ELMHURST, Ill. – Backed by all starters returning to its lineup, the Oral Roberts volleyball team was picked to finish third in the 2017 Summit League Preseason Poll announced Thursday. For the fourth-consecutive season, the league coaches pegged the Denver Pioneers as the 2017 #SummitVB preseason favorites.
The three-time defending regular season and tournament champs garnered 47 total points and a league-best five first-place votes. Hot on the Pioneers' trail, though, is 2016 co-regular season champ and tournament runner-up South Dakota. The Coyotes registered 45 points and the most first-place votes (3) of any team outside of Denver since the 2014 preseason poll.
Oral Roberts slides into the No. 3 position with 35 points, while Fort Wayne, who ranked seventh in this poll a season ago, moves into the No. 4 slot with 33 points. Omaha and North Dakota State (22 points each) tied for fifth, while South Dakota State (No. 7 – 12 points) and Western Illinois (No. 8 – 8 points) round out the rankings.
2017 Summit League Volleyball Preseason Coaches' Poll
Rank School Points (1st) 2016 Record (League Play)
1. Denver 47 (5) 23-9 (13-3)
2. South Dakota 45 (3) 25-7 (13-3)
3. Oral Roberts 35 17-15 (8-8)
4. Fort Wayne 33 13-18 (9-7)
T5. Omaha 22 8-22 (5-11)
T5. North Dakota State 22 14-18 (11-5)
7. South Dakota State 12 5-23 (4-12)
8. Western Illinois 8 4-28 (1-15)
#SummitVB Preseason Notes
- Denver recorded a .264 hitting percentage in 2016, which is the seventh-best single-season mark in Summit League history.
- The Pioneers—who have won 13 league games each of the last three seasons—ranked No. 1 in total blocks last year (283) and welcome back 2016 league leader Emma Willis (131). Also returning to the Denver lineup is senior outside hitter Kayla Principato (two-time All-Summit Team) and senior libero/defensive specialist Cassidy Rooke (2016 All-Tournament Team).
- The two-time defending Setter of the Year and 2016 league leader in assists (1,206) and assists/set (11.06) Brittany Jessen leads the Coyotes into the 2017 campaign targeting the all-time league assists record (1,250 assists away).
- Under reigning Coach of the Year Leanne Williamson, South Dakota looks to build off a 2016 campaign in which it won its first Summit League regular season title and set program records in total victories (25) and league wins (13) since transitioning to the Division I level.
- Last year, Oral Roberts advanced to the semi-finals of the league tournament for the first time since 2011. The Golden Eagles have won the most regular season titles (7) and tournament championships (7) in Summit League history, with both last coming in 2006.
- Senior Laura Milos—who currently ranks No. 4 on the all-time kills list with 1,716—set the single-season league record in kills (631) and kills/set (5.79) in 2016, while also leading the NCAA in service aces (81) and service aces/set (0.74).
- Fort Wayne led the league in kills last season (1,603) and the team's top threat, junior Nicole Rightnowar, is back for another season. Rightnowar, an All-Summit first teamer in 2016 and the 2015 Freshman of the Year, tallied 396 kills a year ago—good enough for third-best league wide.
- A year removed from The Summit League championship game, Omaha looks to recapture the magic of two seasons ago behind 2015 Coach of the Year Rose Shires and senior setter Sydney O'Shaughnessy (3,188 career assists – third most among active league setters).
- North Dakota State returns the reigning Defensive Player of the Year Mikaela Purnell (4.30 digs/set career average – No. 10 all-time) and a member of last year's All-Freshman Team Alex Erickson.
- Makenzie Hennen of South Dakota State (2016 All-Freshman Team) is back for her sophomore campaign. Hennen ranked second on the team last season in kills (228).
- Western Illinois comes into 2017 with its top three kill leaders still on the roster: Shalyn Greenhaw (291), Melanie Patenaude (195) and Lexi Kolschefski (118).
#SummitVB Schedule Notes
- The 2017 season gets underway on Friday, August 25, with all eight teams in action.
- The Summit League will face 14 teams from Power-Five conferences during the non-league schedule from August 25 to September 21.
- One of the most exciting days of the non-league season will be Thursday, September 7, when Denver takes on No. 4 Minnesota at 9 a.m. CT and then battles No. 1 Texas at 6 p.m. CT at the American Campus Classic in Austin.
