NEW ORLEANS - FIU and New Orleans top their respective divisions in the 2009 Sun Belt Conference Preseason Poll, while for the second-straight year FIU's Yarimar Rosa and Denver's Kacie Wikierak headline the Preseason All-Sun Belt Conference Team, as voted on by the league's 13 head coaches.
FIU, garnering 72 points, including seven first-place nods, made only the program's second appearance in the NCAA Tournament last season, earning an at-large berth after clinching the East Division title outright for the first time in school history and capturing the top seed in the 2008 Sun Belt Conference Tournament. Coach of the Year Danijela Tomic's squad also set a FIU record for attendance and registered the program's longest winning streak (12 matches). The Golden Panthers will return six starters, among 10 letterwinners, including four all-conference selections and a pair of 2009 Preseason picks in Rosa and Olga Vergun.
New Orleans, the runner-ups in last year's SBC tournament, received 87 points and 10 of 13 first-place votes to snap Denver's four-year reign of being selected as division winners. In claiming the top spot, the Privateer volleyball team earned their place in the record books, becoming the first UNO women's program in school history to ever be picked first in a SBC preseason poll. Led by preseason All-SBC selection Lindsey Loyd, head coach Jozsef Forman's team returns five starters, among seven letterwinners. Loyd ranked 55th in the nation last season with 3.74 kills per set and enters the season eight kills shy of joining the exclusive 1,000 career kill club.
Following FIU in the East Division is a pair of 2008 NCAA Tournament participants in Middle Tennessee and WKU, who earned 67 and 56 points, respectively. The Blue Raiders also picked up five first-place votes, while the Lady Toppers received one. FIU, along with Middle Tennessee and WKU, gave the Sun Belt Conference its first three-team appearance in league history in the NCAA Tournament.
Rounding out the East is South Alabama (33 points), Florida Atlantic (23 points) and Troy (22 points).
Denver captured 80 points and the three remaining first-place votes to claim the runner-up spot behind New Orleans in the West Division. The Pioneers are followed by UALR (57 points), Arkansas State (51 points), Louisiana (38 points), North Texas (36 points) and ULM (15 points).
Rosa, the 2008 Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year, led the nation in kills throughout the 2008 campaign, recording 657 kills for a 5.21 per set average, while adding 81 total blocks and 36 service aces. Rosa was named league Player of the Week five times last season - bringing her career total up to 10 citations - the most all-time in the history of the conference. During the final week of the regular season, she also garnered CVU.com National Player of the Week honors. The three-time All-American also set the FIU record for career kills and the record for most kills in a three-set match (26).
Wikierak, the 2007 Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Year, played in all 113 sets for the Pioneers last year, while leading Denver and ranking fourth in the league with her 445 digs, for a 3.94 per game average. The Crystal Lake, Illinois native also registered 67 assists and 29 service aces. Moreover, Wikierak tops the DU record books with her career 4.62 digs per set average.
In addition to Rosa, seven other players were named to the Preseason All-Sun Belt Conference Volleyball team, including fellow Golden Panther Olga Vergun. Vergun, a two-time All-Conference selection, will return to the FIU line-up this season after missing 2008.
Middle Tennessee placed two on the squad in All-American Leslie Clark and All-Conference pick Izabela Kozon. Clark, the Blue Raiders' veteran setter, moved into first on the all-time career assists list after recording more than 1,500 assists last year. She has now amassed 4,354 and is just the second Blue Raider in history to reach the 4,000 mark in a career.
UALR's Anita Bucur, Arkansas State's Cayla Fielder and WKU's Aquila Orr rounded out the eight-player squad.
Bucur, a 2008 All-SBC second team selection, led the Trojans attack percentage (.345), while recording 364 kills, 90 digs and 61 total blocks.
Fielder, the 2008 SBC Freshman of the Year, led ASU during the regular season with 92 blocks and finished second on the team with 291 kills, averaging 2.60 per set. She finished the season fourth in the Sun Belt and 36th nationally with a hitting percentage of .356. Fielder was the nation's hitting percentage leader among freshman for much of the 2008 season.
Despite missing part of the 2008 campaign due to injury, Orr finished the season 261 kills, 31 blocks and a .264 hitting percentage. She was fourth on the WKU squad in kills and posted double-digit kills in 14 matches.
PRESEASON VOLLEYBALL POLL
1. FIU - 72 points (7 first-place votes)
2. Middle Tennessee - 67 points (5 first-place votes)
3. WKU - 56 points (1 first-place vote)
4. South Alabama - 33 points
5. Florida Atlantic - 23 points
6. Troy - 22 points
1. New Orleans - 87 points (10 first-place votes)
2. Denver - 80 points (3 first-place votes)
3. UALR - 57 points
4. Arkansas State - 51 points
5. Louisiana - 38 points
6. North Texas - 36 points
7. ULM - 15 points
PRESEASON ALL-SUN BELT CONFERENCE VOLLEYBALL TEAM
Anita Bucur - UALR
Cayla Fielder - Arkansas State
Yarimar Rosa - FIU
Olga Vergun - FIU
Leslie Clark - Middle Tennessee
Izabela Kozon - Middle Tennessee
Lindsey Loyd - New Orleans
Aquila Orr - WKU
Preseason Defensive Player of the Year > Kacie Wikierak - Denver
Preseason Player of the Year > Yarimar Rosa - FIU