Western Volleyball picked to finish third in 2012 LEC Pre-Season Coaches Poll

From the desk of Jack Holleran - LEC Director of Communications

NORTH DARTMOUTH, MA (Aug. 21) —  The University of Massachusetts Boston has been selected as the unanimous choice to capture the 2012 Little East volleyball regular-season championship, according to a vote by the conference's eight coaches. The Beacons earned each of the eight first place votes for a total of 64 points to enter the campaign as the consensus favorite for the second-straight season.

Plymouth State University, the 2011 co-regular-season champions, secured the second seed in the annual preseason coaches' survey with a total of 50 points. Western Connecticut State University debuted at No. 3 with 47 points, while Keene State College completed the top-half of the eight-team standings with 42 points.

Under the direction of Terry Condon, UMass Boston is making its fourth consecutive appearance atop the preseason survey. The Beacons are ranked No. 16 in the 2012 American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Division III Coaches Preseason Poll, marking the highest ranking in program history. In 2011, UMass Boston reached 28 victories for the third consecutive campaign, boasting a 28-5 overall mark (.848). The Beacons captured the program's third Little East Volleyball Championship with a straight-set victory over the host Panthers to earn the automatic berth into the NCAA Division III Championship. Seeded second in the New England bracket, UMass Boston needed the minimum three sets to eliminate Polytechnic (N.Y.) in the quarterfinal round. The Beacons advanced to the program's second regional final with an epic five-set come-from-behind victory over No.24 Bowdoin College. UMass Boston fell to host and nationally-ranked Springfield College the following afternoon in the regional final to complete the 2011 season.

In 2012, Condon will welcome eight student-athletes back into the fold from the 2011 squad. The Beacons will be led by the three-time All-America selection in senior outside hitter Shannon Thompson (Moorpark, Calif.). Thompson sat atop the Little East statistical standings in points per game (5.06), while ranking second in kills (462) and fourth in hitting percentage (.310). Thompson will be joined along the front line by 2011 Little East Rookie of the Year Kirsten Morrison (North Reading, Mass.). Morrison ranked among the team leaders in blocks (2nd, 76) and kills (4th, 198). UMass Boston will begin its 2012 season at the Pacific Coast Classic, when the Beacons face sixth-ranked California Lutheran University on August 31.

Under the watchful eye of Chris Kilmer, Plymouth State earned a share of the Little East volleyball regular-season championship for the first time since 2005. Last season, the Panthers posted an overall record of 25-11, including a 6-1 mark within the conference circuit. Plymouth State earned the right to host the Little East Volleyball Championship for the first time in program history by virtue of a head-tohead victory over co-leader UMass Boston. The Panthers advanced to their second conference final in the past three seasons with a straight-set win over fifth-seeded Eastern Connecticut. Plymouth State bowed out of the conference championship with a 3-0 loss to the Beacons. The Panthers also reached the championship round of the 2011 Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) Division III New England tournament after defeating Western New England and Endicott College.

Kilmer will return four starters and a total of seven student-athletes from the 2011 team. Senior outside hitter Casey Stoodley (Salem, N.H.) is expected to provide the offensive firepower for Plymouth State. The All-Little East, first-team selection ranked among the conference leaders in kills (3rd, 426), service aces (3rd, 53), and points per game (5th, 3.91). Junior outside hitter Allie Jones (Canton, Mass.), an All- Little East, second-team pick, will compliment Stoodley on the outside flank. Jones accounted for 326 kills, 60 service aces, 111 digs, and 34 blocks during her sophomore campaign. Plymouth State will open its 2012 season at the Wheaton Invitational, when the Panthers square off against Western New England at 1 p.m. on September 1.

The top-six teams in the final regular-season standings advance to the 2012 Little East Volleyball Championship tournament with the top-two teams earning a first round bye. The top seed in the tournament field will host the semifinal and championship rounds on Nov. 3-4. The conference champion will earn the automatic qualifier into the NCAA Division III Tournament.

Completing the annual preseason coaches' survey in projected order of finish in the regular-season standings are Eastern Connecticut State University (28), Rhode Island College (27), University of Massachusetts Dartmouth (20), and the University of Southern Maine (10).

Initially formed in 1986 as a six-team men's and women's basketball conference, the Little East Conference will begin its 27th season of sponsoring intercollegiate athletic programs during the 2012- 2013 academic year. Western Connecticut State University joined the conference in 1993, while Keene State College raised its current membership to eight teams in 1997.

2012 Little East Volleyball Preseason Coaches' Poll

Rank Institution                          First Points
1    University of Massachusetts Boston     8    64
2    Plymouth State University                   50
3    Western Connecticut State University        47
4    Keene State College                         42
5    Eastern Connecticut State University        28
6    Rhode Island College                        27
7    University of Massachusetts Dartmouth       20
8    University of Southern Maine                10