The Great American Conference pre-season volleyball poll.

Southern Arkansas’ volleyball team is tapped to finish 10th of the 12 Great American Conference squads this season.

GAC coaches narrowly established Southwestern Oklahoma State as the preseason favorite with three weeks left before the start of the season.

The Bulldogs edged out Harding, Henderson State and Arkansas Tech in a tight four-way decision. SWOSU tallied 109 points and picked up three first-place votes. The Lady Bisons and Reddies each received four first-place votes. Harding totaled 106 points to Henderson State’s 105. The Golden Suns registered the final first-place vote.

In 2018, the Bulldogs posted their best GAC regular-season record, 13-3, and shared second place with the Reddies. Kaitlyn Dillon earned the GAC Defensive Player of the Year award as well as a spot on the All-GAC First Team. She led the league in digs and ranked third in aces. SWOSU brings back two additional All-GAC selections in Second-Team middle hitter Sofia Gruden and Honorable Mention setter Allie Hoang. Gruden posted the second-highest attack percentage in the GAC while Hoang finished fourth in the assists.

Harding, who captured both the GAC regular-season and tournament championships, and scored the conference’s first win at the NCAA Championships, faces the daunting task of replacing seven four-year letter winners. Five of the seven earned All-GAC accolades, highlighted by Zoe Hardin, who became the conference’s second two-time GAC Player of the Year.

Emily Smith and Katherine Coward return for their junior years. Smith averaged 2.22 points per set and Cowart averaged 2.50 digs per set.

The Reddies return five regulars from their 2018 team that won their most games, 28, since 2001. The Reddies also played in a conference tournament final for the first time since that same 2001 campaign. Courtney Bolf became a unanimous selection to the All-GAC First Team after she paced the GAC in kills per set and placed second in points per set. Adrianna Hartmann, a Second-Team honoree, led the league in attack percentage took second to Hardin in blocks per set.

Arkansas Tech looks to return to the top of the GAC standings after winning just 17 games in 2018 after averaging 28.3 wins per year in its first seven years in the GAC. Allie Anderson, an Honorable Mention outside hitter returns for her senior season.

Ouachita finished fifth in poll, three points ahead of Southern Nazarene and four points clear of Oklahoma Baptist. The Tigers return Adrianna Nolly, a member of the 2018 All-GAC First Team. She ranked in the top four in four statistical categories – points per set, kills per set, blocks per set and attack percentage. The Crimson Storm bring back Bailee Turang – a First-Team All-GAC performer who led the conference in points per set – and Logan Matthews, the 2018 GAC Freshman of the Year. The Bison feature Malia Leatherland, a 2018 All-GAC Second Team outside hitter.

Northwestern Oklahoma State slotted into eighth place. After winning 38 games over the previous two seasons, the Rangers have a new head coach as Fred Aubuchon replaced Jeremy White. Aubuchon comes to Alva having won 435 games as a head coach. Jennifer Eubanks and Kiauna Clark return after earning All-GAC honors.

Southeastern Oklahoma State, Southern Arkansas, Arkansas-Monticello and East Central rounded out the poll. Like the Rangers, the Savage Storm, Muleriders and Blossoms all have first-year head coaches. Southeastern named Nicole Solum as its coach; Lindsey Partridge took over at SAU and Jocelyn Garcia ascended to the top job at UAM.

The 2019 season opens on Thursday, September 5 when Arkansas Tech and East Central begin non-conference tournament action. One day later, Henderson State and Ouachita will host the Reddie-Tiger Invitational. UAM joins Tech at Missouri S&T’s Miner Invitational. Northwestern Oklahoma State and Southeastern Oklahoma State travel to Angelo State. SWOSU heads to Missouri Southern; Harding participates in Alabama-Huntsville’s UAH Invitational; Oklahoma Baptist sojourns to Nebraska-Kearney; SAU treks to West Texas A&M; Southern Nazarene ventures west for the Point Loma Nazarene’s Seaside Invitational.

For the seventh-straight year, the top eight schools will head to Hot Springs, Arkansas for the GAC Championships. The 2019 event will start on Thursday, November 21 with the final set for Saturday, November 23.

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