Penn State Debuts 2009 Atop AVCA Coaches Top 25 Poll
Defending back-to-back national champion Penn State University rings in the 2009 season as the preseason favorite in the AVCA Division I Coaches Top 25 Poll, as announced by the organization Tuesday afternoon. Despite losing 2008 AVCA National Player of the Year Nicole Fawcett and AVCA First-Team All-American Christa Harmotto from a campaign that churned out a perfect 38-0 record, PSU mentor Russ Rose and his Nittany Lions still return a solid core of five starters and 10 letterwinners, including senior setter Alisha Glass and senior outside hitter Megan Hodge, both of whom were also AVCA First-Team All-Americans a year ago. Factor in AVCA Second-Team All-America selections Blair Brown (rightside/opposite) and Arielle Wilson (middle blocker), and it's easy to see why PSU could take home its third trophy in as many seasons.
Coming in at No. 2 on the coaches' poll is 2008 NCAA Championship semifinalist The University of Texas, who played its way to a 29-4 record, a final ranking of No. 4 and a share of the Big 12 title a season ago. The Longhorns' roster, including 5 returning starters and its libero, is packed with talent from top-to-bottom and will be led by a pair of AVCA First-Team All-Americans in seniors Ashley Engle (setter/opposite) and Destinee Hooker (outside hitter). Also returning to floor general Jerritt Elliot's lineup is junior outside hitter Juliann Faucette, the 2007 AVCA National Freshman of the Year, in addition to sophomore setter Michelle Kocher, last year's Big 12 Freshman of the Year.
The University of Nebraska again finds itself among the county's top teams, as the Huskers have secured the No. 3 spot in the poll. Taskmaster John Cook welcomes a veteran corps to his sidelines after NU powered through last year with a 31-3 record, a share of the Big 12 Championship, an appearance in the NCAA semifinals and a final ranking of No. 3. Headlining the four starters and libero returning to the Huskers' lineup are junior AVCA Second-Team All-Americans Sydney Anderson (setter) and Tara Mueller (outside hitter). After being sidelined with an injury for part 2008, senior middle blocker Kori Cooper is back and looking to add some offensive firepower as well.
The University of Washington debuts the 2009 season as the No. 4 team in the country after turning in a 27-5 record, a No. 5 final national rank and landing a spot in the NCAA quarterfinals last season. Head coach Jim McLaughlin and the Huskies also welcome back five starters, in addition to their senior libero, AVCA Second-Team All-American Tamari Miyashiro. Leading the offensive charge for Washington will be junior setter Jenna Hagglund, an AVCA Third-Team All-America honoree a year ago, as well the outside hitter duo of senior Airial Salvo and junior Becky Perry.
Rounding out the preseason top-five is perennial power and last year's national runner-up, Stanford University, who ended the 2008 campaign with a 31-4 record, a Pac-10 championship and a final No. 2 rank in the AVCA poll. Veteran signal-caller John Dunning will return three starters and his libero to the court, including junior AVCA First-Team All-American Alix Klineman on the outside. Also back for another go-around is junior setter/outside hitter Cassidy Lichtman, an honorable mention All-Pac-10 selection in 2008, as well as senior middle blocker Janet Okogbaa and junior libero Gabi Ailes.
To view the 2009 AVCA Coaches Top 25 Preseason Poll, click here.