SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Defending Southern Conference tournament champion Samford was picked to win the league in 2019 in preseason voting by the SoCon’s nine head coaches. The coaches also selected the preseason all-conference team, which features nine student-athletes due to a tie in the voting.
Coaches were not allowed to vote for their own teams or players in the balloting.
Samford collected seven first-place votes and 63 points to claim the preseason honor. Mercer followed with 52 points and one first-place vote, while Furman was close behind, tallying 51 points and the remaining first-place vote to earn sole possession of third. Wofford totaled 40 points to claim fourth, while ETSU, the defending regular-season champion, finished in fifth with 33 points, one point ahead of UNC Greensboro (32). Chattanooga was right behind with 30 points to take seventh with Western Carolina (13) and The Citadel (10) rounding out the field of nine in eighth and ninth, respectively.
The Bulldogs are coming off a 19-15 overall record in 2018 an 11-5 mark in the conference. Keylor Chan’s squad will be led by preseason all-conference team members Lauren Deaton, the 2018 Rayna Taylor Freshman of the Year, and Kelsi Hobbs. Deaton and Hobbs tallied 412 and 351 kills last season, respectively, while Deaton finished ninth amongst league players in digs (456) and Hobbs finished in the top 10 in service aces (36).
Mercer won its first match in tournament history in the SoCon Championship quarterfinals and advanced to the semifinals as the No. 4 seed after finishing 8-8 in conference play and tallying a 16-13 overall record. Roberta Todd, who finished second on the Bears’ squad with 297 kills in 2018, returns to lead Mercer at outside hitter. Teammate Brittany Major, a 2018 All-Freshman team selection, joins Todd on the preseason all-conference team. Major, also an outside hitter, started all 29 matches for Mercer and was right behind Todd with 275 kills.
Entering her 20th year as the leader of the Paladins, Michelle Young directed a squad that went 13-16 overall and 8-8 in SoCon play in 2018. Redshirt junior Courtney Hoffman, a middle blocker, was named to the preseason all-conference team after notching 169 kills and 53 blocks a year ago.
Wofford went 14-16 in 2018 and 7-9 in SoCon play. Catie Cronister, the 2016 Rayna Taylor Freshman of the Year, 2017 Co-Player of the Year, and a first-team all-conference selection in 2018 was named to the preseason all-conference team. Cronister, the SoCon active leader in career kills, was fourth in the league with 382 kills and led the league with 48 service aces last season.
ETSU finished 28-7 overall and 15-1 in conference play en route to earning the first at-large NCAA volleyball bid in league history. The Bucs, led by first-year head coach Benavia Jenkins, placed libero Marija Popovic on the preseason all-conference squad. Popovic, a junior, was the league’s Libero of the Year each of the last two seasons. In 2018, she led the league with 648 digs and was a three-time defensive player of the week selection and two-time player of the month honoree.
UNCG finished 2018 13-16 overall and 7-9 in league action, while Chattanooga was 10-20 and 6-10, respectively. The Mocs are led by preseason all-conference selection and senior middle blocker Dani Szczepanski. Szczepanski, a 2018 All-SoCon second team pick, led the league in hitting percentage (.347).
Western Carolina totaled a 12-16 record and went 6-10 in conference play a year ago, while The Citadel was 12-19 overall and 4-12 in SoCon action. The Bulldogs return their leading hitter from last season, preseason all-conference selection Sharlissa De Jesus. De Jesus, a second-team all-conference pick last season, is The Citadel’s first preseason all-conference selection since Moriah Smith in 2017.
The 2019 regular season begins on Friday, Aug. 30, as eight league teams are in action, with Wofford beginning its 2019 campaign a day later. The 2019 SoCon Volleyball Championship will be hosted by Wofford in Spartanburg, South Carolina. The first-round match between the No. 8 and No. 9 seeds will be hosted by the No. 8 seed on either Monday, Nov. 18, or Tuesday, Nov. 19. The quarterfinal matches will be held Friday, Nov. 22, followed by the semifinals on Saturday, Nov. 23. The final will take place on Sunday, Nov. 24.
2019 Volleyball Preseason Coaches’ Poll
1. Samford (7) 63
2. Mercer (1) 52
3. Furman (1) 51
4. Wofford 40
5. ETSU 33
6. UNCG 32
7. Chattanooga 30
8. Western Carolina 13
9. The Citadel 10
() denotes first-place votes
2019 Volleyball Preseason All-Conference Team
OH, Sharlissa De Jesus, The Citadel
LIB, Marija Popovic, ETSU
MB, Courtney Hoffman, Furman
RS, Brittany Major, Mercer
OH, Roberta Todd, Mercer
OH, Lauren Deaton, Samford
RS, Kelsi Hobbs, Samford
MB, Dani Szczepanski, Chattanooga
OH, Catie Cronister, Wofford