Sam Houston State has been picked to finish fourth in the 2012 Southland Conference volleyball race in the annual preseason poll of the league’s head coaches, the league office announced Wednesday.
The head coaches apparently believe the race for the regular season title will be a close one with three teams receiving first place votes.
Central Arkansas has been picked win the regular-season championship. The Bears received four first-place votes in the coaches’ poll while compiling 75 points.
Southland newcomer Oral Roberts garnered five first-place nods in the coaches’ poll while collecting 73 total points to finish a close second. Lamar received one first place vote as the number three pick.
UCA claimed its fourth consecutive East Division title last season with an overall record of 17-15 while posting a 10-6 conference record. The Bears return four starters including last season’s freshman of the year Marissa Collins.
Oral Roberts have an experienced squad with five seniors and five juniors on the roster and will look for back-to-back 20-win seasons as ORU finished with a 20-10 mark in 2011 and a 12-6 record in the Summit League.
Lamar finished second in the Southland East Division last year with a 9-7 conference record and 11-21 overall.
Sam Houston State earned 53 points in the coaches’ poll.
Coach Brenda Gray enters her 29th season as the leader of the Bearkats and has amassed an impressive 575 wins and is one of 29 active NCAA Division I with more than 500 career wins.
Gray’s Bearkats finished third in the West Division in 2011 with an 11-5 mark in conference play while going 17-12 overall, including an 11-1 record at home.
Returning all-conference selection senior Kim Black will lead the charge and try to get Sam Houston State off to a hot start like the 2011 team, which won its first five matches, including a 3-1 win over Big East representative Rutgers.
The Bearkats return four starters and senior libero Jamie Haas. In conference play, Sam Houston State led the league with 17.12 digs per set and finished the regular-season with four consecutive wins.
Stephen F. Austin was selected fifth after finishing 14-18 overall and a 7-9 conference record in 2011. Northwestern State, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, McNeese State, Nicholls State and Southeastern Louisiana round out the coaches’ preseason poll.
Sam Houston opens its 2012 schedule Friday and Saturday Aug. 24-25 as the Bearkats host the Sam Houston State Invitational at Bernard G. Johnson Coliseum. Louisiana-Lafayette, Texas Southern and Colorado round out the field for the tournament.
Tickets for all Sam Houston volleyball home games are available online at www.gobearkats.com/tickets.
With 10 teams in 2012, the league will not play in divisions for the first time since 2005. The conference tournament will be held Nov. 16-18 at Prince Center on the campus of Central Arkansas in Conway, Ark.
The championship match will be televised on the Southland Conference Television Network, available live on more than 20 affiliates across the league’s four-state region. In addition, all games of the tournament will be streamed live on the new Southland Conference Digital Network, available at southland.org and on the league’s iPhone and Android mobile and tablet apps.
2012 Southland Conference Volleyball Coaches Poll
Rk. School (first-place votes) Pts.
1. Central Arkansas (4) 75
2. Oral Roberts (5) 73
3. Lamar (1) 64
4. Sam Houston State 53
5. Stephen F. Austin 50
6. Northwestern State 42
7. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi 35
8. McNeese State 28
9. Nicholls State 17
10. Southeastern Louisiana 13