Utah Valley University was picked to finish third in the 2014 Western Athletic Conference women's volleyball preseason coaches poll, and junior middle blocker Lauren Bakker was selected as the preseason Player of the Year. Fellow Wolverines — Kalani Norris and McKenna Tait — were also named to the preseason All-WAC team.
Defending regular season and tournament champion New Mexico State was tabbed to win the conference again in 2014 as it received six of the first-place votes with Seattle U earning the other two. The Aggies earned 48 total points, followed by Seattle U with 43. UVU was picked to finish third with 35 points, followed by Missouri-Kansas City in fourth with 27 points, just ahead of Bakersfield in fifth with 26 and Grand Canyon in sixth with 22 points. Texas-Pan American and Chicago State rounded out the poll with 16 and seven points, respectively.
"Third is where we ended last year so there is some room for us to prove otherwise," head coach Sam Atoa said. "Being considered to finish third is great, however, I think the girls will work hard towards accomplishing our goals. We've got some work to do but there are no guarantees and we feel like we've got just as much of a chance as anybody else (to win the league)."
The newly married Bakker (formerly Lauren Stringham) was tabbed the WAC Preseason Player of the Year after leading the league in blocks last season with a 1.57 per set average in conference-only play. She also finished second in the league in blocks for the entire season (1.33 per set average) and ranked 32nd nationally in the same category. The 2013 first team All-WAC selection recorded a .275 hitting percentage and a 2.59 kill per set average for the Wolverines last year. She also set single-season records for UVU in total blocks (156) and solo blocks (16).
Norris was named to the preseason All-WAC team after leading UVU in kills a season ago. The senior outside hitter tallied 333 kills, a 2.78 kill per set average and a .189 hitting percentage in 2013. She also finished second on the squad in service aces (20) and third in digs (234).
Tait, who was a first team All-WAC performer last season, led the league in service aces in 2013 with 55 (0.45 per set average) and also finished fourth in the WAC in digs in conference-only play (4.72 per set average). Her 55 aces were good enough to place the senior libero in a tie for first place in the UVU single-season record books, and after three seasons she has already become the program's all-time career ace leader with 143.
"This is a great honor for Lauren. It's well deserved for her as well as for Kalani and McKenna. It shows how much respect the coaches have for them. But it means nothing if they don't go and back it up on the court," Atoa said. "It's a great honor for sure, but I know that ending the season on top of the conference is what's most important to them and to the team."
With three players named preseason All-WAC, UVU tied NM State for the most of any WAC school. Seattle U, UMKC and Grand Canyon were next as each had two.
Last season, UVU finished tied for third in the league standings with an 11-5 conference record.
The 2014 volleyball season begins Friday, Aug. 29, with all eight WAC teams in tournament action. The Wolverines start their campaign by taking on the Kansas Jayhawks in Lawrence, Kansas, Friday morning. The 2014 WAC Tournament will be held Nov. 20-22, at the Icardo Center in Bakersfield, California, and will include the top six eligible teams in the regular-season standings.
2014 WAC Preseason Coaches' Poll
Rank, team (first-place votes), points
1. New Mexico State (6) 48
2. Seattle U (2) 43
3. Utah Valley 35
4. Missouri-Kansas City 27
5. Bakersfield 26
6. Grand Canyon 22
7. Texas-Pan American 16
8. Chicago State 7
2014 Preseason All-WAC Team
Player, year, position, school
Lauren Bakker, Jr., MB, Utah Valley
Sydney Crimmins, Jr., OH, UMKC
Shannon Dugan, Sr., OH, Grand Canyon
Haley Durham, Jr., MB, UTPA
Emma Hagedorn, Jr., MB, UMKC
Iris Ivanis, So., OH, Seattle U
Taylor Livoti, Jr., S, New Mexico State
Gwen Murphy, Jr., MH, New Mexico State
Bradley Nash, Jr., OH, New Mexico State
Kalani Norris, Sr., OH, Utah Valley
Molly O'Hagan, Sr., MB, Bakersfield
Mackenzie Phelps, Sr., L, Grand Canyon
Martina Samadan, Jr., M, Seattle U
McKenna Tait, Sr., L, Utah Valley
Preseason Player of the Year: Lauren Bakker, Utah Valley
James Warnick is an assistant sports information director at Utah Valley University. For more information about Wolverine athletics, visit WolverineGreen.com.