Local players help propel GCU volleyball to nat’l ranking

The Grand Canyon University women’s volleyball team is living up to early predictions for success this season – and a couple of former local high school standouts are a big part of the picture.

Tuesday’s 3-0 win over Western New Mexico was the fifth straight for the Antelopes, making it 19 wins out of the last 20 matches.  And that kind of play has earned the squad a No. 24 national ranking.

But the four wins in the weekend tournament hosted by GCU said even more about where things are at this early in the season.  The ‘Lopes ran undefeated through the tourney and then beat last year’s national runner-up in NCAA Division II, CSU San Bernadino, for the title.

Kristen Preach, a senior setter recruited out of Xavier Prep in Phoenix, joined Prescott High School grad, Mackenzie Phelps, on the All-Tournament team.  Preach, who had 29 assists, 13 digs, four kills, and five block assists in the championship game, was named the tournament MVP.

Preach was a first-team All-State selection at Xavier and easily made the transition to college ball, being chosen the Pacific West Conference Freshman of the Year.  Last season, she was named to the All-PacWest first team and entered 2012 in fourth place on the GCU career assist list with 2,759.

Phelps, a sophomore who moved from outside hitter to libero at the start of her freshman season, went on to become the AVCA West Region Freshman of the Year and PacWest co-Libero of the Year.

Another sophomore, Hayleigh Friemoth, has also adjusted well to the college game.  The outside hitter from Hemet High School in California was a big factor in the ‘Lopes hitting .380 as a team against Western New Mexico.  She led the team with nine kills, and just days earlier in the weekend tournament’s title game, she led all hitters with 14 kills and a .333 attack percentage.

On their way to the tournament’s championship game against CSUSB, the ‘Lopes also upset No. 17 UC San Diego.  That win was especially sweet since UCSD is the team that knocked them out of last year’s regional tourney.

That trip to the NCAA Tournament was the first since 1995, and capped off a 22-7 record – the most wins in a season since 1999.  The ‘Lopes set a school record by winning their last 14 consecutive matches.

This 2012 team is expected to challenge for the conference title.  GCU graduated just two players from an over-achieving team that finished in second place in the PacWest – after being selected in the pre-season to finish sixth.

The six additions to this year’s roster include local prep stars and transfers that will provide some added depth.  The local recruits include Alexis Pomeroy, a 6’1″ middle hitter who graduated from Desert Ridge High School in Mesa and went on to play at South Mountain Community College, and Megan Byrnes, a 6’0″ middle hitter who set a school season record for most blocks last year at Basha High in Chandler.  (See 7/30/12 phxfan article)

But head coach Kris Naber, who is in her 18th season directing the program, doesn’t sound satisfied.

“We’re picked second,” she said at the beginning of the schedule, “so that says a lot for our girls after they were picked sixth last year.  “We’re honored to be chosen second, but you want to be first.”

Looks like they’re off to a good start toward that goal.

(Photo: GCU Athletics)