NCAA women’s season preview series – Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference


NCAA women's season preview series - Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference

Look at me! Ac.

The efforts I was unable to spend covering World League over the weekend instead went toward another NCAA preview piece. This is a big’un, a 13-team league with all members sponsoring volleyball. That’s why it’s taken me a few days to put together. A reminder, the rundown:

America East Conference
Southwestern Athletic Conference
Patriot League
Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference
Big Sky Conference
Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference
Northeast Conference
Big South Conference
Colonial Athletic Association
Ohio Valley Conference
Horizon League
Western Athletic Conference
Southland Conference
Conference USA
The Summit League
Atlantic Sun Conference
American Athletic Conference
Ivy League
Southern Conference
Mid-American Conference
Sun Belt Conference
Atlantic 10 Conference
Big West Conference
Mountain West Conference
Big East Conference
Missouri Valley Conference
Atlantic Coast Conference
Southeastern Conference
Big 12 Conference
West Coast Conference
Big Ten Conference
Pac-12 Conference

Kind of like the Patriot League are the NCAA’s second Ivy League, the MEAC are the NCAA’s second SWAC. I think the SWAC is probably the better-known of the two conferences comprising historically black colleges and universities, if perhaps only for the annual Grambling/Southern football game. But the MEAC are the other. They experience no change in membership ahead of 2013-14, looking pretty comfortable with their 13-school stable.

Interestingly, of the conference’s 7 charter members, all of them are currently in the league — but only 4 have had uninterrupted tenures. The same has been true of some later members as well, that they left only to join back up again. The two newest additions to the conference came in 2010 — North Carolina Central (who were one of the charter members back in 1970) and Savannah State (who floundered a bit as an independent when they first classified to Division I).

MEAC teams have won national championships, though depending on your perspective you may wish to asterisk them a little. Maryland-Eastern Shore are three-time NCAA bowling champions, Howard won the 1974 men’s soccer championship (as well as the 1971 championship, which they later vacated), and Florida A&M won the old I-AA football championship back in 1978. North Carolina Central also won a men’s basketball championship in 1989 as a member of NCAA Division II.

Here were the MEAC volleyball standings last season:

Northern Division
1. Maryland-Eastern Shore 11-1 (28-6)
2. Hampton 9-3 (19-14)
3. Norfolk State 9-3 (14-20)
4. Coppin State 6-6 (11-14)
5. Morgan State 4-8 (5-21)
6. Delaware State 2-10 (5-21)
7. Howard 1-11 (1-23)

Southern Division
1. Florida A&M 10-0 (15-11)
2. South Carolina State 6-4 (9-15)
3. North Carolina Central 6-4 (8-22)
4. Bethune-Cookman 5-5 (5-28)
5. North Carolina A&T 3-7 (3-29)
6. Savannah State 0-10 (0-33)

Just like in the SWAC, only divisional play counts as conference play. UMES, quite evidently the best team in the league in both conference and non-conference play, took on fourth-seeded Nebraska in the NCAA tournament. I remember on Selection Sunday thinking Nebraska were a fair bit overseeded, but they didn’t have much trouble with the Hawks, winning (25-14, 25-10, 25-18).

NCAA women's season preview series - Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference

The Hawks had an all-around strong season in 2012 other than two days in September. They won 14 of their first 15 matches a season ago, a stretch that included a 4-set win over the Big 12’s West Virginia Mountaineers. After being swept out of the Cal-State Bakersefield invitational on 20 and 21 September, the UMES’ only conference loss was their final (and, ultimately, most meaningless) match of the year, against Hampton. Three conference tourney wins, and that’s a berth in the NCAA’s. A very solid season for a team in such a minor conference. Prior head coach Don Metil has gone for greener pastures, leaving after six 20-win seasons and two conference championships to become the new head coach at Towson University. His replacement is Millicent Van Norden, who might be volleyball’s first member of the Reggie Cleveland All-Stars. Van Norden has 10 years’ head coaching experience at schools in the SWAC and MEAC but was most recently an assistant for the Pitt Panthers of the Big East.

