CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — University at Albany, winner of seven of the last eight America East regular-season volleyball crowns and five of the last six tournament titles, is favored to extend its dynasty in 2012 as the Great Danes were tabbed the conference’s preseason favorite on Tuesday afternoon. Albany received five of six possible first-place votes from the league’s head coaches, who were not permitted to vote for their own team, and collected 35 points.
Stony Brook University, last year’s runner up, was picked second after earning one first-place tally and 29 points, while UMBC followed in third after receiving the final first-place vote and 24 points. University of New Hampshire was tabbed fourth with 23 points, while Binghamton University and University of Hartford tied for fifth place with 15 points apiece. Providence College, an associate member in volleyball, rounded out the seven-team poll with six points.
The 2012 campaign begins this weekend with all seven teams starting their seasons at tournaments on Aug. 24. The top four teams in the standings at the end of the regular season will qualify for the 2012 America East Championship, which will take place at the top seed on Nov. 16 and 17 or 17 and 18. The tournament champion will receive an automatic bid to the 2012 NCAA Volleyball Championship.
Albany (21-9 overall in 2011, 11-1 America East), which has won at least 20 matches seven of the last eight seasons, returns six letterwinners from last year’s America East title-winning squad but will have to replace the production of three first-team all-conference performers, including four-time America East Defensive Specialist of the Year Laurie Gonzalez. Sophomore Samantha Brostrom, an America East all-rookie selection last year, is ready to fill the void after ranking second on the team in kills per set last year (2.78). Albany begins 2012 at Hawaii’s Chevron Rainbow Wahine Invitational this weekend.
Stony Brook (15-13, 7-5) brings back nine letterwinners from a team that reached the America East title match for the first time since 2007 last year. Junior Evann Slaughter, a second-team all-conference selection last year, will lead the Seawolves after ranking fourth in America East with 1.96 blocks per set last year. All-rookie choice Laura Hathaway will also play a key role. She ranked fourth in America East in digs per set (4.26) a year ago. The Seawolves, who are seeking their first America East title, start their season at the Black Knights Invitational Friday.
UMBC (16-12, 6-6) welcomes back two-thirds of its 2011 squad (12 letterwinners) in 2012. The Retrievers, who have qualified for four straight America East Championships, were the top defensive squad in the conference last year, leading the league in opponent hitting percentage (.164) and blocks (2.26 bps). Sophomore Hannah Schmidt will pace the attack as she averaged a team-best 2.92 kps in 2011 en route to earning America East all-rookie honors. UMBC kicks things off at the Battle at the Bay Tournament this weekend.
New Hampshire (10-20, 8-4) matched its best America East record since 2007 last year and will have seven returnees and as many newcomers on its 2012 roster. A pair of second-team all-conference choices will lead UNH this season. Senior Jansan Falcusan was fifth among league leaders in assists (8.71 aps) while junior Morgan Thatcher averaged 3.16 kills per set in league play. UNH starts its campaign at the Villanova Classic this weekend.
Binghamton (13-17, 5-7) looks to get back to the America East Championship after missing the tournament for the first time since 2003 a year ago. Xiomara Ortiz, who ranked third among league leaders with 4.48 digs per set last year, and Alex Roland, both second-team all-conference honorees last year, are among six returning starters for the Bearcats, who begin play at Boston College’s Tournament Friday.
Hartford (12-18, 3-9) begins its first season under head coach Alex Temkin after equaling its most conference wins since 2003 last year. First-team all-conference outside hitter Kami Nethersole, a first-team All-America East choice in 2011, will lead a young squad as the lone senior. Her 3.92 kills per set ranked second in the league last year. Hartford starts play at Navy’s Kristen Dickmann Invitational Friday.
Providence (8-22, 2-10) begins its third season as an America East associate member. The Friars, who start play at Hofstra’s tournament Friday, will have a young roster in 2012 (five sophomores, four freshmen) after losing several players to graduation, including first-team all-league hitter Lauren Fletcher.
ABOUT THE AMERICA EAST CONFERENCE: Into its fourth decade of operation, America East has evolved into one of the most comprehensive NCAA Division I conferences with a commitment to broad-based, competitive athletics programs, complementing the academic integrity and missions of the member institutions. Progressive in its approach to its more than 3,400 student-athletes, America East recognizes champions in each of its 20 sports and also conducts the nation’s most comprehensive academic recognition program for student-athletes. With a geographic footprint covering the Mid-Atlantic to Northeast regions of the United States, America East strives to develop champions in academics, athletics and leadership at its nine member institutions: University at Albany, Binghamton University, Boston University, University of Hartford, University of Maine, UMBC, University of New Hampshire, Stony Brook University and University of Vermont.
2012 Volleyball Preseason Poll
Rank Team (1st-place votes) Points
1. Albany (5) 35
2. Stony Brook (1) 29
3. UMBC (1) 24
4. New Hampshire 23
T-5. Binghamton 15
7. Providence 6