Penn State Tabbed 2008 CBS College Sports Network/AVCA Preseason Favorite


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LEXINGTON, Ky. - After barreling through the 2007 season with a 34-2 record and the highly-prized NCAA Division I National Championship, the Penn State University volleyball team finds itself atop the rankings at the beginning of a new campaign. For the fourth consecutive season, the Nittany Lions have earned a top-five preseason ranking in the CBS College Sports Network/AVCA Division I Coaches Top 25 Poll after its release by the AVCA headquarters on Tuesday.

Six starters and ten letterwinners return to AVCA Division I Coach of the Year Russ Rose's Penn State squad in 2008, led by a trio of AVCA First-Team All-Americans in outside hitters Nicole Fawcett and Megan Hodge and middle blocker Christa Harmotto.

Setter and AVCA Second-Team All-American Alisha Glass will be back to guide the offense, as well as a pair of athletes who turned in impressive freshman campaigns. Middle blocker Arielle Wilson also garnered Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors, while fellow sophomore Blair Brown earned a nod on the Big Team All-Freshman Team. Not to be overlooked is libero Roberta Holehouse, who was the 2007 PSU digs leader.

Not far behind the Nittany Lions is Stanford University, who rings in 2008 as the No. 2 vote getter on the poll after finishing as the NCAA National Runner-Up in 2007 for the second-consecutive season. The reigning Pac-10 champs chalked up a 32-3 record just a year ago, and will see five starters and 11 letterwinners return.

Veteran coach John Dunning's Cardinals, who have captured more NCAA Championships than any other school, and has taken part in the title match five of the last seven years, will again turn to 2007 AVCA National Player of the Year, middle blocker Foluke Akinradewo. The Cardinal attack will also be driven by a pair of AVCA All-American outside hitters, senior Cynthia Barboza (First-Team) and sophomore Alix Klineman (Second-Team).

The University of Texas begins the 2008 go-around in the No. 3 spot on the preseason poll. Eighth-year head coach Jerritt Elliott's roster is again loaded with four AVCA All-Americans, after finishing the 2007 campaign with a No. 6 final national ranking.

The Longhorns, who will welcome back five starters and 10 letterwinners from last year's squad that finished 27-4 and captured a share of the Big 12 Championship. They will be propelled by 2007 AVCA Freshman of the Year Juliann Faucette on the outside, as well as AVCA Second-Team All-America selections Destinee Hooker (OH) and Ashley Engle (S/Opp.). In addition, AVCA Third-Team All-American Lauren Paolini will pack a punch from her middle blocker position.

Earning the No. 4 spot on the preseason poll is taskmaster Mick Haley's University of Southern California squad. The Trojans return 10 letterwinners, including four starters and a libero from last year's 29-5 NCAA Semifinalist team that ended the campaign with a No. 3 national ranking.

USC will be guided by AVCA Second-Team All-American setter Taylor Carico, while a pair of sophomores, middle blocker Zoe Garrett and defensive specialist/outside hitter Geena Urango, earned Honorable Mention All-PAC Freshman Team accolades in 2007.

Rounding out the top-five is the University of California, who stands tall in the No. 5 spot after rolling through the 2007 season with a 26-8 overall record, an appearance in the NCAA Semifinals and a No. 4 final national ranking.

With five starters, the libero and nine letterwinners returning, floor general Rich Feller has another talented roster to work with. AVCA Second-Team All-American Hana Cutura, an outside hitter, will be the go-to person for the Golden Bears in 2008, and will be supported by outside hitter Morgan Beck (Honorable Mention All-Pac-10) and setter Carli Lloyd (Honorable Mention All-Pac-10 Freshman Team) in their quest towards a national title.

Stanford, Texas and Southern California will all open their seasons at the prestigious Runza/AVCA College Volleyball Showcase August 29 and 31 in Omaha, Neb. The Cardinal will play Nebraska at 7 p.m. central time on August 29, followed by Texas versus USC at 9:30 in a conference challenge format.

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