With only 8 players remaining from last year’s roster, recruiting was an immediate focus for Van Norden in her first months on the job. A five-player recruiting class (two links there) has been signed, including UMES’ first two players ever from the state of Hawaii. They won’t stand out as exotic, though — the team retain players from Austria (Bridget Ebster-Schwarzenberger and Elli Steiner) as well as China (Jingqiao Li, the team’s regular libero) from last year’s roster. The team’s big statistical leader last year was junior-to-be Saitaua Iosia, who led the team in total kills despite only playing in about two-thirds of their action. She missed a little time with an injury, but her 4.3 kills per set were good for third in the conference and quite convincingly led the team. She also had 62 service aces in that slightly-limited playing time, to lead the conference. Expect big things from the outside hitter this season. Two Hawks return who started every match and played every set last year — outside hitter Maline Vatai and setter Jessica Vicic, first team all-conference a season ago (a third returner, opposite hitter Victoria Williams, played every match but did not start all of them).

The Hawks’ weak point will probably be blocking, as they were only marginally better than their opposition last year and graduate their only two players listed at MB a season ago. Expect incoming recruits Moriah Brookins and Haley Robinson to compete for immediate playing time.

NCAA women's season preview series - Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference

Just like UMES, Hampton experience a change at the top coming in to this season, as Karen Weatherington takes over the helm of the pirate ship after four years at Kennesaw State. Though their record last season was mediocre and they didn’t play any particularly strong teams, they came close to making the NCAA tournament, losing a 5-set MEAC semifinal to UMES 15-13 in the 5th. This coming season represents something of a peak for Hampton, as they’ll have five seniors on their roster this year. Much like Saitua Iosia for UMES, Hampton’s big star a season ago didn’t play in all their matches. Czech opposite hitter Vendula Strakova, who, also like Iosia, will be a junior this coming year, led the team in total kills in limited playing time. I’m fairly sure she also led the conference in total kills, but that’s not a stat that’s kept. I can’t find anything about her missing time with an injury, but it seems likely. She was fourth in attack percentage (best of any non-MB) and second in kills per set.

Her counterpart on the outside, Latvian Krista Kraskura didn’t have quite as impressive statistical output, but she did play the whole season. She was the only Lady Pirate to play in every match last year, and that worked in her favour to attain first team all-conference honours. She is evidently a skilled six-rotation player, as she led the team in total digs a season ago. Again like Iosia, she will be a junior this year. Hampton were a remarkably international team a season ago, as of their 12-player roster, only 4 were born in the United States. The 8 international players came from 7 different countries as well. Probably the foremost senior on this year’s squad is Brazilian setter Bibiany Fonseca, who was second team all-MEAC in 2012 and third in the conference in assists per set. Outside hitters Ioana Kalfinova and Petra Parros as well as libero Sheileen Pagan return having had regular, but not constant, playing time last year. Blocking is a major question mark for the Lady Pirates this year, as they were out-blocked a season ago, were middle of the road in conference, and they lose Mariah Baylor, who was in on more than half of their total blocks in 2012. While bearing in mind that the coaching change could impact all of this (same goes for UMES actually) it seems clear that this will be the major chink in this team’s armour.

NCAA women's season preview series - Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference

Norfolk State have an interesting coaching situation as well. Brandon Duvall leads the Spartans as an interim head coach — and has since 2010. You’d think they’d just give him the full title already. Last year was one of the best in the program’s history, as they posted a 9-3 conference mark with 14 total wins (their non-conference wins weren’t terribly impressive, though — the best was probably against Navy) before a semifinal exit in the MEAC tournament. The Spartans lose four players to graduation from their 2012 formation, including their top scorer Charlotte Armstead, who was second team all-MEAC. Brazilian opposite Beatriz Ferreira also departs having been a big piece to the puzzle last season, so it will remain for younger players to step up. Two middle blockers, Coralie Jarema and Goda Jankuskaite (who is from Lithuania — can I say how surprised I am to find all these international players in such an unassuming conference?), return as seniors, but they’re the only ones. They also will have to step up a block that was decidedly mediocre last season, just 7th-best in the MEAC. It’s all underclassmen after them. None will be entirely green, as everyone got at least some playing time a year ago (indeed, no one started every match and only three players played in all of them), but you’ve gotta wonder a little where the production’s going to come from.

