OGDEN, Utah – Despite losing three starters plus their libero to graduation, the Northern Arizona volleyball team was voted the preseason favorite to defend their conference title in the 2016 Big Sky Preseason Coaches Poll released on Monday. The Lumberjacks, coming off a historic 28-5 season that ended with both the Big Sky regular season and tournament championships, received nine of the 12 first place votes. Coaches were not allowed to vote for their own team.
Receiving all but three first place votes, the Lumberjacks claimed 119 points to top Northern Colorado, who was selected as the preseason runner up with 104 points. Northern Colorado received one first place vote, while third place North Dakota tallied the final two first place votes and collected 99 points.
Idaho State, the team NAU swept on its home court in the Big Sky tournament championship, was slotted in the fourth spot with 86 points, while Sacramento State was picked fifth with 79 points. Along with NAU's 15-1 conference record last season, Idaho State and Sacramento State were the only other teams in pick up at least 12 conference victories. All three teams reside in the Big Sky's South Division.
Idaho, the second seed in last year's conference tournament by virtue of winning the North Division tiebreaker, rounded out the top half of the preseason poll in sixth with 68 points. In order, Portland State, Eastern Washington, Weber State, Southern Utah, Montana State and Montana occupied the seventh through 12th spots in the poll.
While the Lumberjacks will fill the void left by Janae Vander Ploeg and Payton Bock – the Big Sky leaders in kills and blocks respectively in 2015 – in addition to Stacia Williams and Jordan Leiter, they do return a pair of all-conference selections in seniors Jensen Barton (first team) and Lauren Jacobsen (second team).
Barton is just one of three returning All-Big Sky First Team honorees of the 12-player list from a year ago, making the entire conference a wide-open conversation heading into the season.
NAU opens its title defense in Philadelphia, Pa. with the Temple Invitational on Aug. 26-27 against Temple and Hampton.
2016 Big Sky Preseason Poll (First-Place Votes in Parentheses)
1. Northern Arizona – 119 (9)
2. Northern Colorado – 104 (1)
3. North Dakota – 99 (2)
4. Idaho State – 86
5. Sacramento State – 79
6. Idaho – 68
7. Portland State – 60
8. Eastern Washington – 51
9. Weber State – 44
10. Southern Utah – 40
11. Montana State – 23
12. Montana – 19