St. Louis, Mo., August 15, 2018 – The Washington University in St. Louis volleyball team was listed No. 10 in the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Preseason Top-25 poll, as announced by the organization Tuesday.
The Bears return 13 letterwinners from head coach Vanessa Walby's 2017 University Athletic Association (UAA) Champion squad that finished the year 24-10 with an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III Tournament.
"The ranking is a nice compliment to our returners and program in general," replied Walby. "However, this is a new team and we have a lot of hard work ahead of us to earn that ranking."
WashU returns a pair of AVCA All-Americans in senior middle hitter Julianne Malek and senior outside hitter Ifeoma Ufondu. Malek posted the nation's second best and a team-high hitting percentage while totaling 351 kills on 674 attempts for a .427 clip. Ufondu led WashU with 377 kills last season and was the lone Bear to surpass 100 kills and 100 digs on the year.
Malek was named the UAA Most Valuable Player, in addition to receiving First Team all-UAA honors. Ufondu was joined by junior libero Zoe Baxter and junior middle hitter Leila King as Second Team all-UAA honorees, while Walby and her assistant coaches were awarded the UAA Coaching Staff of the Year.
Baxter led the team with 582 digs in 2017, posting her second consecutive 500 dig season. King led the team with 115 total blocks while tallying 267 kills, the third most on the team.
WashU's 2018 schedule contains nine teams ranked in the AVCA preseason top-25, not including six additional teams that received votes. Emory was the top team listed from the UAA, slotting in at No. 5 while Carnegie Mellon was ranked No. 12 and Chicago was just outside the top-25 in the receiving votes category.
"We're playing a ranked opponent roughly every weekend," added Walby. "Playing in such a tough conference, we need a strong schedule in order to secure consideration for the tournament if we don't win the UAA."
Baxter, Malek and Ufondu will serve as the captains in 2018. Also returning for the Bears are seniors Lauren Martin and Natalie Stephanus, juniors Emily Jayne, Chloe Stile and Hannah Turner and sophomores Tricia Brown, Rachel Cheng, Amanda Hua and Kirby Knapp.
Last season Martin totaled a personal-high 123 kills and Stephanus returned from a preseason injury to accumulate 183 digs. Jayne averaged more than a dig per set while seeing action in 20 matches. Stile finished second on the team with 490 assists and Turner tallied 110 kills and 45 blocks after missing her freshman season due to injury.
Of the second year student-athletes, Knapp led the team in assists with 549 while Brown's 263 kills ranked fourth. In limited time, Cheng recorded 20 digs and Hua missed 2017 due to injury.
"I think they will bring a nice skill set and personality to our team. They have a passion for the game and are excited to be a part of something bigger than themselves," said Walby in reference to the incoming class of seven.
WashU begins the season in Lexington, Ky. on Friday, August 31 at Transylvania. The Bears home opener is slated for Friday, September 7 at 5 p.m. against Nebraska Wesleyan. The home opener is staff and faculty appreciation night.
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