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Eagles edge Cougars in UMAC volleyball preseason poll

ST. PAUL – The University of Northwestern was named the 2014 Upper Midwest Athletic Conference (UMAC) volleyball preseason favorite, it was announced Thursday, Aug. 21. The Eagles claimed four first place votes and 46 points in the annual coaches' poll while the University of Minnesota Morris finished just two points behind in second place. The Cougars grabbed three first place votes and a total of 44 points. The College of St. Scholastica, who finished third in the poll, tallied one first place vote and 38 points.

2014 UMAC Volleyball Coaches' Poll

1. 46 Points – University of Northwestern (4 First Place Votes)

2. 44 Points – University of Minnesota Morris (3)

3. 38 Points – College of St. Scholastica (1)

4. 32 Points – Martin Luther College

5. 25 Points – Bethany Lutheran College

6. 16 Points – Northland College

7. 12 Points – North Central University

8. 11 Points – Crown College

1. University of Northwestern Eagles

2013 Overall Record: 23-13

2013 UMAC Record: 13-1

2013 UMAC Finish: T-1st

Starters Returning: 4

Starters Lost: 3

It won't be easy, but Northwestern seeks to repeat as UMAC champions in 2014, mirroring its performance from each of the last three years when the Eagles grabbed at least a share of the conference trophy. Head coach Beth Wilmeth has some gaps to fill to get to that point, including graduated all-conference performers Krista Stoltz (2013 UMAC Player of the Year) and Lexi Bertsch.

Cari Miller is UNW's top threat, both on offense and defense. Miller, a 2013 UMAC All-Conference First Team selection, finished among the nation's top 25 in blocks per set (1.25) while leading the Eagles with a 2.59 kills per set average. Miller has three years of varsity experience under her belt, which will be important with the possibility of several newcomers seeing significant court time. Faith Vander Galien, a fellow middle blocker, also returns alongside Miller. Vander Galien earned honorable mention all-conference honors after averaging 2.21 kills per set and a .361 hitting percentage in 2013.

The departure of Kendra Korporal, who was the 2012 American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Central Region Freshman of the Year, means Northwestern has an opening in its starting outside hitter spot. Junior Lydia Palkert will get a good look, as will some rookies including Jackie Foster, an all-state player from Charles City, Iowa. Wilmeth is also excited to welcome a large freshman class with names such as Lindsey Peterson and Abby Vander Galien. Peterson amassed more than 1,000 kills, digs, and assists at Sheffield High School (Iowa) while Vander Galien – sister to Faith – was a part of Southwest Christian's (Minn.) MSHSL Class A championship in 2013.

2. University of Minnesota Morris Cougars

2013 Overall Record: 23-12

2013 UMAC Record: 13-1

2013 UMAC Finish: T-1st

Starters Returning: 3

Starters Lost: 4

Minnesota Morris, who earned a Co-UMAC Championship last season after going 13-1 in conference play, will look to repeat with a slightly rebuilt roster in 2014.

The Cougars return All-UMAC players outside hitter Emily Auch and middle blocker Abby Tietz. Auch averaged 2.83 kills per set and 2.37 digs per set during the 2013 season while Tietz added 3.10 kills per set. Auch and Tietz will also be joined by returners Brooke Decker, Kayley Siekmann, Addie Vancura and Cori Becker all who played integral roles last season.

A group of new players combined with a core group of returners from the 2013 roster will add depth as coach Chad Braegelmann and the Cougars challenge for a conference title once again in 2014.

3. College of St. Scholastica Saints

2013 Overall Record: 13-16

2013 UMAC Record: 8-6

2013 UMAC Finish: 4th

Starters Returning: 5

Starters Lost: 1

For the first time under head coach Dana Moore, the St. Scholastica volleyball team did not finish in the top three of the conference standings in 2013. The Saints placed fourth overall and saw its season end with a UMAC Tournament semifinal loss at Northwestern.

The 2014 team returns just about everyone from last year's squad with the exception of right-side hitter Kayla Horbacz. Junior first team All-UMAC selection Kortney Morrin leads the Saints this season. Morrin led the Saints with 338 kills and 321 digs last season. She finished second in the league with 3.35 kills per set and was fifth with 373 points. Morrin finished with 11 double-doubles, including three in the final four matches of the year. Also returning are honorable mention All-UMAC choices Erika Birkeland and Danielle Benusa. At setter, Birkeland was third in the UMAC with 7.14 assists per set. She finished with 604 assists, which was fourth-best in the league. At libero, Benusa was fourth in the UMAC averaging 3.99 digs per set. Her 4.32 digs per set in league games was third-best in the conference.

Coach Moore will also look for her sophomore class to make more of an impact this season. Newcomers Amanda Belden (outside hitter) and Christaia Houser (middle blocker) should also see plenty of playing time early this season.

4. Martin Luther College Knights

2013 Overall Record: 17-12

2013 UMAC Record: 10-4

2013 UMAC Finish: 3rd

Starters Returning: 5

Starters Lost: 4

The 2014 Martin Luther volleyball team hopes will have a mix of experience and youth this season as it looks to build on last season's third place finish in the UMAC.

