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Liberty Volleyball Team Picked to Finish Fourth in Big South
The Lady Flames return five starters from the 2005 team that tied for fifth in the conference standings. Included among the returners are senior middle blockers, Autum Black and Rachel Denton, and sophomore outside hitter, Kendall Nichols, a Big South all-freshman team member a season ago.
Winthrop University's volleyball team has been chosen first in the Big South Conference's annual preseason poll, as voted by the league's Head Volleyball Coaches and Sports Information Directors, while the panel voted UNC Asheville senior outside hitter and returning All-American Elif Unlu the league's Preseason Player of the Year.
Winthrop, under the direction of sixth year head coach Joel McCartney, received 15 first-place votes and 127 out of a possible 128 points to win its fifth-straight Big South title in 2006. Winthrop, which went 28-6 last season with a perfect 14-0 conference record and enters the 2006 season having won its last 29 Big South regular season games, was picked ahead of UNC Asheville, which received 95 points. Coastal Carolina finished third in the voting with one first-place vote and 85 points, while Liberty captured the fourth spot with 82 points. High Point was picked fifth with 79 points, followed by Charleston Southern (50), Birmingham-Southern (37) and Radford (21).
Unlu earned honorable mention All-America honors by the AVCA last season as she finished third in the league in kills with 476, averaging 4.07 per game. She also finished among the Big South leaders with a .290 attack percentage, as well as averaging 3.62 digs per game, earning a spot on the Big South all-conference first-team. The 2005 Big South all-tournament performer tallied 10 first-place votes and 88 total points.
Joining Unlu on the preseason all-conference team are Winthrop trio Shannon Sitzmann, Tori Grafeman and Taryn Surbaugh, while Coastal Carolina placed two on the team in Laura Obert and Kristin Rinne. Jamie Kaufman of High Point and Radford's Rachel Newton round out the list of preseason all-conference players.
The 2006 Big South volleyball season begins August 25, with five matches scheduled. Liberty opens its schedule on August 31, with a contest against Portland at the Davidson Mizuno Wildcat Classic. The women's volleyball Conference Championship is slated to begin Nov. 14 at the top four seeds, with the semifinals and finals to be held Nov. 18-19 on the campus of High Point University.