I think conference preview/prediction week will start next Monday so for this week I wanted to look at some of the key returners to the West Region. The main problem I had for this series is how to choose those players. My solution was to focus on the players that won awards in 2017 and sprinkle in some of the NCAA statistical leaders from last year. I’m sure this will cause some excellent players to fall through the crack but hopefully any anger generated will be focused on this upcoming season and not to me personally.
Today I highlight some of our top returning setters and right side players.
Lizzy Counts (Colorado College – Setter – Junior)
No list of returning players in the West Region is complete without Counts so we might as well start with her as she is the only returning West Region player that was first team All-American. As to be expected with that honor, Counts was also the player of the year in the SCAC, first-team All-Conference and first-team All-Region. Counts was instrumental in leading the Tigers to a 33-2 record with their only DIII loss coming in their final match against defending national champions CMS in the Southwestern Regional finals. Counts ranked 10th nationally in total assists with 1223 and 24th in assist per set with 10.19. Running a 5-1, Counts can also make you pay while on the front row as she ended the season with 173.5 points that included 7 kill matches against Austin College and Southwestern. To top it off, she also has a really nice serving game that resulted in 54 aces last season. Colorado College is an obvious selection to go far this season and a large part of the reason is the play of Lizzy Counts.
Megan Grimes (Southwestern – Setter – Senior)
Grimes completed her first year as setter taking over from second-team All-American Nikki Welch. Prior to last season, Grimes was an outstanding defensive specialist. Grimes was definitely an unknown commodity outside of Southwestern but that is no longer the case as she finished the 2017 season 2nd nationally in total assists with 1362 and 27th in assists per set with 10.09. Her best match was against TLU where she recorded a rare triple-double with 14 kills, 50 assists and 14 digs. Grimes finished the season with 190.5 points, which reflects the offensive power she is at the net. Grimes received second-team All-Conference in the SCAC, first-team All-Region and was an honorable mention All-American. Playing her first season as setter she ended the year with comparable statistics with Counts and it will be interesting to see how these two battle it out in the SCAC in 2018.
Katrina Lieberman (Trinity – Setter – Junior)
The SCAC certainly has their share of top setters as we complete the trifecta with Trinity’s Katrina Lieberman. Lieberman played her first year as setter taking over from first-team All-Conference Erika Edrington. Lieberman played in both a 6-2 and 5-1 lineup but really took over the team in early October. She received All-Tournament honors for the SCAC Championship after leading their team to the finals with a 57 assist effort against Southwestern. For the year, Lieberman finished 94th nationally in total assists and 122nd in assists per set. Assuming she’s handed a 5-1 lineup in 2018, Lieberman will only improve with a full season running the team.
Ellie Parker (Pacific – Setter – Senior)
Parker took over from Jamie Steach in 2017 and didn’t look back as she finished 4th nationally in assists per set and 73rd in total assists. If you recall, Pacific is one of the few programs in the West Region that has a JV program and Parker actually started her career on the JV team as a freshman. It’s obvious that experience helped as she became one of the most efficient setters in the nation in 2017. Parker had a 57 assist match against Pacific towards the end of the year and while she won’t reach the offensive statistics of a Counts or Grimes, Parker plays outstanding defense for the Boxers (21 digs against Pacific Lutheran). Parker was also honorable mention All-Conference and was on the CoSIDA Academic All-District team.
Note – I found it really interesting that when I factored in the returning setters with the graduated seniors, I had to go down the statistical rankings before a SCIAC setter made the list. Obviously, the SCIAC is one of the best conferences in the nation but currently the 6-2 lineup is pretty popular in SoCal. The above setters, for the most part, played the entire season in a 5-1 lineup, which helps their statistics.
Aria Dudley (Colorado College – Right Side – Senior)
Dudley is a wonderful safety valve for setter Lizzy Counts once she moves to the back row. Dudley is our most efficient returning right side in the West Region with a hitting percentage of 0.313 (77th in the nation among all positions). Dudley was first-team All-Conference, first-team All-Region and honorable mention All-American. Despite an injury plagued 2016, Dudley came back strong recording 304.5 points for the season as she is dominate in the attack as well as in the blocking game. Her best match was against TLU where she recorded 17 kills but she also recorded 7 blocks against Aurora which helped Dudley to an All-Tournament selection that weekend.
Miranda Klein (Mary Hardin-Baylor – Right Side – Junior)
Klein is the rare six rotation right side, which allowed her to record 242 digs on the year including 24 in one match against UT-Dallas ( a match where she fell 2 assists shy of a triple-double). At the net, Klein was the favorite target for setter Natasha Evans as she accumulated 306 kills (230th nationally) on 879 attacks (247th nationally). Klein ended the season with 3.44 points per set which was good for 247th in the nation. Klein was first-team All-Conference, first-team All-Region and an honorable mention All-American. Klein’s best matches were 21 kill efforts against Birmingham-Southern and then later in the year against Trinity.
Madeline McKay (Trinity – Right Side – Senior*)
McKay returns for another senior year as she has one more year of eligibility. In 2017, McKay earned first-team All-Conference and honorable mention All-Region. What’s crazy about McKay is that she actually had a “down” year as if recording 368.5 points was something bad, but when you post 444.5 points the preceding year you are almost guaranteed to have a “down” year. McKay was tremendous in the end-of-the-year tournaments averaging 19 kills in the SCAC Touranment and recording 17 kills in a losing effort against Pacific Lutheran in the NCAA Tournament. Oh, and McKay also has one of the best serves in the region.
Note – Okay. Maybe I just hate the SCIAC? Have no fear…they’ll show up this week!