AMES, Iowa – The Iowa State volleyball team was picked to finish fourth in the 2017 Big 12 Preseason Volleyball Poll, released Thursday. This marks the ninth-consecutive season that the Cyclones have been picked to finish among the conference’s top-four squads prior to the start of the season.
Iowa State is coming off its 11th-consecutive NCAA Volleyball Championship appearance in 2016, finishing with a 18-11 record overall, and third in the Big 12 with an 10-5 conference mark. The Cyclones return nine letterwinners from last season’s team, led by 2016 AVCA Honorable Mention All-American Jess Schaben.
The Big 12 title race is shaping up to be competitive once again. For the seventh-straight season, Texas has been chosen by the league’s coaches to win the Big 12, but it is not the defending champions. Kansas took the league crown last season, and are picked to finish second. The Longhorns got six first-place votes, while the Jayhawks took three.
Despite conceding the conference crown, Texas made it all the way to the NCAA Volleyball Championship match in 2016. The Longhorns bring back a loaded group of hitters, led by All-Americans Ebony Nwanebu, Chiaka Ogbogu and Micaya White. Joining them up front are the top two recruits in the Class of 2017 in outside hitter Lexi Sun and middle blocker Brionne Butler. No. 4 2017 recruit Ashley Shook will be looking to take the starting setting job in place of the graduated Chloe Collins.
The Jayhawks bring a senior-heavy squad to the court in 2017. Ray Bechard’s Jayhawks return a trio of All-Americans in setter Anise Havili, right side hitter Kelsie Payne and outside hitter Madison Rigdon. The Jayhawks need to fill the middle blocker slots, and will look to transfers Taylor Alexander (senior, Ole Miss) and Mmachi Nwoke (sophomore, Arizona State). They also need to fill in 2016 Big 12 Libero of the Year Cassie Wait.
Baylor edged Iowa State by one point to be picked third in the Big 12. The Bears return much of the squad that went to the NCAA Championship for the first time since 2011, led by All-American outside hitter Katie Staiger. The BU frontline also welcomes the return of All-Big 12 student-athletes Shelly Fanning and Tola Itiola, both of whom missed 2016 due to injury. The Bears to need to find a setter to replace the graduated Morgan Reed, with West Des Moines native Hannah Lockin among the favorites.
Behind ISU, Kansas State is picked fifth, and bring a mixed bag to the table. They return All-Big 12 right side Bryna Vogel and other talented starters in Macy Flowers, Elle Sandbothe and Kylee Zumach. However, K-State also has to replace All-Big 12 setter Katie Brand, All-Big 12 middle Katie Reininger and libero Kersten Kober.
West Virginia had a promising 2016, and are picked sixth with an eye on building towards more in 2017. The Mountaineers return All-Big 12 outside Payton Caffrey, and also have a quality group of hitters that include returners Mia Swanegan and Morgan Montgomery. They also welcome a strong freshman class.
TCU made its second-straight NCAA Championship in 2016, but have some rebuilding to do after a big senior class graduated that included four starting hitters. The Frogs do return All-Big 12 hitter Anna Walsh, and have a pair of top-30 recruiting classes and three incoming transfers looking to fill the holes in the lineup.
Rounding out the preseason poll is Oklahoma in eighth, and Texas Tech in ninth.
The Cyclones begin practice on Tuesday, Aug. 8, and will host an exhibition match against Drake on Saturday, Aug. 12 at 10 a.m. inside Hilton Coliseum. Admission will be free.