Eagles Tabbed Third in Big Sky Preseason Poll

With five returning starters, Eastern earns highest preseason ranking since 2009

In the newly expanded Big Sky Conference that now features 11 teams, Eastern Washington was tabbed as one of the top three heading into the 2012 campaign. In the Big Sky volleyball preseason poll, released Monday (Aug. 13) by the league office, EWU was picked third with 71 total points. Coaches were not allowed to vote for their own teams.

Eastern has not been recognized in the top three since 2009, when it earned a second-place preseason ranking. The Eagles were picked sixth in 2011 and fourth in 2010. But with five returning starters, including All-Big Sky first-team selection Cora Kellerman and second-team honoree Shelby Puckett, EWU is expected to be a major contender this year for the postseason.

With exception of an anomalous year in 2010, in which the Eagles did not make the playoffs, Eastern has finished among the top four in the regular-season and advanced to the semifinals of the BSC tourney 15 of the last 16 years. The Eagles have reached the championship match 10 times since becoming a member of Division I athletics, and advanced to the NCAA Championship four times.

The Eagles are coming off a 13-15 season that saw the team finish fourth in the Big Sky race with a 9-7 league record. As the No. 4 seed in the tournament, the Eagles were pitted against regular-season champion and eventual tournament champion Northern Colorado. The Bears defeated EWU in the semis, 3-0.

As expected, Northern Colorado was a near-unanimous pick to defend that title. The Bears garnered 99 total points in this year’s preseason poll, with nine of 10 possible first-place votes. Portland State was second with 88 points and one first-place tally, while newcomer North Dakota is right on the heels of EWU in fourth with 70 total points.

Although new to the league, North Dakota will obviously not be overlooked by the conference coaches. The three-time defending Great West Conference champion, which finished the 2011 season with a 26-5 overall record, garnered one first-place vote in this year’s Big Sky preseason poll.

The 2012 Eagle squad will debut to the public this Saturday (Aug. 18) with its annual Alumni scrimmage at 1 p.m. at Reese Court. The Eagles will then head to Laramie, Wyo., for their first official match on Aug. 24 against San Francisco as part of the UniWyo Wyoming Invitational. EWU will also face Seattle, Presbyterian and host-Wyoming at the season-opening tourney.

2012 Big Sky Preseason Coaches' Poll

School     Points (First-Place Votes)
1. Northern Colorado
    99 (9)
2. Portland State
    88 (1)
3. Eastern Washington
    71
4. North Dakota     70 (1)
5. Montana
    62
6. Sacramento State
    61
7. Idaho State
    48
8. Northern Arizona
    33
9. Southern Utah
    30
10. Weber State
    24
11. Montana State
    19
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