On the heels of their second straight nine-win campaign, the Howard Payne Lady Jackets were tabbed to place sixth in the West Division of the American Southwest Conference, according to the preseason volleyball poll that was released Monday.
The Lady Jackets are heading into their third season under head coach Ken Carver, who guided HPU to a 9-20 overall mark and 3-15 conference record last season, after finishing 9-17 overall and 6-12 in the ASC during his initial campaign.
Howard Payne’s 11-player roster consists of only one senior - ASC West honorable mention setter Patricia Brown - and four juniors in outside hitters Sydney Bryant and Jane Mattingly, setter Amy Crouch and middle hitter Amanda Gutierrez.
The Lady Jackets open the season Friday night with a pair of games at the Sewanee University tournament in Tennessee, then follow with two more Saturday.
Defending American Southwest Conference champion Texas Lutheran (19-6, 16-2) was picked to win the ASC West, receiving nine of 14 first-place votes and 91 points overall. Hardin-Simmons (21-18, 16-2), with four first-place votes, was next in line, followed by McMurry (17-8, 11-7), Concordia (15-16, 10-8) and Schreiner (11-14, 8-10). Sul Ross (6-21, 3-15) was projected to place seventh.
Preseason players of the year in the ASC West were Hardin-Simmons junior middle blocker Kaela Parnell on the offensive side, and Concordia senior outside hitter Sara Keithley on the defensive side.
In the ASC East, one point is all that decided the difference between the top teams in the preseason poll. UT-Dallas (21-9, 15-2) received seven first-place votes and 66 points, while East Texas Baptist (20-10, 14-3) finished with five first-place votes and 65 points.
The rest of the East poll included Mary Hardin-Baylor (13-17, 7-10) in third place, Mississippi College (14-15, 7-10) in fourth place, UT-Tyler (7-22, 2-15) in fifth place and LeTourneau (6-21, 2-15) in sixth place.
East Texas Baptist junior outside hitter Katie Graves was voted preseason offensive player of the year, while Mary Hardin-Baylor sophomore libero Erin Maenius got the nod as preseason defensive player of the year.
The ASC championship tournament is slated to take place Nov. 7-8 at the site of the West Division champion. The top three teams from each division qualify, and the winner receives an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III tournament.
HPU last won the conference tournament in 1996, which was the first year of the event.