SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- The Sacramento State volleyball team was selected to finish eighth among 12 teams in the Big Sky Conference's preseason coaches poll today.
Previously an 11-member league, the Big Sky will expand to 12 teams this year with the addition of the University of Idaho. The league will now split into a pair of six-team divisions. Teams will play other teams in their own division twice, and every team in the other division once (three at home, three on the road).
The top eight teams with the best conference records regardless of division will qualify for the Big Sky's postseason tournament. In years past, only six teams qualified. The tournament host and No. 1 seed will go to the team with the best conference record while the No. 2 seed will be the first-place team from the other division.
In the South Division, Sacramento State will join Idaho State, Northern Arizona, Portland State, Southern Utah and Weber State. The North Division will be comprised of Eastern Washington, Idaho, Montana, Montana State, North Dakota and Northern Colorado.
Idaho State and Northern Arizona were selected as preseason co-favorites in the poll as both teams garnered 108 points and four first-place votes. They were followed by Idaho (95 points, two first-place votes), North Dakota (92 points, two first-place votes), Northern Colorado (86), Portland State (84), Eastern Washington (60), Sacramento State (49), Montana (35), Montana State (33), Weber State (26) and Southern Utah (16).
North Dakota and Portland State were co-regular season champions last season while Idaho State won the Big Sky Tournament and earned the league's automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament.
Sacramento State finished the 2013 season with a 15-16 overall record and a 10-10 conference mark. The Hornets tied for sixth place with Northern Colorado in the final league standings, and the Bears earned the tiebreaker to grab the sixth and final spot into the Big Sky Tournament.
Sacramento State returns six players, including three starters, from last season's team. Among those returners are the potent outside hitter combination of junior Sloan Lovett and sophomore Morgan Stanley. Lovett led the Hornets in kills (361), kills per set (3.25), attempts (936), points (407.5), and points per set (3.67) last season while Stanley was tied for second on the squad in kills (313), and third in digs (227), aces (27) and total points (362.0).
Sophomore middle blocker Courtney Dietrich returns after a freshman season in which she started 25 matches and finished with averages of 1.40 kills and 0.80 blocks per set. Also returning are junior outside hitter Lauren Aikels (1.58 kps), sophomore middle blocker Kendall LaVine (0.62 bps) and sophomore defensive specialist Lexie Skalbeck (1.52 dps).
Sacramento State, which began practicing last Saturday, opens the season in Charlotte for a two-day, four-match tournament on Aug. 29-30.
Team - Points (First Place Votes)
T1. Idaho State - 108 (4)
T1. Northern Arizona - 108 (4)
3. Idaho - 95 (2)
4. North Dakota - 92 (2)
5. Northern Colorado - 86
6. Portland State - 84
7. Eastern Washington - 60
8. Sacramento State - 49
9. Montana - 35
10. Montana State - 33
11. Weber State - 26
12. Southern Utah - 16