Hello and welcome to the first of three articles predicting the preseason polls for fall sports in the Big East! Yes, that’s right, it’s that time of the year! It’s almost time for Marquette’s fall teams to report for practice, and as such, it’s time for us to take some swings at predicting how the league’s coaches will vote for the preseason awards. We’re tackling volleyball here, so let’s just get right into it!
Preseason Player of the Year: Efrosini Alexakou, Outside Hitter, St. John’s
Here’s the deal. Alexakou was the preseason POY in the spring. She was the postseason POY when the regular season was over. She led the Big East in kills at 4.31 per set and finished second in points per set. She was a unanimous choice for the all-Big East team. Clearly, she should be Preseason Player of the Year right now...... as long as she’s back at St. John’s this fall. She was a junior in the spring season, so she technically has two more years of eligibility remaining given the COVID-bonus that everyone received. But, as I type this on July 28th, St. John’s is the only team in the Big East that has not updated their roster for the fall 2021 season. Thus, I can’t guarantee that something has not caused her to end up somewhere else/doing something else.
If, for whatever reason, Alexakou is not on the roster for the Johnnies this fall... then believe it or not, I think we have to give it to her teammate, Rachele Rastelli. The right side hitter was #2 in the league in kills per set behind Alexakou and the only other player to average more than four per frame, she was #1 in points per set, and she was the most accurate attacker in the conference, landing kills at a .340 clip back in the spring. Rastelli was a unanimous pick for the all-league team, so it’s clear that the Big East’s coaches all think she’s great. There’s an argument for Creighton’s Jaela Zimmerman, I think, but that’s about it. Maybe if you wanted to squint at it, you could say that Marquette’s Taylor Wolf has a shot because of her ability to attack and set at a high level for the Golden Eagles, but because she splits time, she’s never going to have the statistical domination in either category to make her stand out as the clear choice.
All-Big East Team
Efrosini Alexakou, OH, St. John’s
Naomi Hickman, MB, Creighton
Carrigan O’Reilly, S, Xavier
Raygan Murray, L, Seton Hall
Caylee Parker, OH, Connecticut
Rachele Rastelli, RS, St. John’s
Jaela Zimmerman, OH, Creighton
The same caveat applies to Alexakou here as it did above, and it applies to Rachele Rastelli as well. Both women were juniors last year, so I expect them to be in uniform for the Red Storm..... but maybe they won’t be? Who can say?!
Alexakou and Rastelli were both unanimous choices for the all-league team at the end of last year’s regular season, so they make it in here easily. Same goes for Naomi Hickman and Jaela Zimmerman. The coaches all liked them last year, so we’re just putting them right back in because all but one of last year’s all-Big East performers (excluding St. John’s here, obviously) are on the fall rosters. Caylee Parker out of Connecticut is the fifth and final unanimous performer we’re putting in without even thinking about it.
From there, we have to make choices. I prefer to keep my all-conference team picks to something that resembles an actual volleyball roster. As such, you’re getting five spots occupied by either outside hitters or middle blockers/hitters, one setter, and one libero. That’s where we get into trouble, at least a little bit. Tiziana Baumrokova led the Big East in assists last year and made the all-conference team..... but she was a senior for St. John’s. Unlike Alexakou and Rastelli, I feel less confident that she’ll be on the team for sure this fall. If she is, then she probably belongs on my team here. Instead, I went with Carrigan O’Reilly from Xavier, who was second best in assists and is on XU’s roster.
Averi Salvador from Villanova was named Libero of the Year last season as a grad student as well as the only libero on the all-conference team, and she is on this fall’s roster. However, the Big East’s press release on the awards back in the spring seemed to indicate that her biggest reason for winning was leading the league in total digs. Here’s the problem with that: You can’t judge volleyball players on total anythings because putting up 15 digs in three sets is MUCH more impressive than putting up 15 digs in five sets. To that end: Salvador was third in league play in digs per set and fifth in the league in digs per set in overall action. So, that’s why Raygan Murray from Seton Hall — #2 in overall digs/set, #1 in league digs/set — is my preseason all-Big East libero here.
Top Five Teams
1 - Creighton
2 - Marquette
3 - St. John’s
4 - Providence
5 - Connecticut
Look. Until I see evidence to the contrary, this is pretty much going to be my top three in volleyball in this conference. Creighton has proved that they deserve to be the preseason pick to win the league. Marquette has proved that they deserve to be ahead of everyone else except Creighton. St. John’s has, over the past few years, proven that they’re trying harder than anyone else in the Big East other than Creighton and Marquette to be a nationally relevant volleyball program.
I’m throwing darts for the last two spots, but Providence was supposed to be in the conference tournament last spring as the #2 seed out of the East division. They got bounced out by a COVID issue, but since they return their two all-conference performers from last spring, I’m giving them the #4 spot here. #5 goes to Connecticut, the team that replaced the Friars as the #2 team out of the East in the tournament. That’s a bit more of a risk since Parker was their only all-conference performer but I feel better about that than anyone else in the league.