KINGSTON, R.I. – The Rhode Island volleyball team has been picked to finish fourth in the Atlantic 10 this season, in voting conducted among the league's head coaches. The Rams rank fourth for the third-straight season and the fourth time since 2003.
Rhode Island will welcome back 10 players from last year's team, which finished second in the Atlantic 10 with a conference record of 12-2.
Seniors Marie Gillcrist and Kylee Wolfe, along with junior Olivia Budinich, appeared in each of Rhode Island's 98 sets last season. Gillcrist is the top returning blocker, having recorded nine solos and 74 total blocks a year ago. Wolfe - who registered double-digit kills seven times as a junior - averaged 2.07 kills per set while Budinich had a team-best 275 digs in 2016.
Seniors Jessie Blaze and Sam Roberts also saw significant time last season, appearing in 95 and 93 sets, respectively. Blaze led the team in service aces (31) and averaged 2.37 digs per set. Roberts, meanwhile, averaged 1.95 kills per set.
Junior Lauren Pick will look to step in at the setter position and fill the hole left by all-conference selection and four-year starter Callan Kinnan. In two season's playing behind Kinnan, Pick appeared in 10 matches, registering seven assists, 54 digs and a pair of service aces.
Also challenging for playing time this season will be senior Rachel Lynne Cox, junior Mckenzie Kiesle and sophomores Hazel Brown and Jenna McGuire, as well as freshmen Claire Chaplinsky, Sage Connors, Annie Ell, Live Lunde Fossdal and Kelsey Montgomery.
Defending Atlantic 10 champion Dayton was voted the preseason favorite, receiving all but one of the league's 10 first-place votes. VCU was predicted to finish second, followed by Saint Louis, Rhode Island and Duquesne.
The 2017 volleyball season gets underway Friday with the Rams traveling to Notre Dame for the Golden Dome Invitational. Rhody will open the tournament against New Mexico State (4 p.m.). On Saturday, the Rams will face the host Irish at 12:30 p.m., followed by a 4:30 p.m. match against Valparaiso.
2017 Atlantic 10 Preseason Poll
Team - Points (1st Place Votes)
1. Dayton (9) - 99
2. VCU (1) - 84
3. Saint Louis - 77
4. Rhode Island - 69
5. Duquesne - 67
6. George Washington - 45
7. Davidson - 38
8. Fordham - 36
9. La Salle - 19
10. George Mason - 16