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Coaches see Dixie State as No. 1

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    Hawaii Pacific's Kelly Balanay is the Pacific West Conference's preseason volleyball player of the year.

No team ran away with the preseason poll. No team is expected to run away with the conference title.

That was the consensus of the Pacific West volleyball coaches during yesterday’s media day teleconference. Five teams received first-place votes — Dixie State and Hawaii-Hilo each had three — and just eight points separated Nos. 1 (Dixie State) and 4 (Hawaii Pacific).

"I think the conference is going to be much closer than last year," Dixie State coach Gregg Jensen said. "It’s not going to be a runaway like Hilo (15-1) last year. Three losses could win it.

"The hardest road will be through Hawaii because we have to play at Hawaii-Hilo and BYU-Hawaii. But I’d be lying if I said I was surprised (by being voted No. 1). We’ll be better than last season."

What could have swung the top spot away from defending PacWest champion Hawaii-Hilo to Dixie State was the decision of Melissa Fifita to stay home. The 5-foot-11 outside hitter originally committed to the Vulcans, but the 2007 Utah state player of the year and Salt Lake Community College transfer will play for the Red Storm.

Dixie State also features two members of the preseason All-PacWest team in junior middle Morgan Hill and junior Jayci Jeffress, the lattter tabbed as the preseason libero of the year.

The Vulcans, ranked No. 22 in the preseason AVCA Division II poll, are expected to contend despite losing two-time PacWest coach of the year Bruce Atkinson and two-time player of the year Fabiane Seben. New coach Tino Reyes returns to his alma mater after being away from the women’s game for the past 18 seasons as the men’s associate coach at Hawaii.

Reyes, who has coached the women’s teams at Chaminade and Oregon State, doesn’t expect the transition to be difficult.

"Volleyball is volleyball," Reyes said. "The skills are the same. "The Vulcans have a storied history in volleyball and I’m hoping to relive that. We’ll pretty much go with the players from spring, rely on Kawena (Cubi-Otineru) and Katie (Swenson) for their leadership. We did lose a lot of good players, but the team we return should be a nice one."

Senior right-side hitter Cubi-Otineru and senior setter Swenson — who led NCAA Division II in assists — were named to the preseason conference team. Also on the team are BYUH junior hitter Losaline Faka’osi, the 2008 freshman of the year; Academy of Art senior middle Dan Yang; and HPU senior middle Kelly Balanay, the preseason player of the year.

That his team was picked to finish fourth "made for good practice fodder," HPU coach Daryl Kapis said. "I see a lot of parity in the league. Every night will be a grind."

Kapis has high expectations for his Sea Warriors, in part due to the addition of sophomore setter Pihana Kea, who spent last season playing for Pacific. The Punahou graduate "is the best setter I’ve ever coached," he said.

The Sea Warriors also have a date to play the Rainbow Wahine for the first time in 10 years.

Longtime BYUH coach Wilfred Navalta is expecting to contend for the PacWest title. The Seasiders are coming off a rare losing season (13-14) and finished fifth in the conference.

Leading BYUH is Faka’osi, who was plagued by injuries last year, and senior libero Nobuko Kotoyori. Navalta is high on his two Hagerstown (Md.) Community College transfers, junior hitters Julia Becker and Brazilian Morena Ribeiro.

Chaminade, the only college in Hawaii without a national volleyball title, shared seventh with Notre Dame de Namur in the coaches poll. But Silverswords coach Nahaku Brown came back for a second season because she liked what she had returning and was excited about her recruits. Among those expected to make an impact are freshman middle Mary Gillan from Guam and Allie Board, a transfer from Cal State Los Angeles.

Preseason All-PacWest Team

Player School Pos. Yr.
Kelly Balanay Hawaii Pacific MH Sr.
Kawena Cubi-Otineru Hawaii-Hilo OH Sr.
Losaline Faka’osi BYU-Hawaii OH Jr.
Morgan Hill Dixie State MH Jr.
Jayci Jeffress Dixie State L Jr.
Katie Swenson Hawaii-Hilo S Sr.
Dan Yang Academy of Art OH Sr.

Preseason Player of the Year
Kelly Balanay, Hawaii Pacific

Preseason Libero of the Year
Jayci Jeffress, Dixie State

Preseason Coaches Poll
(First-place votes in parentheses)
1. Dixie State (3), 78 points; 2. Hawaii-Hilo (3), 74; 3. Brigham Young-Hawaii (1), 71; 4. Hawaii Pacific (1), 70; 5. Grand Canyon, 62; 6. Academy of Art (1), 51; 7. (tie) Chaminade and Notre Dame de Namur, 32; 9. Dominican, 23.

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