Denver tabbed as preseason favorite

The Pioneers were picked to win The Summit League title for the fifth-consecutive season.
The Pioneers were picked to win The Summit League title for the fifth-consecutive season.

By: Aubrie Laufenberg
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – The Summit League's volleyball coaches pegged the Denver Pioneers as the 2018 preseason favorites for the fifth-consecutive season.

The Pioneers are the four-time defending regular season and tournament champions, earning 63 total points and seven first-place votes in this year's poll. Right behind Denver is league newcomer and 2017 Big Sky Champion North Dakota. The Fighting Hawks tallied 55 total points along with the other two first-place votes.

Omaha earned 44 points to edge South Dakota (43) and claim the No. 3 spot. Last year's runner-up Oral Roberts, who will have to replace 2017 Player of the Year Laura Milos, took the No. 5 spot in the poll with 33 total points.

In a tie for sixth with 31 points was Purdue Fort Wayne and North Dakota State. Rounding off the 2018 rankings was South Dakota State (No. 8; 13 points) and Western Illinois (No. 9; 11 points).

2018 Summit League Volleyball Preseason Coaches Poll




2017 Record (SL)



63 (7)

23-6 (12-2)


North Dakota

55 (2)

30-8 (12-4, Big Sky)




10-18 (7-7)


South Dakota


17-11 (10-4)


Oral Roberts


15-14 (11-3)


Purdue Fort Wayne


12-19 (4-10)


North Dakota State


19-9 (9-5)


South Dakota State


2-25 (0-14)


Western Illinois


8-20 (3-11)

#SummitVB Preseason Notes

  • Only one of The Summit League's four individual award honorees is back for the 2018 campaign with Omaha returning Freshman of the Year Bella Sade. Sade finished her freshman season with 242 kills, 108 blocks, 68 digs and 30 service aces.
  • Denver returns a pair of seniors that were the league leaders in total blocks and hitting percentage. Becca Latham notched a .350 clip on the season, while Emma Willis tallied 117 blocks.
  • All-Summit League honorees Nicole Rightnowar of Purdue Fort Wayne and Hayley Dotseth of South Dakota return to action as well. Rightnowar and Dotseth went two-three on the kills leaderboard last season with Rightnowar recording 396 and Dotseth hammering down 359.
  • Big-time defender and All-Summit League recipient Anne Rasmussen returns for her junior campaign. She led the defensive pack for South Dakota and finished second in the league in digs (569) and digs per set (5.42).
  • Purdue Fort Wayne setter Madison Jaqua and Western Illinois setter Jaime Johnson are both back for the 2018 season. They each ranked in the top five for assists last season with Jaqua finishing with 1,018 and Johnson marking 852.
  • North Dakota enters The Summit League bringing First Team All-Big Sky Conference honoree Jordan Vail to pace its offense. Vail accounted for 311 kills and 128 total blocks for the Fighting Hawks last season.

#SummitVB Schedule Notes

  • The 2018 campaign officially begins Aug. 24 with the first serve of league play on Sept. 21. Eight of the nine league schools will be in action that night.
  • The Summit League newcomer North Dakota will make its official debut in the league Sept. 21 at Western Illinois.
  • The opening weekend of league play features a rematch of the 2017 Summit League Championship match as Denver travels to Tulsa, Okla., to take on Oral Roberts.
  • The top six regular-season finishers qualify for The Summit League Volleyball Championships scheduled to start Friday, November 16. The championships will take place in Denver, Colo., in Hamilton Gymnasium – home of the Denver Pioneers.

Players to Watch

Becca Latham | Denver | Outside Hitter | Senior

  • Made the 2017 AVCA Midwest Region Honorable Mention Team
  • Led the league in hitting percentage (.350)

Emma Willis | Denver | Middle Blocker | Senior

  • Named to the All-Summit Team and Summit League All-Tournament team in 2017
  • Led the league in total blocks with 117

Katarina Marinkovic | Denver | Outside Hitter | Junior

  • Last season at Seattle University, totaled a team-high 361 kills and recorded 3.61 kills per set
  • Was selected to the ALL-WAC First Team and started all 28 matches

Jordan Vail | North Dakota | Middle Hitter | Senior

  • Earned All-Big Sky Conference First Team accolades after racking up 311 kills, 31 digs and 128 total blocks in 2017
  • Hit at a .342 clip, which marked the fourth-highest single-season hitting percentage in program history

