Last season the Lady Bisons were a perfect 22-0 against conference foes. They won both the A-Sun regular season championship and the conference tournament championship. They advanced to their second NCAA Tournament berth in the past three years, losing in the first round to California.
The Lady Bisons were also tabbed as the preseason favorite to repeat as tournament champion.
“It’s a nice feeling,” Lady Bisons coach Brandon Rosenthal said of his team’s second straight No. 1 preseason conference ranking. “I don’t know how much of a reaction I am going to get out of the girls when I tell them.
“It’s great to be there. It is great to be recognized by my peers. It is very gratifying for me. But it is only preseason. There is a lot of work between today and the tournament in mid-November.”
Rosenthal credits the leadership of the team for not being too emotional about the preseason ranking. The goal for the Lady Bisons is to return to the NCAA Tournament and advance past the first round.
Senior setter Stefine “Jake” Pease was named as preseason A-Sun Player of the Year. Last year middle hitter Alex Kelly was given the honor and she ended season as the player of the year. Pease was the A-Sun Tournament MVP in 2009.
“It is so hard to talk about one without the other,” Rosenthal said. “It is a realization of how good they are and how well they work together.
“I would imagine the vote was close last year between Jake and Alex for player of the year. They are essentially splitting votes. I can’t vote for either one of them. It is well-deserved.”
Despite all of the successes for both Pease and Kelly in their first three seasons, Rosenthal stresses that the best is yet to come.
“I think you will see their best performances this year,” Rosenthal said. “That is hard to say and it is hard to imagine. But from what I’ve seen, and from what I know about what they did over the summer, these two are ready.
“When you take a look at them there is so much said about the sheer numbers that Alex puts up offensively and defensively. The underlying picture of it is who puts her in those positions. Physically, Alex puts herself in that position, but she has to receive the ball from Jake.”
Kelly spent the summer in Southern California where she not only worked out regularly, but also started playing beach volleyball.
“Physically, Alex is so much stronger by far,” Rosenthal said. “She is that much more in control of the game. Where bigger teams might have slowed her down I don’t know if that is going to be the case this year.
“The same thing goes for Jake. The mental aspect of being the setter and achieving so much early on are keys for her. They are both eager. They want to win more than ever.”
Pease, Kelly and outside hitter Meghan Hinemeyer were all named to the A-Sun Preseason All-Conference Team. Pease and Kelly were first team All-Conference selections last season. Hinemeyer was a second team pick.
Kelly was a unanimous pick by the coaches.
“It is no surprise to me that the three of them have had this kind of impact on the conference,” Rosenthal said. “I can’t say enough about how much they deserve something like this and how much they have meant to this program.”
Rosenthal is excited to see Hinemeyer earning preseason recognition after possibly being overlooked for awards last year.
“Meghan was a new person last year after transferring. I think Alex and Jake cornered most of the attention. If you look at Meghan’s numbers she deserved to be first team all-conference last year.
“I’m excited for Meghan. It shows we are definitely not one dimensional. It is one of those things where if teams focus on one area we have a lot more weapons.”
Written by Mark McGee, Senior Publisher/Director of Media Relations.