NCAA women's season preview series - Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference

The Coppin State Eagles had what can only be considered an unqualified success in 2012, coming fourth in the MEAC North and qualifying for the conference tournament with a team of 8 freshmen and 4 sophomores. Outside hitter Ariel Richard, middle blocker Kandace Thomas, and setter Chelsee Sauni started every match and played every set. Neither they nor anyone on the team nor the team itself had particularly impressive statistical showings in 2012, but the fact that they were all there, won 11 of their 25 matches, and made the conference tournament have got to be good signs for the future. Richard led the team in all scoring categories, and regular libero Gabrielle Otero was solidly second in the MEAC in digs per set, as Coppin State’s defence was pretty close to being the match of their opponents last year.

They were at a slight disadvantage, all told, in all other phases of the game last year, but it’s hard to look at this team and not see them in line to have a big improvement in wins and losses this year. And perhaps in anticipation of this uptick, the team spread their options last year. In addition to the aforementioned, four more players appeared in some capacity in every match — outside hitters Nicole Malave, Bianca Chatman and Cindy Okpegbue, and middle blocker Kendra Ireigbe. There’s bound to be a winning combination in there somewhere.

NCAA women's season preview series - Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference

With Morgan State, we really go from the haves to the have-nots in the MEAC North. They boasted a much more experienced roster than Coppin State last year, and will again this year, Morgan State were a match the lesser of the Eagles (and could only split with them head-to-head). A loss to lowly Howard to close out the team’s season without going to the conference tournament. Unlike Coppin State, there’s not a whole lot of reason to be bullish about these Lady Bears. They lose three seniors from their 2012 team, although none were constant presences on the court. The team will again have three seniors this year, two of whom played in every match a year ago — setter Natalie Chafeh and middle hitter Janelle Wilson. The ‘glass half-full’ outlook involves two sophomores-to-be, outside hitter Samantha Prescott (from Trinidad & Tobago, to continue the conference’s international flavour) and opposite hitter Arianna Hayden, both of whom got regular playing time last year and got better as the year went on. But their seasons as a whole were both pretty unremarkable, sorry to say (at least statistically). Last year, the Bears as a team were in the lower-third of the MEAC in every statistical category other than blocks (where they were 6th), so there’s just nothing terribly remarkable about this team.

NCAA women's season preview series - Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference

(Bee phobia, academic logo, deal with it….) The website for the Delaware State Hornets is kind of a cool one. Navigation from the home page to the various sports works by Olympics-esque pictogram (though I doubt the IOC ever made any such pictogram for American football). In winning just five matches and only two in conference, the Hornets never really flirted with contention a year ago. They were pretty staunchly mediocre in all aspects of the game last year, with the exception of blocking where they were a solid third in the MEAC (although still out-paced by their competition).

The Hornets certainly shared the wealth when it came to playing time, as of their 10 players a season ago, 8 of them appeared in every match (and a ninth appeared in all but one). They graduated their only setter to see regular playing time, Christobel Fakaosi. Natalia Mendieta, who is listed at setter, will have to settle into the starting role after being used mainly as a serving and defensive player a year ago. Middle blocker Laisha Davis is the other departure. Outside hitters Jessica Russell-Croucher and Edarkis Branch return having started every match last year, while Fakaosi, Davis, and Brooke Redmon (second in the MEAC in attack percentage) played every set. The team have announced a three-player incoming class this year, and if last year’s playing time distribution is anything to go by, they might all see a lot of the court this season. The recruiting class is the first for new head coach Kisya Killingsworth-Putney. This is Killingsworth-Putney’s first head coaching position after two years as an assistant at Bethune-Cookman.