- In total, The Summit League will play seven matches against current top-25 teams, per the AVCA Preseason Poll.
- Omaha hosts 2015 NCAA National Champion Nebraska on Saturday, September 16. Oral Roberts will face the same Huskers team on Friday, September 1, in Lincoln.
- League play will begin Friday, September 22, with three matches scheduled.
- Both the Pioneers and Coyotes went undefeated at home during league play in 2016. In fact, over the past four seasons, Denver holds a 53-8 (.869) record while South Dakota has logged a 38-9 (.809) mark on their respective home courts.
- A rematch of the 2016 championship game will take place in Denver, Colo., on Sunday, October 15, and again on Friday, November 10, in Vermillion, S.D.
- Fort Wayne was the only team in the league to beat Denver and South Dakota last season, both of which were three set sweeps. On their home court, the Mastodons will face off against the Yotes on Friday, September 29, and the Pioneers on Saturday, October 21.
- The 2017 Summit League Tournament is scheduled to start Friday, November 17, with two quarterfinal matches. Semifinal bouts will continue on Saturday and the weekend will wrap up on Sunday with the championship game. The top-six regular season finishers will head to Denver for the tournament.
#SummitVB Players to Watch List
Claire Grove | Outside Hitter | Western Illinois
- Played in all 31 matches in 2016, starting 20
- Logged 291 kills and 2.97/set
- Recorded double-doubles against Oakland and South Dakota State
Brittany Jessen | Setter | South Dakota
- Defending two-time Summit League Setter of the Year
- Three-time All-Summit First Team
- Led league in assists (1,206) and assists/set (11.06) in 2016
Becca Latham | Outside Hitter | Denver
- Appeared in all 32 matches and 116 sets in 2016
- Ranked fourth on team in kills (210) and blocks (56)
- 2015 All-Freshman Team
Elizabeth Loschen | Outside Hitter | South Dakota
- 2016 Summit League Freshman of the Year
- Led all league freshman with 252 kills in 2016
- Recorded double-digit kills in eight of 18 league matches
Laura Milos | Outside Hitter | Oral Roberts
- 2016 NCAA DI leader in service aces (81) and service aces/set (0.74)
- Summit League single-season record holder in kills (631 – 2016)
- Ranked No. 1 in Summit League history with 5.06 kills/set
Sydney O'Shaughnessy | Setter | Omaha
- Led team and ranked second in the league with 1,087 assists in 2016
- 2015 All-Summit First Team
- Led Summit League in assists in 2015 (1,271)
Mikaela Purnell | Outside Hitter/Defensive Specialist | North Dakota State
- 2016 Summit League Defensive Player of the Year
- Three-time Summit League Defensive Player of the Week in 2016
- Led Summit League with 5.70 digs/set in 2016
Nicole Rightnowar | Outside Hitter | Fort Wayne
- 2016 All-Summit First Team
- Led team and ranked third in the league with 396 kills in 2016
- 2015 Summit League Freshman of the Year
Ashlynn Smith | Outside Hitter | South Dakota State
- 2016 All-Freshman Team
- Second on the team in hitting percentage in 2016 (.224)
- Started all 28 matches
Note: Players to Watch selected by league's head coaches
ABOUT THE SUMMIT LEAGUE
Through 35 years of Division I athletics, The Summit League offers 19 championship sports and has a combined enrollment of nearly 100,000 at eight institutions, including three located in top 60 U.S. metro populations and two land-grant universities. Member institutions include: Denver (University of Denver), Fort Wayne (Indiana University-Purdue University-Fort Wayne), North Dakota State University, Omaha (University of Nebraska Omaha), Oral Roberts University, the University of South Dakota, South Dakota State University and Western Illinois University with the University of North Dakota becoming an official member on July 1, 2018. Previously known as the Mid-Continent Conference, The Summit League rebranded in 2007 and has since produced nine NCAA Champions along with over 90 Academic All-Americans, nearly 100 All-America selections and numerous former student-athletes competing at the highest professional level. For more information about the league, visit www.thesummitleague.org website, follow The Summit League on Twitter @thesummitleague.
For the latest information on ORU volleyball, follow the Golden Eagles on Facebook and Instagram or go to www.ORUAthletics.com. Fans can also receive updates on the team by downloading two mobile apps, ORU Golden Eagles Live and ORU Front Row, available on the App Store and Google Play.