SPARTANBURG, S.C. – UNCG’s Ashley Muench and Wofford’s Catie Cronister have been tabbed co-players of the year for the 2017 season, marking the first time in Southern Conference volleyball history that two student-athletes will share the award. In addition, Furman’s Michelle Young was named coach of the year and ETSU freshman Marija Popovic earned the libero of the year award and the Rayna Taylor Award, given annually to league’s freshman of the year.
Muench claims the award after leading the Spartans to a third-place finish in the SoCon and an 18-10 record overall. The Hurdle Mills, North Carolina, native led UNCG with 369 kills, 279 digs, 54 blocks and 29 service aces. Muench also tallied 15 double-doubles during the 2017 season including six consecutive, spanning from Sept. 30 to Oct. 20. The senior averaged 3.58 kills per set, ranking her sixth in the conference. This is the third consecutive season Muench has been tabbed first-team all-conference and her fourth postseason honor overall after being named the freshman of the year and to the all-freshman team in 2014. Muench was also named player of the week on Oct. 16.
Cronister, the 2016 freshman of the year, helped the Terriers set a new program record for wins in Division I and conference wins as Wofford finished the regular season with a 20-10 record and a 10-6 mark in conference play in 2017. The sophomore averaged 4.55 kills per set to lead the conference and finished with 505 kills, making her Wofford’s new leader for kills in a single season. The Chicago, Illinois, native also tallied 55 service aces and averaged 0.50 per set, ranking her eighth in all of Division I. Cronister finished the season with 11 matches of 20-plus kills, 12 double-doubles and double-digit kills in 27 of Wofford’s 30 matches. Cronister was also named player of the week three times and tabbed October’s athlete of the month. Cronister is just the second student-athlete in conference history to win the freshman of the year award and then earn player of the year distinction the following year and the first since Furman’s Ashton Gregory did so in 2013-14.
2017 regular-season champion Furman led the conference with six postseason awards including coach of the year for Young. In her 18th season, Young led the Paladins to their fourth SoCon regular-season title and second in the past four seasons. Furman, which was picked to finish sixth in the preseason coaches’ poll, finished with a 20-9 overall record and a 14-2 mark in conference play, thanks in large part to a 10-game winning streak that started on Sept. 20 and lasted until Oct. 27. September athlete of the month Jamila Johnson was the lone first-team selection for Furman, as she racked up 384 kills and ranked fourth in the SoCon with 3.80 kills per set. Seniors Meg DeMaar and Christen Sikora were named to the All-SoCon second team along with sophomore Nicole Mack. Sikora and Mack were second and third on the team in kills, respectively, while DeMaar led the team with 468 digs. Middle blocker Courtney Hoffman was named to the seven-member all-freshman team, rounding out the Paladins’ selections.
The Bucs’ Popovic is just the second ever and first since Chattanooga’s Lara Newberry in 2005 to be named freshman and libero of the year in the same season. Popovic helped regular-season runner-up ETSU to a 16-11 record and 12-4 tally in conference play by amassing 415 digs for an average of 4.77 digs per set, which ranks as the second-most in the conference. The Belgrade, Serbia, native holds three of the highest dig totals in the conference in a five-set match this season. Also honored for ETSU were first-team selections Leah Clayton and Rylee Milhorn, who combined to record 676 kills during the season.
UNCG’s Allison Penner and Wofford’s Colleen Reilly were also named to the All-SoCon first team.
Mercer’s Paige Alsten, Samford’s Krista Boesing, Chattanooga’s Ally Ford and Western Carolina’s Katie O’Connor rounded out the second-team selections. Alsten was named to the all-freshman team in 2015, while it is the first postseason award of Boesing’s and Ford’s careers. O’Connor’s award marks the first all-conference selection for the Catamounts since 2014.
Along with Popovic and Hoffman, the all-freshman team includes outside hitter Sharlissa De Jesus (The Citadel), outside hitter Holly Behrends (UNCG), libero Megan Kaufman (Chattanooga), middle blocker MaKenzie White (Western Carolina) and middle blocker Riley Coonan (Wofford). It is the first time The Citadel has ever had an all-freshman team selection.
The Southern Conference Volleyball Championship will begin Friday, Nov. 17, on the campus of Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina. Action kicks off at 9:30 a.m. with a showdown between eighth-seeded Mercer and ninth-seeded The Citadel. Furman is the top seed in the tournament and will face the winner of that match in the quarterfinal round at 2:30 p.m. on Friday. The championship match is slated for Sunday at 2 p.m. and will be broadcast live on ESPN3.
2017 All-Southern Conference Volleyball Teams and Awards
Co-Players of the Year – Ashley Muench, UNCG, Sr., OH; Catie Cronister, Wofford, So., OH
Libero of the Year – Marija Popovic, ETSU, Fr.
Rayna Taylor Freshman of the Year – Marija Popovic, ETSU, LIB
Coach of the Year – Michelle Young, Furman
All-SoCon First Team
Leah Clayton, ETSU, So., OH
Rylee Milhorn, ETSU, Sr., OH
Jamila Johnson, Furman, Jr., OH
Ashley Muench, UNCG, Sr., OH
Allison Penner, UNCG, Jr., S
Catie Cronister, Wofford, So., OH
Colleen Reilly, Wofford, Jr., MB
All-SoCon Second Team
Meg DeMaar, Furman, Sr., L
Nicole Mack, Furman, So., OH
Christen Sikora, Furman, Sr., OH
Paige Alsten, Mercer, Jr., MB
Krista Boesing, Samford, Jr., OH
Ally Ford, Chattanooga, R-So., OH
Katie O’Connor, Western Carolina, Sr., MB
Sharlissa De Jesus, The Citadel, OH
Marija Popovic, ETSU, L
Courtney Hoffman, Furman, MB
Holly Behrends, UNCG, OH
Megan Kaufman, Chattanooga, L
MaKenzie White, Western Carolina, MB
Riley Coonan, Wofford, MB