Ball State, Miami Tabbed To Win Volleyball Divisions

Updated 8/15/2000

CLEVELAND -- For the second consecutive year, Ball State and Miami have both been tabbed as the favorites to win their respective divisions of the 2000 volleyball season in the Mid-American Conference, in a vote of the league's head coaches.

The RedHawks have been selected to win the East Division each year since the MAC formed divisions in 1997, while the Cardinals are picked for the second time to claim the West Division title.

With six starters and 12 letterwinners returning from last season's NCAA Tournament team, Ball State has also been picked as the favorite to win the MAC Tournament. The Cardinals, who won 28 matches last year, received nine votes to win their sixth league championship, while Western Michigan was picked by three coaches to win the title and one coach tabbed Akron.

Ball State was a near unanimous choice to win the West Division, receiving 11 first-place votes and 89 of a possible 91 points. The defending league champions are attempting to repeat as tournament champions, a feat that hasnt been duplicated since the Cardinals claimed four straight championships from 1992-95.

Among those six starters are four who garnered all-conference honors last season, including 1999 MAC Player of the Year Emily Sallee. The senior setter led the league in assists with a MAC-record 1,863 helpers, and with 4,795 career assists is 1,000 shy of becoming the MACs all-time leader in that category.

In addition to returning the league's top setter, Ball State also has last year's kill leader back in junior Megan Hammons (549 kills in 1999) and two of the top blockers in the league, juniors Julie Zylka and Susie Meshberger. Zylka was second a year ago in blocks per game (1.26), while Meshberger was seventh (1.17) and also returns as the top hitter in the MAC (.384).

Hoping to deny Ball State its sixth regular season title is Western Michigan, which was a close second to the Cardinals in the West Division with two first-place tallies and 80 points.

The Broncos will search for the offensive arsenal to fill the void left by first-team all-conference choices Traci Morin and Mandy Whitfield, who accounted for 845 of the teams 1775 kills. WMU, which ventured to Europe this summer as did Ball State, returns honorable mention all-MAC setter Jen Nowak and Monyka Paul and Zakiya Pope, who combined for 500-plus kills last year.

A distant third in the West is Northern Illinois with 61 points. The Huskies, who were picked to finish second last season, return five starters but have to replace setter Ali Frasor. Offensively, the Huskies return senior Mandy Swick, who was second in the league in kills per game (4.53), and sophomore Tenisha Wilkins (274 kills).

Defensively, Northern Illinois returns Jen VonderHaar, the MAC Freshman of the Year last season. VonderHaar was fourth in the MAC in blocks per game (1.19) and also added 215 kills.

The play at the net was bolstered with the transfer of Sara Lein, who played for two seasons under current NIU coach Todd Kress. Lein, a junior middle blocker, was the Metro Atlantic Player of the Year in 1998 for Fairfield.

Only seven points behind the Huskies for fourth is Eastern Michigan. The Eagles, who were one of four teams to reach the 20-win plateau in 1999, are in a similar bind as Western Michigan in attempting to fill the void of losing its top offensive threat in Jill Hutton. Hutton, a second-team all-MAC choice last year, ranked in the top-seven in the league in three statistical categories.

Returning for EMU is outside hitter Sara Schaub, who led the Eagles in digs (411) and was second in kills (429), and junior setter Camila Olaio, one of the top all-around players in the MAC. Olaio, who was selected an honorable mention all-conference pick a year ago, led the league and was nationally ranked in service aces (65), dished out 1,300-plus assists and had 300-plus digs.

The race for the final two spots in the West Division is tight as five points separate Toledo (36 points) and Central Michigan (31).

The Rockets, who will be one of the youngest teams in the league with four juniors and six sophomores, improved their win total by five in 1999 and welcome back their top three offensive threats -- all sophomores. All-MAC Freshman team selection Jessica Buck paced the Rockets with a .266 hitting percentage and was second with 282 digs. In addition to Buck, Becky Radomski led UT as a rookie with 311 kills and was third in digs (221), while Bitsy Mayhle topped the Rockets in digs (276) and was third in kills (277).

Like Toledo, Central Michigan will be rich in sophomores with six and has the leadership with two seniors, Jennifer Mitchell and Jessica Rocho. Mitchell, who is a three-year starter entering her final season with the Chippewas, led the team in kills (350) and ranked in the top-15 in the MAC in both aces (33) and blocks per game (1.00). Rocho topped 1,100 assists as a junior and had a team-high 320 digs. Providing stablilty on the outside will be junior Kristin Tack and sophomore Jenny Young. The pair combined to tally 528 digs a year ago.

The top of the preseason poll in the East Division is a three-team log jam that is separated by five points from first to third.

With six first-place votes and 74 points, Miami is picked to win the East despite losing four starters from last year's team that finished 16-13. The respect and reputation commanded to head coach Carolyn Condit and her program is part of the reason why they were picked first, as Miami lost its setter and top-two hitters to graduation.

