SNU Third, OBU Fourth In 2015 Preseason GAC Poll
Russellville, Ark. - After a season that culminated in a third Great American Conference Championship title, the GAC coaches voted Arkansas Tech as the preseason favorite for 2015, the conference office announced on Tuesday.
The Golden Suns received 11 of the 12 first-place votes. Coaches could not vote for their own teams. Harding received the final first-place vote. Tech returns Madison Nagel, the 2014 GAC Freshman of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and GAC Tournament MVP. She set GAC single-season records with 701 digs and 5.43 digs per set. The Golden Suns also return 2014 All-GAC selections Kaylee Konsella and Katie Huff. Both ranked in the top 10 in GAC in hitting percentage.
The Lady Bisons took second in the poll. Head coach Meredith Fear enters her fourth season with a 77-23 record at the helm. She must replace three All-GAC selections from last season, but will return Anna Leigh Cargile, who garnered Honorable Mention All-GAC honors after ranking in the top 10 in service aces and digs.
Southern Nazarene placed third following the preseason vote. In their first year eligible for the GAC Championships, the Crimson Storm advanced to the title game. Head coach Kevin Ingram lost 2014 GAC Player of the Year Taylor Jacobs and All-GAC setter Kaylee Piatt to graduation. SNU will return Abbey Bell; she ranked second to Nagel in digs per set.
GAC newcomer Oklahoma Baptist landed in the fourth position. The Bison join the GAC following a seven-year run in the NAIA that saw the program go 204-72 with four conference championships, all under head coach Anna Howle.
Off of an 18-14 season under then-first-year head coach Brianna Barry, Southeastern Oklahoma State turned in its best season in the GAC. This season, the Savage Storm will enter ranked fifth in the preseason poll, two points ahead of Ouachita Baptist. They return Julia Benford, a Second-Team All-GAC selection. She ranked third in the GAC in hitting percentage. Ouachita Baptist returns a pair of All-GAC selections - Abby Pickett and Ashley Wake. Wake ranked third in the conference in digs.
Northwestern Oklahoma State landed at seventh in the poll. The Rangers gained eligibility to the GAC and NCAA postseason for this season following a successful completion of the three-year transition from the NAIA to Division II. Fredrick Wagner takes over as the Ranger head coach. He inherits two of the top offensive players in the league - Asia Pipkin and Ashanti Banks. Both ranked in the top 10 in kills and points per set.
Southern Arkansas took eighth followed by Southwestern Oklahoma State and East Central. The 2015 Lady Muleriders feature the reigning GAC Newcomer of the Year, Taylor Reaume. She ranked third in the GAC in assists. SWOSU returns Carly Zak, a two-time All-GAC performer. She ranked fifth in the GAC with 315 kills. ECU brings back two All-GAC selections, Hayley Gerken and Sarah Simpson.
Arkansas-Monticello and Henderson State rounded out the poll. Both the Blossoms and Reddies witnessed coaching changes. Peter Cruz resigned at UAM after three seasons. The Blossoms brought in Kelly Burdeau who led a turnaround effort at Brevard College. The Reddies saw long-time head coach Rhonda Thigpen retire after 25 years and 482 victories. HSU hired former UCLA Bruin All-American Kristee Porter in December.
The 2015 season opens on the weekend of September 3. Tech, Harding and UAM will head to Denton, Texas for the Hilton Garden Inn Classic, hosted by Texas Woman’s. ECU and Oklahoma Baptist will participate in the Shark Invitational, hosted by Nova Southeastern. SNU and SWOSU will travel to Austin, Texas for the Hilltopper Classic, hosted by St. Edward’s. Ouachita Baptist and SAU will play in the Huntsville Marriott UAH Classic. Henderson State will open at the Maryville Invitational; Northwestern Oklahoma State ventures west for the Aggies Challenge Tournament, hosted by Oklahoma Panhandle State. Southeastern Oklahoma State sojourns south for the Rollins Invitational.