WINTHROP, Mass. - The University of Saint Joseph (USJ) volleyball team was picked to finish eleventh in the 2019 Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) Preseason Coaches' Poll announced on Monday afternoon by the league's front office. The annual poll is voted upon by the conference's 13 head coaches. The Blue Jays open the 2019 campaign with back-to-back Saturday road tri-matches, playing four teams from four different conferences to kickoff the season. USJ's opening tri-match is Saturday, August 31 at Fitchburg State with Bay Path.
After checking in at No. 8 nationally last week in the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Division III Preseason Poll, Johnson & Wales University (JWU) received all 13 first-place votes to run away with the top spot in the 2019 GNAC Preseason Poll, as voted upon by the league's head coaches.
Winners of the last four GNAC titles, the Wildcats have hosted the NCAA Regional in Providence, R.I. each of the last two years, advancing to the 2017 Elite Eight in Grand Rapids, Mich. before falling in last year's regional final against Wesleyan.
Finishing second to the Wildcats' maximum 169 points was Rivier University with 155 points overall in the preseason tally, followed by Colby-Sawyer College with 136 points, Simmons University with 130 points, and Suffolk University with 110 points. Lasell College was just outside of the top-five with 108 points closely behind the Rams.
The top hitting team in D3 the last three seasons, JWU head coach Nancy Somera returns the senior All-American trio of outside hitter Maria Coniglio, setter Brylee Frank, and outside hitter Kate Walker. Frank was the 2018 GNAC Player of the Year and Walker was the 2017 East Region Player of the Year. Also back in the fold is junior defensive specialist Elyssa Nicolas.
Last fall, Frank led the GNAC in assists per set (10.96), Walker led the conference in hitting percentage (.407), and Nicolas led the league in digs (539), as JWU at one point was ranked as high as No. 2 in the nation.
En route to sweeping Rivier in the 2018 GNAC Championship, JWU won all 36 sets in GNAC play for the second straight year. The Wildcats will begin the season at the Emory Classic against Sewanee, Emory, Guilford and Belhaven on Friday-Saturday, August 30-31.
The remainder of the poll featured Emmanuel College (85 points), Saint Joseph's College of Maine (80), Regis College (75), Norwich University (47), the Blue Jays (41), Albertus Magnus College (34), and Anna Maria College (13).
1. Johnson & Wales (13) - 169
2. Rivier - 155
3. Colby-Sawyer - 136
4. Simmons - 130
5. Suffolk - 110
6. Lasell - 108
7. Emmanuel - 85
8. Saint Joseph's Maine - 80
9. Regis - 75
10. Norwich - 47
11. Saint Joseph (CT) - 41
12. Albertus Magnus - 34
13. Anna Maria - 13
The Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) is an NCAA Division III association made up of 13 member institutions and over 3,000 student-athletes across the New England region. Founded in 1995, the GNAC annually sponsors and administers 22 championships, while balancing academic integrity, athletic opportunity and community involvement in an effort to enhance the student-athlete experience.
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