As a small child with a last name that began with ‘R’, I often silently raged against the alphabetical system that relegated me to the back of everything. I swore then that when I achieved power (true absolute power), I would always go in reverse alphabetical order, which is why I’m beginning my conference previews with the American Southwest Conference (ASC). (Despite raging against the alphabetical system, I’ve always suffered from a lack of commitment.)
With that clarified, I’ll be doing my preview/prediction posts each day this week. Here is the order:
- Monday – ASC
- Tuesday – NWC
- Wednesday – SCAC
- Thursday – SCIAC
- Friday – West Regional Rankings
Yes, my younger self is shaking his head in disgust.
- UT Dallas – 2017 winners of the east and conference tournament
- UT Tyler*
- Louisiana College
- UMHB – 2017 winners of the west
- Howard Payne
- Sul Ross State
* UT-Tyler matches do not count against the ASC standings nor are they eligible for the conference tournament. My placement of the Patriots in this spot is just to show where I think they would have ended up. Note that matches against UT-Tyler do count as DIII matches and are considered for NCAA Tournament selection.
# Belhaven is not eligible for the conference tournament as they are in their fourth year of DIII provisional status. The hope is that they will become a full member next year.
Conference Tournament Champion – UT Dallas
I really don’t like to write prediction posts and simply cut/paste the standings from last year but that is what this post is all about. I really don’t see a change in standings from 2017 with the possible exception of the Concordia/Hardin-Simmons positioning. One thing I found very interesting is that a lot of the ASC teams are returning the bulk of their players and that includes the top teams. That means the ASC is going to be tougher than in 2017 and my hope is that will be reflected when the teams play out-of-region. If you looked at my preseason Top 25 then you know I think UT Dallas and UMHB have a really good chance at NCAA Tournament bids this year and nothing changed my opinion while preparing this post. Watch out for McMurry who could surprise this year.
One item of note regarding the ASC Tournament (and which I teased in my Friday Musings post) is that the first match of the tournament (the seed 2 versus seed 3 matches) will be single elimination. After these opening matches, the four teams remaining will play a double-elimination format. In the past, the entire tournament was double-elimination. No changes are being made to the teams in each division despite the fact that there are only 4 eligible teams in the East Division.
Team Blubs (Records and finish are from 2017)
UT Dallas (24-11 overall and 13-3 conference – 1st in the East)
UT Dallas once again won the ASC East and, benefiting from hosting the ASC Tournament, they were able to defeat UMHB for the championship and garner the only NCAA Tournament bid the ASC received. UT Dallas suffered injuries to two of their top players (Brinkman and Zeng) before the start of last year but both will be back this year. UT Dallas is losing around 20% of their points from senior graduation but it also looks like a junior OH will not be returning. My concern with the team is the graduation of MB Emma Wallbrown (372 points) but the program looks to have recruited at least two 6’+ middles and if one of these freshmen can fill some of that hole then the Comets should be at the same level as last year. Now, throw into the mix both Brinkman (488.5 points in 2016!) and defensive wizard Zeng and look out. I also think the Comets will win the conference championship despite the host site being the winner of the West Division this year.
Key Out of Conference Matches – Heidelberg, CMS, La Verne, Trinity, Cal Lutheran, CMS (again), Emory, Southwestern, Millikin, DePauw and WUSTL.
UT Tyler (22-8 overall and 12-4 conference – 2nd in the East)
UT Tyler has been accepted into Division II so this will be their last year in the ASC. They will not be eligible for championships while they reclassify although their players will be eligible for conference awards. The Patriots were a good team last year before faltering in the ASC Tournament and losing any hope of an NCAA at-large bid. They are losing 17% of their points from senior graduation and at this point I’m unsure of any other roster turnover. Assuming the bulk of their team is remaining, UT Tyler should comfortable slot into the 2nd spot in the East (as it were).
Key Out of Conference Matches – Illinois Wesleyan, Saint Benedict, Covenant, CMS, Southwestern and Hendrix.
ETBU (13-19 overall and 8-8 conference – 3rd in the East)
ETBU is returning most of their roster and it is reflected in their 14% senior graduation loss in points. They also seem to have a rather large recruiting class that contains some height. I definitely see some improvement occurring with this team so anything less than a .500 record would be a disappointment. I don’t think they have enough to challenge for the top two spots but they comfortable slot into number 3 and should take the second seed out of the East Division.
Key Out of Conference Matches – Saint Thomas, Nebraska Wesleyan and Colorado College
Belhaven (13-17 overall and 7-9 conference – 4th in the East)
Belhaven is ineligible for the conference and NCAA tournaments as they are reclassifying to DIII. It appears the team is losing around 25% of their points from senior graduation as well as a good underclassman that is no longer on the roster. Belhaven is also losing their setter. Assuming they find a replacement for their setter, 2018 looks to be a repeat of 2017.
