"It's always nice to be looked at as one of the top teams in the conference," Idaho coach Debbie Buchanan said. "We have a lot of pieces that we need to get in place as far as replacing kids from last year, but offensively and defensively we feel pretty good. If we can pass the ball and stay consistent I think we can compete with anybody."
Schultz, a junior middle blocker from Issaquah, Wash., was a first-team all-WAC pick in 2012 and a WAC all-freshman team selection in 2011. She averaged 2.19 kills, 1.42 blocks and 0.54 digs per set while hitting .340 in 2012. Her 138 block assists on the season tied for fourth in a single season in Idaho history and her 1.42 average per set ranked second in the WAC. She is the first Idaho player to be selected as the WAC Preseason Player of the Year.
"Alyssa has really bought in to everything we're doing," Buchanan said. "She had a great spring and hopefully she'll have another great year. You need those types of players on your team for your team to grow. She is one of those kids who is accountable in every area. From a leadership standpoint, she is still learning how to be a great leader, but she leads by example every day, and you can't ask for more than that."
Joining Schultz on the Preseason all-WAC team from Idaho are senior middle blocker Taylor Wilkinson and sophomore outside hitter Katelyn Peterson.
Wilkinson turned heads during last year's WAC tournament, replacing an injured Schultz to help lead Idaho to the WAC championship match with 1.67 kills, 1.33 blocks and a .145 hitting percentage during the tournament. She had two 10-kill, five-block matches and earned WAC all-tournament team honors.
"She is such a good kid, she has Alyssa to compete against her on a daily basis, and we have two other middles in our program who are competing on a daily basis, so they get pushed a lot," Buchanan said. "Taylor was obviously strong in the postseason tournament. (Assistant coach) Brian (Lamppa) has been doing a great job of training the middles and running them faster. For as high as those kids are getting, they're going to be hard to defend. If we can pass and keep them on it's going to be hard for teams to decide how they're going to stop us. Are they going to bite on the middle, or leave them open and try to stop the outsides?"
Peterson earned WAC all-freshman team honors in her debut season with the Vandals in 2012 after averaging 1.81 kills, 0.70 digs and 0.22 blocks per set. She had six double-digit kill matches including a career-high 17 kills.
"You talk about hard-working kids, she was working out here all summer," Buchanan said of Peterson. "She is a different player already; the weight room had made a huge difference in her. As a freshman she was great because she just didn't make a lot of errors, she was that steady kid. Now, she's making things happen as an outside. She is bringing a physical side to it. She has improved a ton from last year."
Idaho went 17-14 last season, finished second in the WAC with a 13-5 conference record and reached its first WAC championship match before falling to New Mexico State. The Vandals lost six seniors and five starters from last year's team, but still received two out of nine first-place votes in the poll. 2012 WAC tournament champion New Mexico State, which received the other seven first-place votes and was picked to win the league in 2013, returns six of seven starters from last season. Utah Valley was picked third, followed by Seattle U, Bakersfield, Kansas City, Texas Pan-American, Grand Canyon and Chicago State.
"Last year we walked away not feeling great about it, just because we had beaten New Mexico State just before the tournament and we want to win it," Buchanan said. "These kids have the attitude. These kids have a little bit of experience. Ashley (Christman) is a senior, Schultz is bringing back a ton of experience, Taylor (Wilkinson) is bringing back experience, and at the pins, Katelyn (Peterson) had one year of experience, but that's where we're the least experienced is the outside. If we can stay consistent we're going to be okay."
2013 WAC Preseason Coaches' Poll
Rank Team (first-place votes) Points
1. New Mexico State (7) 62
2. Idaho (2) 58
3. Utah Valley 44
4. Seattle U 39
5. Bakersfield 38
6. Kansas City 35
7. Texas Pan-American 21
8. Grand Canyon 17
9. Chicago State 10
2013 Preseason All-WAC
Player Yr. Pos. School
Debora Araujo Sr. OH Bakersfield
Fernanda Goncalves Sr. S Bakersfield
Emma Hagedorn So. MH Kansas City
Brookelyn Hall Sr. S Utah Valley
Lauren Loerch Sr. OH New Mexico State
Katelyn Peterson So. OH Idaho
Mackenzie Phelps Jr. L Grand Canyon
Martina Samadan So. MB Seattle U
Alyssa Schultz Jr. MB Idaho
Desiree Scott Sr. MH New Mexico State
Lauren Stringham So. MB Utah Valley
Taylor Wilkinson Sr. MB Idaho
Preseason Player of the Year: Alyssa Schultz, Idaho