The Knights must replace several First Team All-UMAC performers on the attack, but return several players with significant experience, led by 2013 First Team All-UMAC selection Miranda Maasz at setter. Maasz finished last season with 10.14 assists per set, 37 aces, 2.36 digs per set, and 0.35 blocks per set on the way to three UMAC Setter of the Week awards. She also became just the second player in program history with at least 3,000 career assists. Senior Kayla Schoeneck returns after averaging 2.06 kills per set last season, while Sara Willems and Morgan Kumbier return with experience on the right side and in the middle, respectively. The Knights are also hoping for some impact from several potential newcomers to the program up front.

MacCartney Mendolla returns to help lead a back row that will feature a new libero this season. Sophomore Emily Neeb saw some action last season and could see time at libero this season, while several newcomers could also compete for playing time during the season.

5. Bethany Lutheran College Vikings

2013 Overall Record: 7-20

2013 UMAC Record: 6-8

2013 UMAC Finish: 5th

Starters Returning: 7

Starters Lost: 3

John Olmanson returns for his second season at the helm of the Bethany volleyball program as the Vikings set aim for their first winning conference season since 2008.

A core of six seniors, all of whom saw considerable playing time a year ago, will look to be the catalysts for a successful 2014 campaign. Among them are libero Jessi Jurries who finished third in the UMAC in digs per set last season with 4.09 and setter Emily Franzen who tallied nearly four assists a set. A pair of big blockers return to the middle hitter position. Senior Katie Krieger and sophomore Kristen Mielke combined for 141 total blocks. Krieger was second in the conference in blocks per set while Mielke was fourth.

The Vikings lose two of their top three attackers, but seniors Amanna Berthusen and Caitlin Decker look to pick up the slack in that category. Depth looks to be another strong point as Bethany welcomes ten newcomers to the program.

6. Northland College LumberJills

2013 Overall Record: 3-25

2013 UMAC Record: 1-13

2013 UMAC Finish: T-7th

Starters Returning: 5

Starters Lost: 1

Northland is gearing up for another exciting volleyball season and is motivated to improve upon the talents of its young team. In losing one key player to graduation (Tayler Viegut, MB, Captain) and returning four players, Coach Kim Falkenhagen realizes that the incoming players will play a pivotal role as there will be no seniors on the team and over half of the roster will be freshmen.

Key returners to the 2014 squad are junior middle blocker Cassie Baumgarten, junior setter Kelsey Bodart, junior defensive specialist Alison Blackford, and sophomore defensive specialist Kasey Arts. Falkenhagen is excited about the returning nucleus of the program as they bring not only knowledge and an understanding of the game, but a great leadership and team dynamic.

The new faces on this year's roster will be Chelsea LeBoutillier (MB, Yucca Valley, Calif.), Lane Schraufnagel (OH, Two Harbors, Minn.), Camille Eastburn (OH/MB, Cedar Rapids, Iowa), Ellie Zimmer (OH, Birchwood, Wis.), and Cheyenne Tinsley (OH, South Milwaukee, Wis.). Falkenhagen is looking to the combination of returners and newcomers to positively and immediately contribute to the program's success.

7. North Central University Rams

2013 Overall Record: 6-28

2013 UMAC Record: 1-13

2013 UMAC Finish: T-7th

Starters Returning: 2

Starters Lost: 4

North Central will have a small but experienced returning core of players surrounded by an improved depth of first year and freshman athletes. Key returners include sophomore Elissa Pheneger who was fourth in the UMAC in assists per set last season. On the attacking side Junior Karlee Cox showed tremendous improvement late in the fall last season and through non-traditional workouts in the spring after standing third on the team in kills and attack percentage in 2013. Junior Whitney Reames will be a valuable asset as a utility player looking to lead the Rams defense.

New additions for North Central this fall include a solid collection of attacking players including outside hitter Karlee Huber, a transfer from Dakota Wesleyan University, and middle blocker Sarah Mattes a transfer from UW-Barron County. At libero the Rams will add Josephine Anderson from Concordia Academy (Roseville, Minn.).

Coach Stephanie Schmidt will return for her third season at the helm of the Rams Volleyball program and will be assisted by Mariah Simonson, a three year standout for the Rams and a 2013 North Central graduate.

8. Crown College Storm

2013 Overall Record: 5-26

2013 UMAC Record: 4-10

2013 UMAC Finish: 6th

Starters Returning: 4

Starters Lost: 2

Crown Volleyball turns another new page this year as Danielle Hall takes over as the head coach of the program. Hall was a three-sport athlete at Crown College and has served in the department for three years prior to taking over the volleyball program. Hall will be the first full-time coach of the program since 2010.

The team loses its two biggest offensive threats in UMAC Freshman of the Year Da'Neisha Patterson and graduating senior Shelby Morimoto. Katie Herrmann is the lone returner to record more than one kill per set a year ago. Brittany Gamer improved greatly at the end of last season and will look to continue that trend as a junior, while Taylor Urcuyo spent the latter half of the season as the team's libero and led the squad in digs.

Newcomers Miranda Brueggeman, Alexis Johnson, and Kelsey Roschen will look to make an impact right away and should bolster Crown's defense, but the big question will be where Crown will find its attacking strength.

UMAC teams will kick off their season starting Friday, Aug. 29 with the conference portion of the schedule beginning on Sept. 19. An automatic berth to the NCAA Championships will be on the line again for the winner of the UMAC Volleyball Tournament.

Brooke Kern

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