE, MASS. – Stony Brook University senior hitter Alicia Nelson takes home the conference’s top volleyball honor of America East Player of the Year, while a pair of University at Albany seniors grabs Setter of the Year and Defensive Specialist of the Year honors. Great Dane Head Coach MJ Engstrom earns Coach of the Year and UMBC freshman Dalton Tolliver rounds out the individual hardware as the 2011 Rookie of the Year. The conference office announced the award winners and the all-conference teams, determined by a vote of the head coaches, on Thursday afternoon.
Albany libero Laurie Gonzalez is the first four-time recipient of the Defensive Player of the Year trophy. Teammate Brooke Stanley returned from injury after missing 2010 to garner the Setter of the Year award for the third time in her career. The pair led the Great Danes to their fourth-straight America East Regular Season Championship.
Led by Gonzalez, Stanley and Nelson, six of the seven first-team all-conference honorees are senior standouts. Albany middle blocker Casey Wright, University of New Hampshire outside hitter Amy Keding and Providence College middle blocker Lauren Fletcher also receive first-team recognition, along with University of Hartford junior outside hitter Kami Nethersole.
Nelson, a 6-1 native of Apple Valley, Minn., led America East is most offensive categories. A three-time player of the week, the senior paced the league with 4.38 kills per set and 4.92 points per set while hitting at a .262 clip. She added a conference-best 42 service aces along with 2.26 digs per set and 26 blocks. Nelson improved in league play, hitting 4.67 kills per set and totaling 5.28 points per set. She is the second Seawolf to ever garner the award after Jackie Ahlers did so in 2007.
Stanley ran the Albany offense which led the league with a .236 hitting percentage and 13.62 kills per set. The 5-8 fifth-year senior out of Hendersonville, N.C. ranked first in the conference with 10.89 assists per set, including 11.40 assists against league foes. Stanley also served up 32 aces, averaging 0.35 per set to rank third in America East. The setter is a three-time first-team all-conference member and five-time Setter of the Week in 2011.
Gonzalez became Albany’s all-time digs leader with a league-leading 5.30 digs per set. The 5-9 libero from Puerto Rico played in all 92 sets for the top-seeded Great Danes making just 15 reception errors on the year and finishing second on the team with 26 service aces. Gonzalez collected a season-high 36 digs in four sets against Akron and racked up 20 or more digs seven times in league play.
Tolliver, a second-team all-conference honoree and the only freshman on either all-conference team, joins a list of five Retrievers to earn the Rookie of the Year award since 2005. The freshman middle blocker surged in America East play, averaging 3.00 kills per set against conference opponents while hitting at team-best .362 percentage. Tolliver finished second on the team in blocking with 77 blocks overall (0.87 bps) and 35 rejections during the conference slate (0.73 bps).
Engstrom is the Coach of the Year recipient for the second time in her career. She’s led the Great Danes for the past three years as head coach after previously serving as an assistant. Albany will be hosting the conference tournament for the fourth straight year as the top seed after compiling an 11-1 record in conference and a 19-8 overall mark against a difficult non-conference schedule. The Great Danes, who are seeking their fifth-straight season of 20 or more wins, led the conference in four team statistical categories during the regular season.
In addition to Tolliver, the second team includes Binghamton University’s libero Xiomara Ortiz and middle blocker Alex Roland, UNH’s setter Jansan Falcusan, outside hitter Lauren Laquerre and right side hitter Morgan Thatcher, and Stony Brook’s middle blocker and 2010 Rookie of the Year Evann Slaughter.
The conference also named seven freshmen to the all-rookie team, including Tolliver. Joining her is Albany outside hitter Samantha Brostrom, Binghamton outside hitter Kristin Hovie, Hartford utility hitter Sareeta Nethersole and setter Jackie Tamburri, UMBC outside hitter Hannah Schmidt and Stony Brook libero Laura Hathaway.
The America East Volleyball Championship begins Friday, November 18 at Albany’s University Gym. Second-seeded New Hampshire and third-seeded Stony Brook play in the first semifinal on 4 p.m., while the top-seeded Great Danes will take on the fourth-seeded Retrievers in the second semifinal at 7 p.m. The winners will play for an automatic NCAA Championship berth and the league title on Saturday, November 19 at 7 p.m.
2011 Player of the Year - Alicia Nelson, Stony Brook
2011 Setter of the Year - Brooke Stanley, Albany
2011 Defensive Specialist of the Year - Laurie Gonzalez, Albany
2011 Rookie of the Year - Dalton Tolliver, UMBC
2011 Coach of the Year - MJ Engstrom, Albany