NCAA women's season preview series - Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference

The Buffalo Bi…I’m sorry, the Howard Lady Bison…brought up the rear in the MEAC North a season ago. Only a late-season win over Morgan State, as aforementioned, kept them from a winless 2012 campaign (and kept the conference from the ignominious feat of having two such teams in one season). Of Howard’s 23 losses, only five were not sweeps. My computer isn’t capable of opening their 2012 stat book, but that’s probably for the best, frankly. Only libero Alexis Skinner and her 2.55 digs per set total even appear in the conference top-10’s. The Lady Bison finished no higher than 9th in any team category. Setter Jasmine King was the only senior on last year’s squad, though it looks as though Stephanie Schultis (listed at OH/S — and as a 6-footer it’s an interesting quandary) was the primary setter. Meagan Lagerlef was the team’s principal scoring option. Howard have announced a solid six-player incoming class (again, two links there) to bolster the ranks for 2013.

NCAA women's season preview series - Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference

The Florida A&M Lady Rattlers (and I’ve probably neglected the “Lady” off some team that officially go by that, and if I did, I’m not sorry, because it strikes me as very silly, this business of putting “Lady” in front of your nickname….anyway, I digress….) strongly continue the conference’s international trend. Last season, they had 5 players from Peru (and though they’re all from the capital Lima, they’re different classes and none appear to be sisters) to go along with players from Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and Belgrade, Serbia. Add a Bulgarian head coach, and middle blocker Danielle Bivins, who is from Jacksonville, Florida, must have felt a little alone at home. With three graduating seniors from last year’s team, they have added at least two incoming recruits, who hail from Florida and Idaho.

Losing second team all-MEAC middle blocker Pamela Barrera (who led the conference in attack percentage by a huge margin) and libero Karol Marquez will be a blow for the Lady Rattlers. They’ll look to rally around redshirt sophomore outside hitter Yeisha Arcia, who led the team in scoring last year. Marquez’ 5.1 digs per set, by far best in the conference, won’t be easily replaced, and it looks to be Joanie Del Castillo who will have to step up and try. Florida A&M were the best hitting and digging team in the MEAC South a year ago, a testament to their 10-0 conference mark. They were pretty badly outpaced in terms of blocking, but that didn’t really matter much. The MEAC final last year pitted the two best teams in the league against each other, with the Hawks prevailing over the Lady Rattlers in 5 sets, but I don’t know if I’d project FAMU to make it that far again.

NCAA women's season preview series - Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference

The South Carolina State Lady Bulldogs (….*sigh*) were so-so in conference last year and a fair sight worse out of it. The Lady Bulldogs had the most prodigious scorer in the league in 2012, as middle hitter Desire Waller racked up almost 5 kills per set in pretty substantial playing time (77 of the team’s 88 sets), good enough to be named first team all-MEAC and MEAC Player of the Year. Waller returns for her senior season in 2013. The team had only one senior last year, outside hitter E. Paige Webb (a lawyer-to-be, with a moniker like that?). She played every match and set but was only an occasional starter. Middle hitter Alyse Lewis and setter Melanie Williams saw all action for SC State a year ago, and return for 2013 as a senior and a sophomore, respectively. Williams was the MEAC’s fourth-best setter in 2012, while Lewis led the conference in blocks at 1.1 per set — one of only two players to be above 1 BPS for the year. She led SC State’s overall strong block presence, which was by far the best in the MEAC.

Last season, this drop from Florida A&M to SC State represented a drop from the ‘best’ to the ‘rest’ but I’m certain it won’t be so cut-and-dried this time around. SC State are returning too many big contributors from last season. Barring any substantial injuries, I’d expect them to make a run at the conference crown.

NCAA women's season preview series - Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference

Honestly, I’d never heard heard of this school before starting this piece. Not even once. This team did not have a senior on the roster last year, giving them 2013 as a purposeful goal. Their leader last season was Christine Anthony, a freshman outside hitter from Curaçao who was named first team all-MEAC and MEAC Rookie of the Year in 2012. Her 3.7 kills per set were certainly the backbone of the team’s offence, and were good for 4th in the league. The team split time between two international players at setter, Italian Alice Genna and Puerto Rican Melissa Rabel Pineiro. Both played a lot, and both started a lot, but neither had much by the way of attacking statistics, suggesting that the Eagles may have run something akin to Washington’s back-row setter formations. They combined for over 10 assists per set, and Genna individually was seventh in the league in assists. Middle hitter Kalin Russell led the Eagles’ block, which was roughly the match of their opponents on the year (which is no small thing for a team in such a low-prestige conference). Just two non-conference wins a season ago (one of which was against conference foes Hampton….the mind boggles) suggests that they weren’t really ready for prime time a year ago, but with everyone back a year older and stronger, they could be in line for a resurgence.