Kayla Williams | North Dakota | Outside Hitter | Junior

  • Last season at UConn, tallied 310 kills, 31 assists, 33 service aces, 228 digs and 33 total blocks
  • Ranked first in the American Athletic Conference for service aces per game (0.41) and second in kills per game (3.88)

Ashley Brueggeman | North Dakota | Outside Hitter | Junior

  • Hit the court for all 38 matches of the season
  • Second on the team in kills (369) and third for total blocks (112)

Anna Blaschko | Omaha | Middle Blocker | Sophomore

  • 2017 Summit League All-Freshman Team
  • Led the league in solo blocks (17) and ranked second in total blocks (59)

Claire Mountjoy | Omaha | Defensive Specialist | Sophomore

  • 2017 All-Summit League Freshman Team
  • Sat third in the league in digs (458) and digs per set (4.67)

Isabella Sade | Omaha | Middle Blocker | Sophomore

  • 2017 Summit League Freshman of the Year, 2017 Summit League All-Freshman Team, 2017 All-Summit honorable mention
  • Ranked second in the league in blocks per set (1.04) and finished with 242 kills, 108 blocks, 68 digs and 30 service aces

Hayley Dotseth | South Dakota | Outside Hitter | Senior

  • Earned 2017 All-Summit accolades
  • Led USD in kills (359) and was second in digs (341), also finished with 25 service aces and 25 assists

Anne Rasmussen | South Dakota | Defensive Specialist | Junior

  • 2017 All-Summit recipient
  • Led the team and second in the league for digs (569), finished the season ranked 18th nationally

Bria Bergman | Oral Roberts | Setter | Senior

  • Placed seventh in the league with a career-high 561 assists
  • Finished out her junior campaign with 29 kills, eight service aces, 119 digs and five total blocks

CeCe Madison | Oral Roberts | Outside Hitter | Junior

  • Earned a spot on the 2017 All-Summit Team
  • Finished the season with 267 kills, 207 digs and 33 block assists

Nicole Rightnowar | Purdue Fort Wayne | Outside Hitter | Senior

  • Made the 2017 All-Summit Team and Summit League All-Tournament Team
  • Earned her 1,000th career kill and finished the season with 396 kills, 387 digs and 26 service aces

Katie Crowe | Purdue Fort Wayne | Outside Hitter | Sophomore

  • Named to the 2017 Summit League All-Freshman Team and was an All-Summit honorable mention honoree
  • Third on the team in digs (261), kills (256) and aces (24)

McKenzie Burke | North Dakota State | Outside Hitter | Senior

  • 2017 Summit League All-Tournament Team
  • Second on the team in kills (269), finished the season with 234 digs, 23 total blocks and 26 service aces

Bella Lein | North Dakota State | Middle Hitter | Sophomore

  • Finished third in league blocks per set (1.01), fourth in solo blocks (18) and fifth in total blocks (101)
  • Completed the season with 149 kills, 101 blocks, 29 digs and three assists

Payton Richardson | South Dakota State | Middle Blocker | Senior

  • Started 26 of 27 matches and hit higher than a .300 clip in 11 of those matches
  • Placed fourth on the team in kills per set (1.40) and led the team in block assists (42)

Ashlynn Smith | South Dakota State | Outside Hitter | Junior

  • Led the team in kills (214) and kills per set (2.55)
  • In league play, finished 17th in kills and 11th in kills per set

Jaime Johnson | Western Illinois | Setter | Senior

  • Tallied 803 assists (8.04 per set) and recorded more than 40 assists in six matches
  • Appeared in 27 matches, while starting 26

Mackenzie Steckler | Western Illinois | Outside Hitter | Redshirt Sophomore

  • Recorded 236 kills, 50 digs and a team-high 105 total blocks
  • Finished third in the league in hitting percentage with a .328 clip

Note: Players to Watch nominated by league's head coaches

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Through 36 years of Division I athletics, The Summit League offers 19 championship sports and has a combined enrollment of nearly 115,000 at nine institutions, including three located in top 60 U.S. metro populations and two land-grant universities. Member institutions include: Denver (University of Denver), the University of North Dakota, North Dakota State University, Omaha (University of Nebraska Omaha), Oral Roberts University, Purdue Fort Wayne (Purdue University Fort Wayne), the University of South Dakota, South Dakota State University and Western Illinois University. Previously known as the Mid-Continent Conference, The Summit League rebranded in 2007 and has since produced 12 NCAA Champions along with over 100 Academic All-Americans, nearly 125 All-America selections and numerous former student-athletes competing at the highest professional level. For more information about the league, visit website, follow The Summit League on Twitter @thesummitleague.