Yep, it’s that time of the year!
August means the start of fall sports in the Big East, and even though volleyball will not be the first sport to start their year, conference play in volleyball does start, at least for Marquette, one day before women’s soccer and three days before men’s soccer. As such, the league office tends to announce the volleyball awards before the soccer awards, so we’re starting off our fall previews with volleyball to at least try to match the league’s order of things.
Below, you’ll find my picks for the preseason awards in Big East volleyball for the 2022 season. I’m matching what the league office does, so that means one individual player award for Player of the Year along with an all-conference team and then a look at the top five teams in the conference for this upcoming season.
To be clear about what this is: I’m trying to mimic how the coaches will vote, so I’m using previous awards as a guidepost. I do let my own biases come in, which will make sense when you read my writeup for POY. My all-conference team will be seven women: six players to match the number on the floor at any given time, with at least one setter and one middle blocker occupying that number, along with a libero. That’s how the sport is played, so we’re going to pick teams in that manner. I am 100% certain that the Big East is going to announce a preseason team of at least 12 women and it is going to be insane and I will hate it. This is me attempting to bring logic and order to the universe, and if you want to yell about it, that’s what the comments section at the bottom of the page is for.
I’m going with a top five because I don’t feel like picking the order of finish for all 11 programs in the conference.... and because only four teams will qualify for the conference tournament. I don’t really see the sense it divining who is #7 and who is #8 at that point, y’know?
Finally, I did my best to double check who is and is not returning to their team from last season. Some people [coughstjohnscough coughdepaulcough] have not put up 2022 rosters at this point of the year, which made it a little hard to confirm whether or not some all-conference performers are playing again this fall. The existence of COVID bonus years of eligibility as well as immediate eligibility for transfers makes that extra hard when I don’t get to see a roster, so we’ll just cross our fingers and hope that “we honored you on Senior Day last fall” is actually an accurate barometer of whether or not anyone is on a 2022 roster.
Okay, enough chitchat, let’s get into the picks!
Preseason Player of the Year: Norah Sis, Creighton
There is a very strong chance I’m wrong here. There’s a legitimate case to be made for Caylee Parker, the 5’11” super senior outside hitter from Connecticut. Same for Jaela Zimmerman, Sis’ teammate on the Bluejays, who is also returning for her fifth season of eligibility this fall. With the Big East Co-Players of the Year from last fall both not returning to their respective teams, we have to find a new POY, and quite simply, it’s very easy to look at the women who finished 3-4 in both kills and points per set last season and say it’s one of them. Parker was at 3.65 and 4.21 kills and points per set respectively, while Zimmerman was at 3.58 and 4.16 per set. You probably can’t go wrong voting for either one, although I would give an edge to Zimmerman here just because she’s the one on the (spoiler alert) best team in the league.
But that’s if you want to give the edge to someone who’s in their fifth year of eligibility and let seniority and experience dictate your vote. If you want to go with “who was great last year that’s back for this year,” then your vote goes to Norah Sis. The 6’2” hitter from Nebraska was Big East Freshman of the Year last fall and were it not for Taylor Wolf’s all-around play for Marquette and Rachele Rastelli carrying a not good St. John’s team after Efrosini Alexakou got hurt, you could have easily seen Sis end up as Big East Player of the Year at the end of 2021 as well. After all, she was a unanimous choice for the all-conference team, so it’s not like she was that far away from it. On top of all that, Sis is in fact the #1 returning player in both kills and points from last season, trailing only behind Rastelli at 3.75 kills and 4.34 points per set. If the coaches vote with a mindset of “we’ll let Sis have her turn later, she has time still,” then maybe this goes against her.
But it shouldn’t.
Preseason All-Big East Team
Kennadie Jake-Turner, Connecticut, MB
Caylee Parker, Connecticut, OH
Jaymeson Kinley, Butler, L
Jill Pressly, DePaul, OH
Norah Sis, Creighton, OH
Kendra Wait, Creighton, S
Jaela Zimmerman, Creighton, OH
You are, of course, unsurprised to see Sis here after I highlighted her in the last section, and the same goes for Parker and Zimmerman. If you were paying attention to how the voting went for last year’s all-conference team at the end of the season, you’re not surprised by any of these seven picks. There are, in fact, only eight women returning from last year’s completely insane 18 woman all-Big East team. Apologies go out to Xavier’s Carrigan O’Reilly because she’s the one who didn’t make the cut here. Sorry, but I’m only putting one setter on the list unless there’s really a reason to go in another direction, and I didn’t see it here. Kendra Wait is the obvious pick as one of just two women to average more than 10 assists a set last year and the only one of the two coming back for 2022.
Kinley was Libero of the Year at the end of last season after ending the campaign as the only player averaging more than 4.7 digs per set at 5.66 a frame. Easy choice there as the libero on this list of seven, and that brings us to the final two spots. Jake-Turner is the only returning middle blocker from last year’s five that were honored with an all-league nod, so obviously she has to be on the list. It doesn’t hurt that she’s the most accurate hitter returning from last season with a hitting percentage of .347, either. Pressly is the only other player on the 2021 all-league team returning, and given that she rounded out the top five in the Big East in kills last season at 3.21/set, it’s not like I had to think real hard about whether or not to include her here.
Projected Top Five Teams
Blah blah blah, Creighton good at volleyball, sun to rise in east, water to make things wet, film at 11, etc., you get the drill. On to more interesting items on this list.
You will notice that there is not a single Golden Eagle on that preseason all-Big East team. Justifiably so, as all three all-conference honorees on the MU roster last season were on bonus years of eligibility due to the NCAA’s COVID relief and the seven spots filled themselves easily with players that are returning this fall. The fact of the matter is, though, that the losses of Savannah Rennie, Hope Werch, and Taylor Wolf are just too much for me to even consider putting them in front of Connecticut when the Huskies have two of the seven players on that all-league team. We’ll dig into it more later in the month, but there’s just way too many question marks for the Golden Eagles heading into 2022 to say that they’re the obvious #2 team in the league behind Creighton as is normally the case.
But I also am enough of a homer to believe in head coach Ryan Theis to put them third.
For the sake of just being different from last year, I’m putting Butler in the fourth and final Big East tournament spot after the Bulldogs went 10-8 last year and missed the league tourney by two games behind DePaul, the team I’m putting in fifth. Both Butler and DePaul are losing some notable pieces from last year in Melody Davidson, the only unanimous choice at middle blocker on last year’s all-league team, for the Bulldogs and MB Donna Brown and RS Emma Price for the Blue Demons. However, it feels like DePaul’s losses are more impactful than Butler’s, so I’ll give the edge to the Bulldogs. In addition to that, the Blue Demons had a historically notable season in 2021, reaching the conference tournament for the first time since joining the Big East in 2005 and posting their best regular season record in 20 years. The general trend on things is that it’s unlikely that they get better or even repeat that, so I’ll hedge towards Butler in my predictions here.