The Big East has announced the 2015 preseason awards for women's volleyball. The two main items of interest for Marquette fans are middle hitter Meghan Niemann being a unanimous selection to the all-conference team and the Golden Eagles being picked to finish second in the Big East this season.
Let's deal with the obvious one first. Niemann has been nothing short of spectacular in her first two years in blue & gold. She's been an all-Big East player from day one, and under the guidance of head coach Ryan Theis last season, she added blocking to her repertoire as well. It's easy to see why she's one of five unanimous choices to the All-Big East team.
Here's the full list of the all-league team:
Kayla Bivins, Butler, R-Jr., S
Makayla Ferguson, Butler, So. MB
^ Jess Bird, Creighton, Jr., OH
Kate Elman, Creighton, Sr., DS
^ Lauren Smith, Creighton, R-Jr., MB
^ Meghan Niemann, Marquette, RS-Jr., MH
^ Karin Palgutova, St. John's, Sr., OH
Shawna-Lei Santos, St. John's, Sr., L/DS
Tessa Fournier, Seton Hall, Jr., L
Amanda Hansen, Seton Hall, Sr., MB
Lauren Carpenter, Villanova, Sr., OH
^ Abbey Bessler, Xavier, Jr., OH
The carrots at the front mark the unanimous selections to the team. Smith is the only slightly surprising choice, but she was Second Team all-Big East a year ago, so it's not that much of a surprise. It is surprising to see that Tessa Fournier isn't a unanimous choice after being Libero of the Year and a First Team selection in 2014.
The rest of the list went almost exactly as predicted yesterday right here on this very website, including my prediction of Creighton's Jess Bird as Preseason Player of the Year. The only switch from the 12 that I predicted resulted in one St. John's player taking the place of another. I had Deniz Mutlugil making the team because she led the conference in assists last year, but it's her teammate, Shawna-Lei Santos, that ends up in the group of 12. That's kind of an interesting choice as I could make the case that Santos isn't the third best libero in the conference, or even the fourth best (Providence's Michelle Cruz & Marquette's Lauren Houg had better stats than her last year), but that's where the Big East's coaches went.
Let's turn our attention to the team voting. Creighton is the unanimous pick to win the league, and that shouldn't be surprising to anyone. The surprise comes with the second place Golden Eagles, and in more than one way. Because coaches can't vote for their own teams or players, Creighton's Kirsten Bernthal Booth had to vote for a team that wasn't her Bluejays. She went with Marquette as her pick to win the Big East this season, and it was the nine points from her vote that pushed Marquette up to 69 points and in front of third place Xavier with 62 points.
Here's the thing about that: Marquette has lost almost their entire offense from last season. Autumn Bailey, Nele Barber, and Gabby Benda all transferred. Lindsay Gosh was a senior, and Courtney Kintzel elected to graduate and leave the program after suffering a knee injury during her redshirt junior year. That's four of Marquette's five best attackers from last season and the setter that averaged the most assists. Marquette returns just two players that averaged a kill per set, and only one - Niemann - that played more than 75 of Marquette's 120 sets. If you read what the Big East wrote about the Golden Eagles in the press release, it's all factually accurate. But I have a hard time seeing MU make their fifth straight NCAA tournament this season, much less figuring out a way to finish second in the Big East.
You can check out the Big East's full release on the preseason awards right here.