WALLA WALLA - A Northwest Conference preseason coaches poll has pegged a resurgent Whitman College volleyball team to place fourth in the upcoming season.
It is the highest preseason ranking for Whitman since 2007, when the Missionaries also were picked for a fourth-place finish.
A year ago, playing without any juniors or seniors on its roster, Whitman posted records of 5-11 in the NWC and 8-18 overall. That left the Missionaries tied for seventh place in the conference standings - but just one victory away from a four-way tie for fourth place.
Defending champion Whitworth (14-2 NWC, 18-7) finished atop the 2011 poll with 69 points.
Puget Sound (13-3 NWC, 18-7) and Pacific Lutheran (13-3 NWC, 19-7) are second and third, respectively, with 58 and 51 points.
Whitman is fourth with 32 polls followed by Willamette 30, Lewis & Clark 28, George Fox 26, Linfield 26, and Pacific 13.
Carolyn Papineau, now in her fifth coaching season at Whitman, returns a talented roster that still lacks a single senior.
Anchoring that roster are sophomore outside hitter Jillian Davis, the only first-year player to make the All-NWC First Team last fall, and junior middle blocker Courtney Brewer, who received All-NWC Honorable Mention recognition.
Davis, who led the NWC in total kills in 2010, also was named NCAA Division III West Region Freshman of the Year by the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA).
Meanwhile, Brewer helped anchor the Whitman middle on defense and offense, collecting the second most blocks in the NWC while averaging more than two kills per game and ranking 12th in the conference in hitting percentage.
Other returning vets include junior middle blocker Olivia Nielson, who topped the NWC in total blocks last season, and junior outside hitter Carrie Cecil, who was second on the team in kills.
Other returning sophomores include setters Rachel Cline and Taylor Aschenbrenner.
This fall's first-year class features:
Llibero Annie Sing, who helped Olympia (Wash.) High School win the Narrows League title while netting first-team all-league honors;
Middle blocker/opposite Samantha Cahill, a standout for Union High School (Camas, Wash.) who was named Offensive Player of the Year in the Greater St. Helens League; and
Opposite side hitter Megan Bafus, who received All-KingCo 4A Honorable Mention kudos at Inglemoor High School (Kenmore, Wash.)
Whitman makes its season debut with a trio of home matches Sept. 1-3. The Missionaries host Walla Walla Community College on Sept. 1 and Walla Walla University on Sept. 2. An alumni match is set for Sept. 3.
Following a tournament at Colorado College Sept. 9-10 and a final non-conference match on Sept. 13 in Spokane, Whitman opens its NWC season at home against Pacific and George Fox on Sept. 16-17.