AUGUSTA, GA – After three straight PBC regular-season championships and two straight tournament titles, the Armstrong State University volleyball team was the unanimous pick to repeat in a poll of the league's head coaches released today. The Pirates captured all nine first-place votes available to them for a maximum score of 81, 12 ahead of second-place Flagler. The next four teams were all separated by one point as Francis Marion and USC Aiken were tied for third with 54 and Columbus State and Montevallo tied for fifth with 53. Lander, UNC Pembroke, Georgia College and Georgia Regents rounded out the voting.
Armstrong went a perfect 18-0 in conference play last season and are 44-2 in conference play over the last three years. Ranked #22 in the nation in the AVCA preseason poll, the Pirates return four starters and 11 players overall from last season's team which advanced to the NCAA regional final. Among the returners are reigning PBC Tournament MVP Stephanie Sfara and southeast region Freshman of the Year Emily Wylie.
The Flagler Saints had their streak of four straight PBC Tournament final appearances snapped in 2013 after finishing second in the league standings with a 13-5 mark. With new head coach Matt Affolder at the helm, the Saints are ready to take a run at their fourth regular-season championship in the last six years. Eight players from last year's team return for 2014 including libero Caitlyn Kovach, who was named to the PBC preseason All-Conference team.
Francis Marion had their best PBC finish since 2008 when they went 12-6 in league play for third in the standings. The Patriots will look to a trio of seniors for leadership in 2014 including All-Conference outside hitter Emily Sears. In all, the Patriots return four of their top six attackers and senior setter Sloane Shank.
USC Aiken reached the PBC championship game last season for the first time in seven years. The Pacers were .500 in league play but will have one of the more experienced teams in the league for 2014 with 12 players returning including seniors Hannah Tierney and Sheila Walsh.
Montevallo won 11 games in league play in 2013, tied for their most ever in five seasons in the PBC. The Falcons also advanced to the PBC Tournament semifinals for the first time since 2010. For the 2014 season, the Falcons return two seniors and junior right-side player Rebekah Phelps who was named to the preseason All-Conference team.
After re-starting the volleyball program for the first time in three decades, the Columbus State Cougars came out of the gate swinging, winning 12 league games and advancing to the PBC Tournament. Ten players from the inaugural team return this season including first-team All-Conference hitter Katie Poole. CSU brings back their top three hitters from last year.
The 2014 preseason coaches poll is listed below. Teams were given nine points for a first-place vote, eight for a second and so on. Coaches were not permitted to rank their own teams.
The 2014 season begins on Sept. 5 with conference play beginning in earnest on Sept. 18. The 2014 PBC Tournament format has changed. The top eight teams once again advance to tournament play with the quarterfinals being hosted on campus by the four higher seeds on Tuesday, Nov. 11. The top remaining seed following the quarterfinals will host the final four on Friday, Nov. 14 with the championship on Nov. 15.