NCAA women's season preview series - Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference

The Bethune-Cookman Wildcats had trouble in every facet of the game last year. Going winless in non-conference play and a middling 5-5 against the MEAC South perhaps belie that on their own. They had two seniors last year, both of whom played in every match. Outside hitter Janeen Davis was one, but the big loss was their leader in pretty much every area, fellow outside Krysta Gardner. Hers is the only Bethune-Cookman name to appear in the 2012 conference stat book, and she was second team all-MEAC. Aside from her 3.4 kills per set and 47 service aces, there’s just not a lot to highlight about this club. High-playing-time returners include outside hitter Monica Lowe, middle blocker Phylecia Armstrong, and fellow middle Aria Cormier, who along with Gardner was the only Wildcat to start every match in 2012. Everyone who saw match action last year did so on at least 12 occasions, so the team won’t be wanting for experience, but suffice it to say, in order to achieve much of anything, they’ll have to replace Gardner’s production and find something new that wasn’t there last year. A tall ask.

NCAA women's season preview series - Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference

Is that what an Aggie is? I can only imagine so as that’s North Carolina A&T’s logo. These Aggies went winless in their non-conference and had just 3 MEAC wins last year, so they were pretty well on the bottom of the pile. Unlike Bethune-Cookman, though, they had solid output from multiple players. Middle hitter Andrea Evans departs via graduation, but others are there to pick up the slack. Outside hitter Brooke Stamnes started every match and played every set last year as a freshman, and was third in the conference in total service aces. Regular libero Ashley Johnson also played every match last year as a freshman. That experience is bound to pay dividends down the line — maybe this year, maybe next, and who’s to know just what ‘dividends’ will be paid, but no matter what, the more experience the better. Another freshman, Aleena McDaniel, was also highly-ranked among servers at year’s end, as the Aggies were fourth in the conference as a team in serving. Chelsea Fox and Ali Way split time at setter, both accruing several starts along the way. This is a team that I can pretty confidently say should finish a little bit better next year than they did this past.

NCAA women's season preview series - Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference

College sports are great. There’s nothing quite like cheering on the colours, whether you’re an alum or just a fan. But one thing that I always endeavour to keep in mind is that the people on the field, on the court, on the ice, what have you….they’re young people. Young men and women who are not professionals and most likely never will become professionals. Collegians don’t deserve to be treated with the same cynicism and outright hostile negativity that often (and quite understandably) permeate pro sports. Call it “kid gloves,” call it “the golden rule,” call it what you will, but when I discuss college sports, I try to keep things as positive as possible. There’s no sense denigrating young men and women who are only doing everything they can in pursuit of a game they love (else, why would they play?).

So with that in mind, this is going to be a brief, declarative entry. Savannah State were the only winless team in NCAA Division I a year ago. Surprisingly, this did not make them the last team in the RPI rankings — that ‘honour’ went to Alcorn State out of the SWAC (their only win came against a Division III school). I could point out things from their 2012 stat book, but honestly, it speaks for itself. As does the school’s place in the MEAC team rankings, last in every category and not particularly close to 12th-place in any of them.

Outside hitter Bryana Gatis, middle blocker Jasmine Waite, and defence specialist Asiha Williams return having had substantial playing time in 2012. I wish them, their teammates, and interim head coach Jolanta Graham the best of luck in what figures to be another pretty powerfully difficult season in 2013.

The verdict

I don’t think we’re any closer to finding a team who will turn a major upset this coming year. If anything, I think we found a few likely candidates last time around in the Patriot League preview. There’s definitely a serfdom and a landed gentry in this conference, and it probably will remain that way in 2013.


North Division
1. Maryland Eastern-Shore
2. Hampton
3. Coppin State
4. Norfolk State
5. Delaware State
6. Morgan State
7. Howard

South Division
1. South Carolina State
2. Florida A&M
3. North Carolina Central
4. North Carolina A&T
5. Bethune-Cookman
6. Savannah State

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