New Liberty League member Ithaca College claims top spot in volleyball poll

New Liberty League member Ithaca College claims top spot in volleyball poll

Before even playing a match as a member of the Liberty League, the Ithaca College women’s volleyball team has been selected as the 2017 preseason favorite in a vote of the league’s head coaches. The Bombers join the league as a full member after a 27-6 season, an Empire 8 championship and an NCAA tournament appearance in 2016.

The Bombers received five first-place votes and 46 points, taking the top spot by four over 2016 Liberty League champions Clarkson University. Both Clarkson and Ithaca have been recognized by the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) and are receiving votes in the first poll of the year. The Golden Knights collected 42 points and two first-place votes while league runner-up Vassar College was close behind with 41 points and a first-place vote. Union College was picked to finish fourth with 28 points and the Dutchwomen were followed by the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT, 25), Skidmore College (19), St. Lawrence University (16) and Bard College (7).

With the graduation of only one student-athlete, it comes as no surprise that the league coaches have high expectations for this year’s Ithaca squad. The Bombers wrapped up their last season in the Empire 8 with a 7-1 mark in conference play and a second consecutive Empire 8 championship. They also advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament. A familiar face to the Liberty League is behind Ithaca’s bench in Johan Dulfer. Dulfer, previously a head coach at Clarkson for ten years, returns to the league in his second season with the Bombers. Ithaca welcomes back all seven starters from a year ago, including the 2016 Empire 8 Player of the Year and AVCA All-America selection Joelle Goldstein. Goldstein boasted team-bests in kills (341) and service aces (48), while finishing the year second on the team in digs with 326. Libero Tara Stillwell pilots the defense as she paced the Bombers with 606 digs and she posted 37 service aces, good for second on the team. Amanda Cerruti (.249 hitting percentage) and Katie Evans (.254 hitting percentage) are also key returnees for Ithaca.

Clarkson posted an overall record of 22-15 (9-3 Liberty League) en route to capturing its fifth straight Liberty League title in 2016. The Golden Knights advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament. They should be in good shape this season with a core group of players, including five starters, from last season’s team back in Potsdam. Clarkson is headlined by All-Liberty League first team selection and All-America Rachael Aird. Aird was tops among league leaders in kills per set (4th, 3.60) and hitting percentage (5th, .290). She produced 504 kills on the season, second among all of Division III and became only the second player in program history to record more than 500 kills in a single season. She also chipped in defensively with a league-best 37 solo blocks. The freshman duo of Rachel Reusch and Kate Isaksen made an immediate impact for Clarkson last season. Reusch led the team with a .332 hitting percentage and ranked second in kills per set (2.28) in her rookie campaign. Isaksen anchored the defense at libero as she averaged a league-best 5.94 digs per set, ranking her among national leaders in Division III. Her average and total digs on the season (835) are both single season records at Clarkson. 

Vassar (21-10, 9-3 Liberty League) is coming off of one of its most successful seasons in program history as the Brewers returned to the league postseason for the first time since 2013. Vassar, the 2016 Liberty League regular season champions, advanced to the championship match before falling to Clarkson in four sets. With the graduation of only three and an incoming class of two, the Brewers should be a seasoned squad. Last year, the team paced the league in hitting percentage (.218), assists (11.55/set), kills (12.34/set) and service aces (2.43/set). The trio of Devan Gallagher, Annie MacMillan and Jane McLeod (All-Liberty League first team selections) all return for Vassar. McLeod, the 2017 Liberty League Rookie of the Year, was impressive in her first year as a Brewer. She was ranked second among league leaders with 3.65 kills per set and had one of the best hitting percentages (6th, .285). In 21 of the team’s 31 matches, McLeod posted double-digit kills. Gallagher and MacMillan were also key to the Brewers’ offense last season. Gallagher posted a .303 hitting percentage, good for second on the team and tops in the league. She also recorded 401 kills on the year, averaging 3.61 per set. MacMillan was ranked third (1162) and led the league in assists per set (10.02). Her assists per set average was third-most in a single season for the Brewers.

