The Big East fall sports season got underway on Wednesday afternoon when the conference announced the preseason awards for women’s volleyball. To the surprise of no one, Marquette is represented on the all-league team by sophomore outside hitter Taylor Louis and redshirt senior middle hitter Meghan Niemann.
Louis broke the Marquette single season kills record in 2015 - the overall record, not the freshman record - and led the Big East in kills per set with a 4.93 average. In addition to being the first Golden Eagle to ever clear 600 kills in a season with 611, she also ranked fifth in the country in kills/set and earned AVCA All-American Honorable Mention honors. Niemann averaged just short of a block per set in her junior campaign and ranked 7th in the Big East with a .314 hitting percentage. It’s the third straight year that Niemann has been on the Big East’s preseason all-conference team.
As a team, the Golden Eagles were picked to finish second in 2016 by a vote of the league’s coaches. Defending champion Creighton picked up all nine available first place votes, as coaches are not allowed to vote for their teams or players. Marquette finished with 70 points, trailing the 81 points earned by the Bluejays, but easily in front of the 63 points accrued by Xavier in third place.
With the MU-specific stuff out of the way, we turn our attention to the rest of the coaches’ voting.
Preseason Player of the Year: Jaali Winters, OH, Creighton
I had picked Taylor Louis, as she was my pick for POY at the end of last season. As was the case then, I can’t disagree with the coaches going for Winters. Here’s how the Big East explains Winters’ candidacy:
Preseason Player of the Year, Winters, has just one year of collegiate play under her belt and was the unanimous pick for 2015 BIG EAST Freshman of the Year as well as unanimous first team selection in 2015. Outside of the BIG EAST, Winters was an AVCA Third Team All-American, AVCA First Team All-East Region and AVCA East Region Freshman of the Year. Winters was second in the conference play in kills per set (4.39). In the national statistical rankings, she was 10th in kills (second-best among freshman). She set the Creighton single-season records for kills (546) and attack attempts and led the team in kills, points (595.5) and double-doubles (16).
I know, you’re wondering why I went for Louis over Winters both times. Well, you see how it keeps saying “second in kills” in that paragraph, both in the Big East and amongst national freshmen? Well, Winters was trailing Louis.
Winters is clearly the best player on the best team heading into the 2016 season, so I can’t fault the voting. The important thing is that the coaches have essentially apologized for giving Xavier’s Abbey Bessler POY at the end of last season with this vote, so that’s okay.
Preseason All-Big East Team
Anna Logan, Butler, So., OH
Jess Bird, Creighton, Sr., OH
Lauren Smith, Creighton, R-Sr., MB ^
Jaali Winters, Creighton, So., OH ^
Taylor Louis, Marquette, So., OH ^
Meghan Niemann, Marquette, R-Sr., MH ^
Julia Cast, St. John’s, Jr., MB
Tessa Fournier, Seton Hall, Sr., Libero ^
Allie Loitz, Villanova, Jr., OH ^
Abbey Bessler, Xavier, Sr., OH ^
Kristen Massa, Xavier, Jr., OH
Sofia Peterson, Xavier, R-Sr., RS
Absolutely none of these names are a surprise. Not even the unanimous choices (marked with a ^) are a surprise. This list of 12 women is exactly the 12 women from last year’s postseason all-Big East teams that are back for another season in 2016. It’s literally the least surprising voting from the coaches that I’ve ever seen in any Big East sport.
What is surprising is the Big East’s dedication to a position free voting system for women’s volleyball. As a result, there’s not a single setter on the preseason all-conference team. Weird, huh? That’s where my picks got into trouble, as I added Marquette’s Sara Blasier and Lauren Houg to balance things out with a setter and an additional libero. I also had added Georgetown’s Alyssa Sinnette since she finished fifth in the Big East in kills/set last year, but you’ll understand why the coaches didn’t vote for her here in a minute.....
Predicted Order of Finish (1st place votes)
- Creighton – 81 pts. (9)
- Marquette – 70 pts. (1)
- Xavier – 63 pts.
- Villanova – 62 pts.
- Butler – 41 pts.
- St. John’s – 40 pts.
- Seton Hall – 31 pts.
- Georgetown – 26 pts.
- DePaul – 22 pts.
- Providence – 14 pts.
With the Hoyas tucked down there in 8th place, you can see how the coaches didn’t show any favor to Sinnette, impressive kill stats or not. The coaches are also not as excited about the maturation of Georgetown’s three key freshmen from a year ago, as I had tabbed the Hoyas for the #5 spot. The top four teams are the four that went to Omaha for the Big East tournament a year ago, so that’s not surprising, as evidenced by them being in the exact same order that I had predicted.
Marquette begins the 2016 season on Friday, August 26 when they travel to California to participate in the USC Baden Invitational. They open with the host Trojans before playing UC Irvine and Santa Clara the next day.