Key Out of Conference Matches – Millsaps, Aurora, Wartburg and Millikin.
LeTourneau (10-22 overall and 4-12 conference – 5th in the East)
LeTourneau is a team that seems to struggle every year but some strides were made last year under their first-year coach, Ashley Tiernan. The team will lose 36% of their points to senior graduation in addition to one of their setters. I worry that whatever benefits their recruiting class can bring in, it won’t be enough to improve on their 2017 season. They are just going to be a little too undersized to compete against the teams I have rated higher in the conference. Having said that, LeTourneau is in a great position to win the 3rd spot from the eligible teams in the East Division and go to the ASC Tournament.
Key Out of Conference Matches – UW-Superior, Heidleberg and Austin College
Louisiana College (2-23 overall and 0-16 conference – 6th in the East)
Louisiana College played their first year in DIII last year and obviously struggled. They are only losing 8% of their points to senior graduation but it also appears the team has lost 9 underclassmen. Now, none of these ladies played much last year so it seems the core group is still in place. I couldn’t find much video on their recruiting class and the listed heights show they will be a little undersized. I’m not trying to be negative but it’s just hard to build a program from scratch and compete immediately in a conference like the ASC. Good things will come for the Lady Wildcats, I just don’t see a lot of wins coming this season.
Key Out of Conference Matches – Austin College and Millsaps
UMHB (28-5 overall and 15-1 conference – 1st in West)
UMHB is coming off an unrewarded but tremendous season with hope that 2018 ends with an NCAA Tournament bid. UMHB had only 5 losses but 3 of those came in their final 6 matches. Win any of those three it probably results in a Pool A or Pool C bid. UMHB return everyone from last year with the exception of their setter, Natasha Evans. I am a little concerned over the lack of a backup setter on the roster. There are a few players listed as a setter but all of them are also listed as hitters. Miranda Klein might be used like Evans was last year but I’m unsure how this will turn out. It’s also possible a stud setter will be recruited in as I haven’t been able to find most of their 2018 recruits. My assumption is that they will find a setter and repeat their success from last year.
Key Out of Conference Matches – Heidleberg, UW-Superior, Clarkson, Whittier, Cal Lutheran, Southwestern, Austin College and Trinity
McMurry (24-10 overall and 11-5 conference – 2nd in West)
McMurry is an interesting team. This will be the first time in over 6-years that they will be able to compete for a championship due to their ping-ponging back and forth from DIII to DII and back again. To top it off, they return pretty much everyone, which means they will be competing for the top spot in the West Division. I still think UMHB will be too strong and you have to remember that McMurry didn’t take a game off of UMHB last year. This should be an improved team and I’m not going to dismiss that they could be the 2018 version of Whittier in the West Region. I just wish their schedule would have been tougher. UMHB learned the hard way that good teams from the ASC with average strength of schedules don’t get at-large NCAA bids.
Key Out of Conference Matches – Virginia Wesleyan, Randolph-Macon and Austin College (twice)
Concordia (19-14 overall and 10-6 conference – 3rd in West)
Concordia surprised me (in a good way) last year and I think they should be able to repeat their success in 2018. They only lose 17% of their points to senior graduation and look to add a junior transfer that might be able to help them on the outside. It’s sort of rare for the top 3 teams in a division to return the bulk of their team, but it’s for this reason that I think Concordia will stay in the 3rd spot this year.
Key Out of Conference Matches – Austin College, Millsaps, La Verne, Trinity and Southwestern
Hardin-Simmons (15-17 overall and 9-7 conference – 4th in West)
I was really high on HSU last year and was disappointed, along with the team, on how the season progressed. They lose 20% of their points to senior graduation so really the story will be how their underclassmen step up and what recruits they can get this year. Still, assuming the best, it will be neck and neck with Concordia for the 3rd spot in the west. This is actually a pretty important position as only three teams from each division will make the ASC Tournament. In the end, I think HSU will be better but the “fool me once” theory says to take Concordia over HSU for the 3rd spot.
Key Out of Conference Matches – Millsaps and Cal Lutheran
Howard Payne (9-20 overall and 6-10 conference – 5th in West)
HPU will lose their setter to graduation in 2018 but not much else. I don’t have much insight into their recruits at this time but just based on their extra year of experience (and the assumption they have a setter ready), they should be better in 2018. Again, the problem is that the four teams above them in the division are also gaining that year of experience with teams that are returning most everyone. Look for a slightly better record but a 5th place finish in the west.
Key Out of Conference Matches – None (Some elements of the schedule are still missing.)
Sul Ross State (3-24 overall and 1-15 conference – 6th in West)
Sul Ross will not lose much to graduation in 2018 and seem to be returning everyone they could but it won’t be enough to escape the cellar in the west. Look for a slight improvement in the record as this team is still very young and the experience can only help their performance. Still, this is an undersized team that will struggle most nights.
Key Out of Conference Matches – Austin College