Pittsburgh -- The Robert Morris University volleyball team, under the direction of 2008 NEC Coach of the Year Rob Thomas, was selected as the preseason favorite in the 2009 Northeast Conference Volleyball Preseason Coaches‘ Poll. The Colonials share the top spot with the Long Island Blackbirds. In 2008, the Colonials finished first in the NEC regular-season for the first time since 2004 with an undefeated 8-0 league mark and finished with an overall record of 19-10.
Defending NEC Tournament Champion Long Island collected five of nine first-place votes and defending NEC regular-season champion RMU earned three first-place votes to share the top spot. Central Connecticut grabbed the third spot, followed by Sacred Heart in the fourth slot. Saint Francis (Pa.) nabbed the final first-place vote and landed in the fifth spot, NEC newcomer Bryant was selected sixth and Fairleigh Dickinson finished in the seventh spot. Quinnipiac and St. Francis (N.Y.) rounded out the list with the eighth and ninth spot, respectively.
The Colonials return four starters from last year’s NEC undefeated regular-season championship team. Highlighting the group of returnees are sophomore Alyssa Bennett (Ramona, Calif./ Ramona) and junior Amanda Graham (Melbourne, Fla./Eau Gallie). Bennett was one of the most decorated players in the league last season and was named the 2008 NEC Setter of the Year, NEC Rookie of the Year and was an All-NEC First Team Selection. In addition, she was named NEC Rookie of the Week five times and NEC player of the Week twice. She finished the season with 9.4 assists per game, which ranked second in the NEC and was also third on the team in digs with 218 and tied for first in service aces with 45. Graham was an All-NEC Second Team selection, who ranked second in the conference with a .312 hitting average. She shared the team lead for service aces with 45 and was second on the team with 214 kills. She also set a new RMU single-season record with 84 block assists.
Also returning to the court is sophomore Hannah Veith (Columbus, Ohio/Worthington) and junior Charla Drabant (Wheaton, Ill./Wheaton North). Veith led the circuit with a .367 hitting percentage, which was tied for second in the RMU single-season record books and was honored twice as the NEC Rookie of the Week during her freshman campaign. Drabant finished the season third on the team with 199 kills and fourth on the team with 184 digs.
The Colonials open their season Friday, Aug. 28, when they host Loyola (Md.) at 11:00 a.m. and Bowling Green at 7:00 p.m. at the Sewall Center Arena.