The Grand Rapids Community College volleyball team is the preseason favorite to win the newly created Northern Conference in the Michigan Community College Athletic Association.
The MCCAA released its coaches’ poll on Friday, with GRCC earning four of six first-place votes. North Central Michigan College and Muskegon Community college each earned one first-place vote. Alpena Community College, Delta College and Bay College round out the conference.
The MCCAA split into three conferences this year in five sports due to the addition of three additional schools to the association. Two of the schools, North Central Michigan College in Petoskey and Bay College in Escanaba along with Delta College, are first-year programs.
“I’m very confident that this year’s team has what it takes to contend for another regional championship and get back to nationals,” Coach Chip Will said earlier this month.
“We should have strong leadership from our nine sophomores and a great incoming class and I’m very excited to get the season underway.”
GRCC last year posted a 24-7 overall record, and was undefeated in the MCCAA Western Conference. The team finished as the runner-up in regionals after winning its 10th conference championship and an eighth MCCAA title. Will reached a milestone 400th victory, and is 410-75 in his 17-year coaching career.
Nine players are returning, including outside hitter Audrey Torres, who earned All-Region, First Team All-Conference honors; setter Shannon Russell, who earned Second Team All-Conference honors; and Kara Hecht, Karissa Ferry and Eliza Thelen who were all named All-Conference Honorable Mention.
Also returning is Alena Visnovsky, recently named to the NJCAA All-Academic team for a perfect 4.0 GPA; Rylee VanPatten, and outside hitter from Charlotte; Charlie Baker, a defensive specialist from Whitehall, and Audrey Gower, a defensive specialist/libero from Dimondale.
The team has three incoming freshmen. Outside hitter/defensive specialist Braelyn Berry graduated from Morley Stanwood High School and was named Female Athlete of the Year.
Defensive specialist Lexi Heavner went to Rockford High School, and defensive specialist Vienna Koenigsknecht comes from Portage Central High School.
Also joining the team are setters Autumn Cole and Alyssa Wierenga. Cole is a graduate of Kenowa Hills High School and Wierenga is from Forest Hills Northern High School.
The regular season begins on Aug. 19 as the Raiders travel to Rockford, Ill. for the McHenry County College Invitational. The team will face stiff competition including Iowa Central Community College and Johnson County Community College, which finished third and fourth in the NJCAA National Tournament last year.