CWU volleyball

Members of the Central Washington volleyball team celebrate during their match against Fresno Pacific University on Saturday at Nicholson Pavilion in Ellensburg.

The Central Washington University volleyball team is set to open the 2019 season in an exhibition game. The Wildcats will remain in-state as they head to Spokane on Saturday, Aug. 24 to take on Gonzaga at 12 p.m. This will be CWU’s only exhibition match of the season.

LAST SEASON

Consistent excellence has become the norm for CWU Head Coach Mario Andaya and his program. That excellence reached new heights in 2018. The team made their seventh-straight NCAA West Regional appearance and captured a quarterfinal win for the first time in seven seasons. The Wildcats took on Cal State Los Angeles in the quarterfinals. They would go on to outlast the Golden Eagles in five sets. Their season came to a close in the semifinals. The Wildcats took on Cal State University San Bernardino who were ranked No. 1 in the country heading into the match. The Coyotes handled the Wildcats in four sets.

The Wildcats finished the 2018 campaign with a 23-6 overall record and were 16-4 in Great Northwest Athletic Conference play.

GNAC PRESEASON COACHES POLL

The Great Northwest Athletic Conference announced its Volleyball Preseason Coaches Poll on Thursday. The Wildcats were chosen to tie for the top spot with rival Western Washington, as both teams totaled 114 points.

The Wildcats earned four first place votes in the 2019 GNAC Preseason Coaches Poll. The Wildcat offense influenced votes from other coaches. In 2018, the team led the GNAC and ranked 10th in the nation with 14.43 kills per set. The Wildcat defense is stout as well. The team ranked eighth nationally with 2.53 blocks per set in 2018.

AVCA PRESEASON COACHES POLL

The American Volleyball Coaches Association announced their preseason coaches poll today. The Central Washington University volleyball team landed inside the top 25. The Wildcats earned 144 points on their way to ranking 23rd in the standings.

KEY RETURNERS

Makala Swart returns to the club after a breakout season last year. She was featured in the offense with 3.62 kills per set on a .243 hitting percentage.

Gabrielle Aihara played a huge roll in the Wildcat offense, ranking ninth in NCAA DII with 11.82 assists per set. Aihara is also a threat from behind the service line. She had 27 aces in 2018.

The Wildcat defense is stout as well. The team ranked eighth nationally with 2.53 blocks per set in 2018. Kyla Morgan returns to the team as the reigning GNAC Defensive Player of the Year. Morgan was 19th in the country with 5.84 digs per set.

Swart, Aihara and Morgan were named the American Volleyball Coach Association All-American team as Honorable Mentions.The trio were All-GNAC, as well as AVCA All-West Region honors.

Another important returner to the Wildcats is Bridgette Webb. Webb a consistent presence for the Wildcats in 2018. She led the team with a .341 hitting percentage and had 1.12 blocks per set. Her efforts earned herself a All-GNAC honorable mention.

Entering the 2019 season, Morgan, Swart, Aihara and Webb are anticipated to make up the core of the Wildcat team. Their performance in 2018 speaks for itself. Another Wildcat expected to make noise this season is Diana Fa’amausili. In 2016, Fa’amasuli earned GNAC Freshman of the Year honors as a member of Alaska Anchorage. After missing last season, Fa’amasuli’s return is anticipated by the Wildcats. Julia Mellander, Lexi Schamadan and Madison Lee hope to add valuable contributions to the Wildcats in 2019.

KEY ADDITIONS

An exciting crop of new talent join Coach Andaya and the Wildcats in 2019. The Wildcats welcome seven new student-athletes to the team this season. Several come to the team with outstanding backgrounds.

Outside hitter Ashley Kaufman joins the Wildcats from Lake City High School in Hayden, Idaho. Kaufman was a four-year letterwinner who earned First Team All-League honors in each of those years. Kaufman made the State All-Tournament team from the time she was a sophomore. Kaufman capped a fabulous high school career by hearing the High School North Idaho Female Athlete of the Year in 2018.

Alyssa Smith is an outside hitter form Yakima, Washington. Smith was a part of a West Valley team that won the 4A State Title. Smith was First Team All-League as a member for the Rams in 2017 and 2018.

Setter Macy Wilke joins the Wildcats from Phoenix, Arizona. Wilke has big match experience, starting in three consecutive state championship games. Sunnyslope High School won the state title in 2017. In 2018, Wilke recorded 921 assists, the second most in 5A.

“It’s always exciting to play, but our approach to this weekend is to see how far along we are after a week of learning,” Coach Andaya said. “By no means are we accelerating our process for this match but we want to compete for sure. We have some things we need to be good at early on, and this will give us a benchmark to see how we’re doing.”

BULLDOGS IN 2018

The Bulldogs opened their 2018 season with a bang, sweeping the Les Schwab West Coast Conference Challenge hosted by Portland State. During that tournament, the Bulldogs took care of the Pac-12’s California in five sets. The Bulldogs found success in five set matches throughout the season, as the team on five of the seven five set matches they competed in. The Bulldogs failed to make the West Coast Conference tournament, finishing the season 8-10 in conference and 20-13 overall.

BULLDOG STANDOUT

Sarah Penner picked up her second-straight All-WCC honor as she was named All-West Coast Conference Honorable Mention after being named to the All-Freshman team a season ago. Penner led the Bulldogs in kills, attacks and points for the second-straight season, finishing with 313 kills hitting .184 for 2.93 kills per set. The Sherwood, Ore., native added 1.40 digs per set to rank fifth on the squad and had 66 total block on the season, good for third. Penner was named to the 2019 All-WCC Preseason Volleyball Team.

A FAMILIAR PUP

This season, the Bulldogs have added Tia Andaya, daughter of Wildcat Head Coach Mario Andaya. At Ellensburg High School, Andaya led Bulldogs to a 22-7-3 overall record including a perfect 11-0 mark in district play in addition to the league and district championships. She collected 1,249 kills hitting .302 to go along with 1,255 assists, 999 digs, 214 aces and 137 blocks during her high school career. For Coach Andaya this family affair should be a fun one.

“I’m excited for my daughter. She’s a competitor so if she’s across the net, I’m sure we’ll see a fired up kid,” Coach Andaya said.

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