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CWU Wildcats Picked to Finish Third in GNAC

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SPOKANE, Wash. -- The Central Washington University volleyball team, which has qualified for the last three NCAA Division II tournaments and claimed Great Northwest Athletic Conference championships in 2004 and 2005, has been picked to finish third in a preseason poll of GNAC coaches for the 2007 season, released Thursday.

The Wildcats, who finished third in the conference a year ago with a 10-6 league record (19-8 overall), received 73 voting points to trail only Western Washington and Seattle Pacific in the poll. Those three teams all qualified for the NCAA tournament last season.

Following Western Washington, Seattle Pacific, and Central Washington in the preseason poll are GNAC newcomer Montana State Billings in fourth, Seattle in fifth, and Northwest Nazarene in sixth. Western Oregon, Alaska, Alaska Anchorage, and Saint Martin's occupy the seven through ten spots, respectively, in the coaches' poll.

No Great Northwest Athletic Conference team has qualified for the NCAA postseason four consecutive seasons, a feat that the Wildcats will attempt to accomplish this year. Central, which had not qualified for the tournament in any of its first six seasons as a NCAA Division II member, earned berths the last three years after going undefeated in the 2004 regular season and sharing the 2005 GNAC championship. The Wildcats' 2006 postseason berth was an at-large selection.

Looking ahead to the 2007 campaign, Central Washington's squad features 11 returning letter winners, but only two starters. Middle blockers Rachael Schurman (Spokane, Wash./Mead HS) and Morgan Zamora (Marysville, Wash./Marysville-Pilchuck HS) both return to their starting positions as juniors this season, with Schurman earning honorable mention all-conference honors last season. Zamora started the first 20 matches of the 2006 season before an injury forced her to miss the final month of the campaign.

Also back in a starting role is senior libero Erika Stevens (Fairbanks, Alaska/Lathrop HS), who led the Wildcats with 4.26 digs per game last season. Stevens began the 2006 campaign as an outside hitter before converting nicely into the Wildcats' top defensive specialist. She will be joined by several young players, including sophomores Deidre Scheidt (Milton, Wash./Fife HS) and Meggie Graf (Selah, Wash.) and true freshmen McKenzie Johnson (Kennewick, Wash.) and Brandie Vea (Kaimuki, Hawaii/Kalani HS).

Central will have new starters at the outside hitter, opposite-side hitter, and setter positions in 2007. Last year's kill leader, outside hitter Stephanie Powell, does not return for her senior season, so a handful of returnees and newcomers will be competing both for her starting role and for that of departed opposite-side hitter and honorable mention All-American Kristin Pasley.

Senior Emily Veenker (Auburn, Wash.) is a likely candidate for one of the starting outside hitter positions following a junior campaign in which she averaged 2.49 kills per game in 49 games played. Other players competing for time at the outside hitter position include returnees Kayla Roof (Eatonville, Wash.), Bree Brandt (Bellingham, Wash./Meridian HS), and Lauren Vercammen (Bellingham, Wash./Squalicum), plus newcomers Kady Try (Brentwood, Calif./Mead HS) and Erin Thorlakson (Mountlake Terrace, Wash.).

The opposite-side hitter spot is likely to be occupied by sophomore Erin Norris (Spokane, Wash./Mead HS), who started the final seven matches a year ago following Zamora's injury. Norris averaged 1.17 kills per game and had a team-best average of 0.47 service aces per game during her rookie campaign.

At setter, junior Maggie Olson (Seattle, Wash./Mount Si HS) and true freshman Carlee Marble (La Center, Wash.) are expected to compete to replace all-conference player Lindsey Dollente. Olson begins her fourth year in the program -- she redshirted the 2004 season -- but has not started a match in her career with the Wildcats. Marble, meanwhile, is the reigning Class 2B Player of the Year after leading La Center to the state title last year.

The Wildcats' depth at middle blocker is somewhat limited, with up to three players possibly vying for time in the position behind the aforementioned Schurman and Zamora. As needed, Norris and Veenker could also see time in the middle, as could true freshman Dani Gunner (Selah, Wash.).

In addition to personnel changes on the court, the Wildcats will have a mostly new coaching staff in 2007. While head coach Mario Andaya returns for his 12th year, he has two new assistant coaches flanking him on the bench in Darla Myhre and Judy Schomer. Myhre played for four seasons at the University of Washington (2002-05), including on the Huskies' 2005 national championship squad, before graduating from UW in 2006. She then played one season professionally in Spain before embarking on her first coaching stint with CWU this season. Schomer, meanwhile, is from nearby Kittitas, where she had been the head volleyball coach at Kittitas High School the past three seasons. She played one season for the Wildcats during her undergraduate days in 2001.

Central Washington's 2007 schedule includes 10 home matches and a pair of away tournaments on the opening two weekends. Trips to southern California (Los Angeles and Pomona) await the Wildcats on the opening weekend -- Aug. 24-25 -- while four matches in Hawaii are on the schedule for CWU over Labor Day weekend. Central then makes its home debut on Sept. 5 against Hawaii Hilo before opening GNAC play the very next night at Western Oregon.

Great Northwest Coaches Poll       2006 Records     Pts

1.   Western Washington (6) 18-7 (14-2)  101  

2.   Seattle Pacific (4)         24-3 (16-0)     93

3.   Central Washington      19-8 (10-6)     73

4.   Montana State Billings  26-5 (10-0)     64

5.   Seattle University           18-9 (9-7)      60

6.   Northwest Nazarene    14-12 (9-7)    59

7    Western Oregon           7-19 (5-11)     41

8.   Alaska Fairbanks         7-16 (6-10)     34

9.   Alaska Anchorage        5-20 (2-14)     20

10. Saint Martin's               1-19 (1-15)     15