Northwestern College was unanimously predicted to win its third straight Upper Midwest Athletic Conference (UMAC) regular season championship, according to a pre-season poll of the league's coaches.
Coming off a 14-0 UMAC record in 2008 and a 27-1 conference mark in the last two years, the Eagles have a host of impact players in this year's senior class who have been active in the program since their freshman year. All eyes will be on senior Steph Koth, an NCAA/AVCA All-American Honorable Mention selection and the 2008 UMAC Player of the Year. Koth is joined by UMAC All-Conference players Leah Kostek and Sarah Whitmore, both of whom ranked in the league's top five for assists and blocks. Returning all-conference libero Danielle Rhodes was also a Top-3 player in digs.
Following right along with the 2008 final conference standings, the College of St. Scholastica was a unanimous second choice for the UMAC coaches in the pre-season poll. Coming off of last year's 11-3 league record, Saints head coach Dana Moore will have to replace five seniors that contributed 77 percent of the team's scoring in 2008. Leading the list of returnees for St. Scholastica is senior Megan Baartman. Freshman Taylor Tyllia, a highly touted recruit, will be Moore's first ever 6-0 player.
Receiving 33 points for third place in the poll, Martin Luther College enters 2009 with a new coach, but also a solid core of returning players from last year's 9-5 conference finish. Rebecca Cox takes over the Knights' coaching duties this season after coaching at the high school level for the past 20 years. Cox can lean on players such as Carrie Fritzler, who led the UMAC in total blocks in 2008, for veteran experience. Emily Boldt, who finished last season third in the UMAC in blocks, will join Fritzler on the front row. The team's kills leader from a year ago, Jamie Eternick, will also return to Martin Luther's starting lineup.
Another team that will have a new face on the bench in 2009 is Bethany Lutheran College, who fell a point shy of Martin Luther in the poll for fourth place. Head coach Mike Walters takes over a team that posted a 10-4 record in UMAC play last season. Libero Laura Parochka, Bethany's sole senior on this year's roster, will be relied upon to sustain the Vikings' back row.
The University of Minnesota, Morris, recipient of 29 points in the preseason poll, made significant strides under first-year head coach Chad Braegelmann last season. Despite the Cougars' 9-17 overall record and 4-10 conference mark, Morris took nine of its matches to five sets in 2008, including a five-set loss to conference champion Northwestern in the final weekend of UMAC play. Braegelmann's 2009 team includes seven returning players and three junior college transfers whom the coach hopes will make an immediate impact.
Northland College, who received 20 points from the UMAC coaches, is the third team to enter the 2009 season with a new head coach as former College of St. Benedict assistant Heidi Smith takes over for the departed Shelly Roiger. The LumberJills will look to return to their form of 2007, which resulted in a UMAC post-season tournament championship. The senior trio of Melissa Anderson, Chelsea Lundgren and Miranda Reichert has produced six all-conference awards, and will lead a roster that includes nine freshmen.
Crown College, who tied with Presentation College for seventh place in the poll with 10 points, looks to build off of a difficult 2-23 season from 2008. Head coach Kimmie Moehring, who enters her third year at Crown, hopes to continue to develop the Storm program with a large number of returning players and some key additions with her second recruiting class. All-conference sophomore Naomi Anderson will be heavily relied upon to perform on the court, as will newcomer Trisha Birr, a transfer from South Dakota State University, who played in 21 matches last year.
Presentation College hopes to return to the court refreshed and ready to go after 2008 proved to be a learning experience for the Saints. In her first year as head coach, Chelsey Albrecht introduced a new style and knowledge of the game, leading Presentation to a 3-11 UMAC record. Seniors Meghan Schmidt, Becky Smith, Maggie Kuhlman and Amanda Feist will lead the 2009 squad with their experience, while newcomers Christina Kusler, Kelsey Schmidt and Amber Sandoz will provide the Saints with additional talent.
All eight UMAC teams will be in action between Sept. 1 and Sept. 5, with the conference schedule commencing the weekend of Sept. 25-26. At the conclusion of the 2009 regular season, the league's top four teams will participate in the UMAC Conference Tournament on Nov. 3 and 7.