Returning for Miami is junior middle hitter Andrea Stone and junior outside hitters Lee Ann Karr and Mindy Clark. Stone was a force in the middle, averaging 0.90 blocks per game, and also had 252 kills and 245 digs, all of which were in the top-four on the team. Karr, meanwhile, is the teams leading returner in kills with 254 and posted 194 digs a year ago.

While a total of five points separate the top three spots in the East Division, only one point stands between Akron (70) and Kent State (69) for second and third, respectively.

Akron, last year's East champion with a 13-5 league record, has four starters and six letterwinners returning to this year's team that received three first-place votes. The big question facing head coach Mike Sweitzer is who will replace middle hitter Kim Branam and all-MAC setter Kim Schaper, who ended her career as the conference's No. 2 assist leader?

Senior Julie McDivitt highlights the Zips returnees. McDivitt, who has led the MAC in digs in each of the last two years, will likely become the leagues career leader in digs within the first couple weeks of the season. Along with her 582 digs in 1999, which tied a MAC single-season record, the second-team all-conference outside hitter also had 362 kills.

In addition to McDivitt, the Zips also return senior Ashley Lewis and sophomores Katie Kuzior and Jenn Snyder to the starting lineup. Lewis led the team with 46 aces and added 292 digs, while Kuzior and Snyder both garnered MAC all-freshman honors. UA will also have the services of 1998 MAC Freshman of the Year Ashlie Case and fellow sophomore Miranda Valentine back following season-ending injuries.

Kent State, which advanced to the semifinals of the MAC Tournament last year, is tabbed for third and returns five starters but lost two all-MAC performers to graduation -- Carrie Patterson and Kellie Nowak. Patterson led the Golden Flashes in kills (424) and was second in digs (407), while Nowak was third in kills (376) and blocks per game (0.59).

Senior outside hitter Carrie McEnery emerged as one of the MACs top kill producers for KSU, drilling 423 while leading the team in digs (410).

The Golden Flashes also return starters Stephanie Doran, Sarah Kutchinski and part-time starters Jen Dreyer and Shiva Davis. Doran was third in assists per game (12.85) last year and was also tied for fifth in aces per contest (0.36), while Kutchinski paced Kent State in blocks per game (0.89) in addition to recording 237 kills.

Bowling Green, the league's most improved team a year ago, and Marshall are both tied for fourth with 54 points. The Falcons, who went from 11 victories in 1998 to 21 last year, lost four starters including all-MAC choices Melissa Lewis (first team) and Lori Kemerer (second team). Lewis was one of the conferences most effective hitters with a .279 percentage to go with 527 kills (second in the MAC), while Kemerers 1.34 blocks per game led the league. Along with Lewis and Kemerer BGSU head coach Denise Van De Walle will also have to replace setter Heather Greig.

Senior JoAnna Papageorgiou will look to fill the void left behind by Kemerer in the middle, while senior Amber Vorst tries to plug the gap of Lewis and Kris Pesorda, who both graduated. Last year, Papageorgiou missed several matches due to injury but was still third on the team in blocks and fourth in kills.

Marshall, which has posted .500 records in each of its two seasons in the MAC, returns a veteran outside hitter in Wendy Williams and a pair of sophomores, Sara Boyles and Heidi Kuethe. Williams, who is one of the top defensive players in the conference, was one of only two players in the MAC to average four or more digs a game (4.28) -- Akrons Julie McDivitt was the other.

Both Boyles and Kuethe earned all-freshman honors in 1999. Boyles was second on the squad in 291 kills and blocks per game (0.85), while Kuethe paced the Herd and was 11th in the MAC in blocks (1.05).

Ohio and first-year head coach Mike Lessinger edged Buffalo by two points for sixth place in the East Division. The Bobcats, who received 23 points, will also be among the youngest and most inexperienced teams in the league. Their limited experience comes from a pair of senior outside hitters, Amber Merrill and Kris Whitfield. Merrill led the team in both kills (465) and blocks per game (1.04), while Whitfield tallied 213 kills and 215 digs, both of which were third on the team.

Buffalo, with 21 points, returns six letterwinners and four starters, including the team's leading offensive weapon in junior Keri Shiels. Shiels topped the Bulls with 367 kills (3.46 per game) and a .192 hitting percentage. Other top returnees for the Bulls include juniors Sasha Courbat, who led the team in blocks (0.86), Heather Barfuss, Amelia Liddle and Larissa LaCour, as well as sophomore Rebecca Ashare.

2000 Mid-American Conference Coaches Preseason Poll
East Division
1. Miami (6) 74
2. Akron (3) 70
3. Kent State (2) 69
4. Bowling Green (2) 54
Marshall 54
6. Ohio 23
7. Buffalo 20

West Division
1. Ball State (11) 89
2. Western Michigan (2) 80
3. Northern Illinois 61
4. Eastern Michigan 54
5. Toledo 36
6. Central Michigan 31

MAC Tournament Winner
Ball State 9
Western Michigan 3
Akron 1