OGDEN, Utah-- The defending Big Sky Conference regular season and tournament champions are the overwhelming favorite to repeat in the 2017 league coaches poll. North Dakota received 10 of a possible 11 first-place votes (coaches cannot vote for their own team) and compiled 120 total points, 17 more than runner-up Northern Colorado (2 first-place nods).
Rivals UND and Northern Colorado, who played in the regular season finale to determine who would host the league tournament, will once again meet on the final date of the year, a Nov. 11 match at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center. Just behind the Bears in the poll was Sacramento State (99), the Big Sky South Division champ last season. Northern Arizona (96) was close behind with Portland State (82) rounding out the top five.
"Who knows where each team will end up? These preseason polls are just guessing," UND head coach Mark Pryor said. "There are so many uncontrollable things out there that we simply have no say in, so why even waste a second thinking about that? All we are trying to do is just get a little better in the gym today than we were yesterday. We aren’t even talking about the Big Sky Conference as a team or even as a staff. We are concerning ourselves with today, not 6 weeks from now. When the time comes to focus on that we will. It is wasted energy for us to focus on the future. We are working hard to commit our energy and effort on today, and today alone."
North Dakota returns a bevy of talent, including three All-Big Sky Conference First Team members. Senior setter Sydney Griffin was the conference player of the year and will distribute to a pair of lethal weapons in senior middle hitter Faith Dooley (a three-time all-league player) and Tamara Merseli (2016 Big Sky Newcomer of the Year). Also back are starters sophomore Ashley Brueggeman (209 kills last year), and backrow players junior Tamika Brekke (1.97 digs/set) and sophomore libero Alivia Fraase (583 digs in 2016, second-most in UND history). Additionally, senior Julia Kaczorowska (530 career kills), junior middle Jordan Vail (.304 hit percentage in '16) and senior Teodora Tepavac (2.44 digs/set) give the Fighting Hawks a deep, talented roster.
Pryor, now is his fourth year at UND, guided the squad to a 26-10 campaign, tied for the most wins in school history as the team advanced to the program's first NCAA Division I Tournament. The reigning Big Sky Coach of the Year owns a 73-32 mark at UND, including three-straight 20-win seasons.
North Dakota opens its season in two weeks at the Ole Miss Rebel Invitational with five matches on the opening weekend. The home slate begins Sep. 6 against in-state rival North Dakota State on Midco Sports Network.
2017 Big Sky Conference Preseason Coaches Poll
|Rk||School||Votes (1st place)|
|1||North Dakota||(10) 120|
|2||Northern Colorado||(2) 103|