We've already done predictions for the preseason awards for women's soccer and men's soccer, so now we turn our attention to the third and final fall team sport that Marquette where is currently the reigning and defending regular season and tournament champion.
Volleyball provides an interesting twist this season, as Providence joins the Big East. The Friars had been playing volleyball in the America East conference for the last four seasons, and had originally left the Big East following the 2001 season to compete as an independent. This brings volleyball to the full complement of 10 Big East teams competing in the sport, plus we have to figure out where the Friars fit into the picture of potential all-conference players.
Preseason Player Of The Year: Kelli Browning, MB, Creighton
It's a pretty stacked deck of candidates, as we'll get to in a minute. I'm going with Browning, for a number of reasons. First, her crazy block average of 1.53 per set. She finished tied for seventh best in the country last year, and wasn't that far from being tied for fourth at 1.54/set. She also had the sixth best hitting percentage in the conference last year, giving her an impressive double whammy on the Big East leaderboards. Browning was also co-preseason player of the year last August when she tied with Marquette's Elizabeth Koberstein, so I'm willing to mark "next best to someone who appeared to be playing an entirely different sport" in Browning's favor.
All-Big East Team
Belle Obert, OH, Butler
Erica Stahl, MB, Butler
Kelli Browning, MB, Creighton
Leah McNary, OH, Creighton
Michelle Sicner, S, Creighton
Autumn Bailey, OH, Marquette
Meghan Niemann, MB, Marquette
Karin Palgutova, OH, St. John's
Shawna-Lei Santos, L, St. John's
Abbey Bessler, OH, Xavier
Alex Blair, MB, Xavier
Aubree Smith, S, Xavier
This was a very easy preseason all-conference team to put together, as there were just three seniors on last year's postseason All-Big East First Team, and as it turns out, Providence didn't have anyone that would have landed on any of the Big East's leaderboards last season. Doesn't take a lot of effort to figure out who nine of the best players in the league are at that point, y'know? There were just three seniors on the Second Team, too, so I just snagged Sicner and Blair from there to replace Koberstein and Xavier's Alex Smith. The one hitch in the plan is the coaches voted three liberos to the all-conference teams at the conclusion of play last year, and all three were seniors. The three senior liberos - Alyssa Warren, Mariah Henley, and Julie Jeziorowski - also had the three highest digs averages in the conference, making this slightly more complicated, especially since not one libero earned a weekly honor last season. The fourth highest digs average belonged to Santos, so she's my pick to represent the defensive end of the Big East.
Top Five Teams
5. St. John's
I mean, come on. It's a Creighton team that gave Marquette fits last season, made the 2013 NCAA tournament, and returns all of their major players. Easy pick to win the league, and that's before I factor in Marquette's loss of Koberstein and Jeziorowski, not to mention the change from Bond Shymansky to Ryan Theis on the bench for the Golden Eagles. Xavier and Butler bring back most of their crews and they qualified for the Big East tournament a year ago, so you can't go wrong there. The rest of the league is a coin toss, but by way of Palgutova being the best hitter in the league (4.36 kills/set in 2013) and Santos being the best returning libero, I'll give them the five hole. I don't know what to make of Providence as they make the move after going 12-20 overall and 4-10 in the America East last season, but I can say that they bring back their four best hitters, their setter, and their libero, so they'll at least be experienced.