Union had another strong season wrapping up the year with an overall record of 21-11 and an 8-4 mark in league play. The Dutchwomen made their fourth straight Liberty League postseason appearance to close out 2016. They lost a strong senior class of six to graduation, including libero Katherine Moeller, outside hitter Ally VanDoren and setter Amanda Price. Union will be a young team with an incoming class of seven but the team will be anchored by Emma Sprotberry and Caroline Everts. Sprotbery, an outside hitter, was second on the team in kills (330) and kills per set (2.56) last season. Caroline Everts led the team in hitting percentage (.333) while appearing in all but two sets for the Dutchwomen in 2016. She also recorded 209 digs and averaged 1.63 digs per set. Bri Hallock also returns as libero for her senior season.

For the third consecutive season and fourth time in five years, RIT reached the Liberty League tournament in 2016. The Tigers went 21-18 overall and 8-4 against league opponents. This season, RIT will have some big shoes to fill with the departure of the 2016 Liberty League Player of the Year Sarah Szybist and Anna Valentine. Szybist led all of Division III in total kills (770) while ranking second and third in kills per set (5.07) and points per set (5.69) respectively. Valentine was also one of RIT’s top players with 260 kills, 132 assists and 294 digs. The Tigers do welcome back setter Erin Parkinson who will quarterback the team. She paced RIT with 1,258 assists and was third with 294 digs last year. She was among league leaders in assists per set (4th, 8.85) and had at least 30 assists in a match 24 times. She will be joined by Sarah Taylor, Liz Wunder and Becca Bennett. Taylor was third on the team in kills with 211 while Wunder was third with 202 kills and second with 66 blocks. Bennett will guide the defense at the libero position as she led the team and was ranked third in the league in digs (455), a year ago.

Skidmore returns with five starters after posting an overall record of 16-16 last season. With the loss of only two from a year ago, the Thoroughbreds will open 2017 with the bulk of its roster intact. The trio of Katy Ehnstrom, Bailey Hutchins and Caite Canfield will lead the team after garnering All-Liberty League honors in 2016. Ehnstrom made her presence known in her first year at Skidmore as she led the team with team-highs of .303 hitting percentage, 0.89 blocks per set and 3.17 points per set. She was second on the team in kills per set (2.63). Among league leaders, Ehnstrom was second for hitting percentage and third for blocks. Hutchins had 12 or more assists in 31 of 32 matches this season while pacing the team with 5.42 assists per set (645 total). Canfield led the team with 2.67 kills per set and was second in servie aces (34) and points per set (3.06).

St. Lawrence will be a veteran team coming into 2016 as all seven starters from last season return. The Saints went 14-19 overall but a year of experience should translate well on the court. The team’s returnees are highlighted by All-Liberty League selections Masha Kolesnikova and Amanda Teppo. Kolesnikova paced the team in numerous categories last season, she played in all 112 sets for the Saints while posting team-highs in kills (317) and aces (39). She was second on the team with 262 digs and 44 blocks from the outside hitter position. Amanda Teppo is also back for St. Lawrence and she will pilot the defense. She boasted a team-best 116 blocks, including 31 solo blocks. She recorded the third highest block total in a single season for the Saints. Katie Kull, Maddy Ruehl and Ally Good also return to the lineup for St. Lawrence.
 
Bard is also back with the majority of its lineup with the graduation of only one player. Key returnees for the Raptors include Alexis Akingbade, Emily Anastasi and Philippine Alba. Akingbade, a middle blocker, recorded 55 total blocks for the team lead and she was third in kills (166, 1.67/set) last season. She was the only player on Bard to participate in all 35 matches and all 121 sets. Anastasi is the team’s libero and in 2016, she was tops on the team in digs with 3.38 per set (324 total). Alba posted a team-best 45 service aces and was second on the team in digs with 304. Bard also welcomes back Sofia Koukia for her junior campaign after posting team-highs in kills (293), kills per set (2.66), points (347.5) and points per set (3.16). 

2017 Liberty League Volleyball Preseason Poll

Place. Team, Points (First Place Votes)
  1. Ithaca, 46 (5)
  2. Clarkson, 42 (2)
  3. Vassar, 41 (1)
  4. Union, 28
  5. RIT, 25
  6. Skidmore, 19
  7. St. Lawrence, 16
  8. Bard, 7
Coaches are not allowed to vote for their own teams
 

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