RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. (HardingSports.com) – Coming off of an undefeated Great American Conference season and its first GAC Tournament title, Harding claimed the top spot in the 2013 GAC volleyball preseason coaches poll, the conference office announced on Thursday.
The Lady Bisons posted a 28-6 record last season and went 14-0 in GAC play. They swept Southeastern Oklahoma State in the quarterfinals of the GAC Tournament, outlasted Southwestern Oklahoma State in five sets in their semifinal contest and bested Arkansas Tech in a rematch of the 2011 final.
Harding's Mollie Arnold - the 2012 GAC Player of the Year, Tournament MVP and an Honorable Mention All-America – returns for her senior season. She led the conference and ranked in the top 20 in the nation in kills per set and points per set. Harding also brings back a pair of 2012 All-GAC Second-Team performers – senior middle blocker Alyssa Short and junior middle blocker Liv Savage.
The Golden Suns garnered four first-place votes and took second in the preseason poll. They shared second place in the regular season and went 27-10 – their eighth-straight 20-win season. A pair of All-GAC seniors will lead the way for Arkansas Tech in setter Amber Cerrillos and middle blocker Sara Motsinger. Motsinger, the leading returning hitter in the GAC, hit .308 in 2012 while Cerrillos ranked second in the GAC in both assists per set and service aces per set.
Southwestern Oklahoma State placed third in the poll, followed by Southern Nazarene and Southern Arkansas. Both the Lady Bulldogs and Muleriders advanced to the semifinals of the 2012 GAC Tournament while the Crimson Storm posted an 8-6 GAC in their first season in the conference. SAU won 23 games, their highest win total in the last 14 years. Under first-year head coach Josh Collins, the Lady Bulldogs recorded the program's first postseason victory. They return Second-Team All-GAC middle hitter Allison Cole. She led the team with 265 kills and 101 blocks.
East Central and Ouachita Baptist followed in the poll. Southeastern Oklahoma State and Arkansas-Monticello took eighth and ninth. The Savage Storm features the reigning GAC Freshman of the Year, Megan Kunkel, as well as Second-Team All-GAC performer Emily Gentle. Setter Madelynne Cera earned Honorable Mention for Southeastern.
Henderson State and Northwestern Oklahoma State shared 10th to round out the poll. The Rangers and the Crimson Storm remain ineligible for the postseason as they continue their transition to becoming full-fledged Division II members.