Preseason Player of the Year: Jess Bird, OH, Jr., Creighton
Last year, at the Big East tournament, MrsB and I had a conversation about Jess Bird. The conversation was essentially on the topic of how much it must suck to be Jess Bird because she has absolutely no chance of being the best player in the Big East. Back in November, Bird shared a conference and academic class standing with Autumn Bailey, the runaway 2014 Big East Player of the Year.
Well, now Bailey's at Michigan State instead of Marquette, so that means it's Jess Bird's world and we all just live in it. If you make this purely about statistics, you're not going to like Bird all that much. She didn't rank in the top 10 in the Big East in any statistical category last season, but yet, there she is on the all-Big East First Team anyway. Even more impressively: Bird missed half the season last year, playing in just 78 of Creighton's 162 sets, and the Big East coaches STILL thought she was one of the best 12 players in the conference.
All-Big East Team
Abbey Bessler, Xavier, Jr.., OH
Jess Bird, Creighton, Jr., OH
Kayla Bivens, Butler, Jr., MB
Lauren Carpenter, Villanova, Sr., OH
Kate Elman, Creighton, Sr., L
Makayla Ferguson, Butler, So., S
Tessa Fournier, Seton Hall, Jr., L
Amanda Hansen, Seton Hall, Sr., MB
Deniz Mutlugil, St. John's, Sr., S
Meghan Niemann, Marquette, Jr., MB
Karen Palgutova, St. John's, Sr., OH
Lauren Smith, Creighton, Jr., MB
This was harder than I expected. Generally speaking, picking a preseason team is fairly simple: Take last year's postseason all-league first team, drop out the seniors, filter in some replacements from the second team, TA DA.
Of the 18 players that earned all-Big East honors last year, eight were seniors. Still, that drops us down to 10, which is not bad. The Big East also lost Autumn Bailey to transfer, so that's another spot, and Nele Barber left Marquette, too, which means we lost a suitable replacement. Georgetown's Terese Cannon is no longer listed on their roster as well, so that was one more spot to fill.
So here's what we have. Bessler, Bird, Fournier, Niemann, and Palgutova should all be ironclad locks for being First Team at the end of last season. Ferguson, Hanson, and Smith should be easily in with their Second Team honors. The rest gets a little twitchy. Mutlugil gets in for leading the Big East in assists last season. Elman makes the list for her early season performance (two Honor Rolls & a Defensive Player of the Week) before she got hurt. Bivens is a bit of a long shot, but she finished top 10 in hitting percentage and is the best returning blocker from last year. Carpenter is essentially a blind guess, but she ranked 7th in kills last season and third amongst returning players behind Palgutova and Bessler.
Top 5 Teams:
5. Seton Hall
I'm not picking against the Bluejays. To do so would be just blindly walking into my own death as a prognosticator. I think Butler and Xavier are essentially interchangeable at this point, but they're clearly above everybody but Creighton. Marquette and Seton Hall have both lost major chunks of the roster - SHU no longer has the Manthorpe twins nor Ashani Rubin - but I can't reasonably see anyone else sneaking up the standings past them. To circle back around to a point that I made when the Big East reformed itself with 10 teams: It should be incredibly troubling to everyone involved that the three best volleyball teams in the league are very clearly the three newest additions.