The Emory volleyball program, the 2018 NCAA D-III champions, will open the 2019 season as the No.1-ranked team in Division III. The Eagles are slotted at that position in the preseason Division III Top 25 poll released by the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) on Wednesday (Aug. 14).
Emory was the recipient of 54 first-place votes and registered a total of 1,700 points. Holding down the No. 2 spot is Calvin College, the team Emory topped in last year's national final, with 10 first-place votes and 1,661 points. Juniata College holds down the No. 3 position with 1,546 points while Wisconsin-Eau Claire (1,461 pts.) and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (1,406 pts.) round out the top five.
Emory is scheduled to play 11 matches against nine squads that are ranked in the Preseason Top 25 Poll. After hosting No. 8 Johnson & Wales (Aug. 30) as part of the season-opening Emory Classic, the Eagles will travel to nearby Rome and compete in the Berry National Invitational (Sept. 6-7), highlighted by clashes with No. 22 Christopher Newport and the host Vikings who are slotted 19th in the preseason rankings. The weekend of Sept. 13-14 Emory venture to St. Louis, Mo., and the campus of Washington University for the East-West Challenge. Among the three matches awaiting the Eagles are a showdown against No. 5 Claremont-Mudd-Scripps and the first of two encounters against Juniata. Emory will host the University Athletic Association Round Robin 2 on Sunday, October 6, with a noon match against No. 14 Wash U (12:00 pm) and New York University (2:00 pm) on the docket. The Eagles' other match-up against a preseason ranked conference foe comes on Oct. 20 when they tangle with No. 9 Chicago in the UAA Round Robin 3 on the campus of Case Western Reserve. Emory returns to the Woodruff PE Center, Oct. 25-27, for its Invitational where among its four opponents will be No. 16 UW-Whitewater. Nov. 1-2 will mark the end of the regular season with the Eagles hosting the talent-filled Emory National Invitational. The second encounter of the year against Berry will take place on the opening evening while No. 6 Wittenberg is on the slate the following day.
All totaled, Emory will square off against 13 schools that competed in last season's NCAA Tournament.
A year ago, Emory made its 23rd consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament which resulted in the school's second national crown. The Eagles closed out the campaign with an overall record of 30-6, the school's 12th straight campaign of 30 or more victories.
Head coach Jenny McDowell enters her 24th year at the helm of the Emory program with 15 veterans back in the fold from last season. Among the key returnees are a pair of AVCA Honorable Mention All-Americans – senior libero Elyse Thompson and junior right side Leah Saunders. The lone Eagle to have played in all 119 of the team's sets during the season, Thompson averaged 4.55 digs per set, fourth among UAA players and fifth on the program's all-time seasonal chart. The owner of 32 outings of double-figure digs, the 5-foot-7 Thompson was tabbed to the All-UAA Second Team and landed a berth on the NCAA Championships All-Tournament Team. Named the UAA's Most Valuable Player, the 5-foot-8 Saunders ranked second on the club with a 2.72 kills-per-set average, registering 13 matches of double-figure terminations. She came up big in the postseason, playing her way to all-tourney berths at the NCAA Mount Berry Regional and the NCAA Championships. Bolstering the offensive attack with be sophomore outside hitter Tara Martin. Selected as the UAA's Rookie of the Year, Martin came through with a solid second half of the season that saw her end up fourth on the Emory score sheet and 21st among UAA players in kills average (2.37 kps). The 5-foot-9 Martin turned in four matches of 10 or more terminations including a team-best 11 vs. Colorado College in the semifinals of the Mount Berry Regional. Senior outside hitter Morgan McKnight figures to be a key cog in the success of the team with her experience and offensive prowess factoring into the team's outlook this year. A 2017 Honorable Mention All-American, the 5-foot-10 McKnight has totaled 102 matches during her first three seasons and is coming off a 2018 that saw her rank among the UAA's top 20 with a 2.5 kills-per-set average. Junior middle Finn Wilkins will look to be a formidable presence at the net after appearing in 27 matches last year and leading the squad while ranking second among UAA players in blocks average (1.06 bps). The 6-foot-2 Wilkins rang up 15 contests with three or more blocks and was tabbed as the UAA Defensive Player of the Week on two occasions last season. McDowell and the coaching staff are excited about the return of senior Sara Carr, who was limited to just six matches last year because of injuries. A First Team All-American in 2017, the 5-foot-11 Carr is a skilled all-around player who also brings a hard-nosed attitude to the court.
The Eagles open their season the weekend of Aug. 30-31 when they host the Emory Classic.