By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Coming off Sonoma State’s most successful women’s volleyball season, the Seawolves are nationally ranked and positioned for a conference title run.
Sonoma State was ranked No.24 in the American Volleyball Coaches Association NCAA Division II preseason poll.
California Collegiate Athletic Association coaches picked Sonoma State second in their poll. The Seawolves received five first place votes, just behind Cal State San Bernardino, winners of six straight conference crowns.
After reaching the NCAA Division II West Region title match in 2011, the Seawolves seek to sustain that success in 2012.
Leading the Seawolves are a handful of returning starters including all conference Empire greats Ally Sather (Maria Carrillo) and Hayley Ross (Petaluma).
Sather, a three-time All-Conference pick, is on pace to break Sonoma State’s career kills record. The senior outside hitter has 1,135 career kills, needing just 295 to break the long-standing offensive mark.
Ross, a junior setter, led the conference with 11.14 assists per set last season and was one of Sonoma State’s primary servers. A key defender in blocking and digging balls, Ross was an All-West Region player.
Also back for Sonoma State is Kelsey Hull, who earned All-American honors in 2011. The sophomore opposite side hitter from Valley Springs was the conference’s sixth most efficient hitter a year ago, scoring on .319 percent of her kill attempts.
Regan Richert, last year’s conference freshman of the year, returns to help power Sonoma State’s attack. Out of Bakersfield, she also is a strong blocker and server.
Sonoma State’s bid to win the conference will be difficult. The CCAA should again be among the nation’s toughest conferences. San Bernardino was third in the national poll and UC San Diego 17th.
Extending the Seawolves stretch of four consecutive NCAA playoff appearances and making a deeper postseason run is another goal for the squad led by coach Bear Grassl.
Sonoma State kicks off the 2012 season at the Hilton Waikiki Beach Invitational in Honolulu on Aug. 30. Sonoma State then hosts the Seawolf Spike, Sept. 7-8 in Rohnert Park.