|NEW ORLEANS - A year after taking home the regular season Sun Belt title and a second consecutive tournament crown, the Middle Tennessee volleyball team was selected along with arch-rival Western Kentucky as the preseason favorite to win the East, as announced by the Sun Belt office on Wednesday.
"I think the poll vote shows how close the teams in the conference are to each other," head coach Matt Peck said. "Western and FIU have traditionally been up at the top with us in my time here, and we're certainly very glad to receive this honor. However, we don't put a whole lot of stock in this because we haven't played yet this season."
The Blue Raiders and Hilltoppers both earned six first-place votes in the poll, which is voted on by the head coaches of the conference. This season marks the second consecutive and fourth in the last five years that MT has been tabbed as a favorite in the East division.
Two Blue Raiders were named to the All-Sun Belt Preseason Team, headlined by Maria Szivos, who became the first player in school history to earn Preseason Player of the Year. Szivos is coming off a banner debut season in Murfreesboro, earning All-SBC First Team and All-SBC Tournament honors in 2010.
Joining Szivos on the Preseason Team is Ashley Adams. The San Luis Obispo, Calif., native was a revelation at outside hitter in 2010 after replacing an injured Alyssa Wistrick early in the season. Adams earned All-SBC First Team honors and ranked among the league leaders in kill per set.
"It's always great to know that the fellow coaches in the conference view our players so highly," Peck said. "We're definitely very honored for the recognition. We feel that we have a very balanced team and that at any point, any player on the court for us could win a match for us."
The Blue Raiders will begin the 2011 campaign on Saturday against 15th-ranked Colorado State in Fayetteville, Ark. Stay tuned to GoBlueRaiders.com and Twitter.com/MTVolleyball for further news and updates.
PRESEASON ALL-SUN BELT TEAM
Cayla Fielder, Arkansas State
Jovana Bjelica, FIU
Andrea Lakovic, FIU
Ashley Adams, Middle Tennessee
Maria Szivos, Middle Tennessee
Tiffany Elmore, Western Kentucky
Jordyn Skinner, Western Kentucky
Melanie Stutsman, Western Kentucky
Preseason Player of the Year: Maria Szivos, Middle Tennessee
Preseason Defensive Player of the Year: Megan Baska, Arkansas State