The Southwest Minnesota State volleyball team was picked to finish third in the 16-team Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference, earning a first-place vote in the NSIC Preseason Coaches' Poll, released on Thursday.
Concordia-St. Paul, the five-time defending national champions, earned 15 first-place votes and were picked as the preseason favorite for the ninth straight season. The Golden Bears have three AVCA All-Americans returning to their lineup this fall.
Following Concordia-St. Paul in the coaches' poll were Minnesota-Duluth (202), SMSU (200), Wayne State (183) and Minnesota State-Mankato. Augustana (151), Minnesota State-Moorhead (146), Winona State (125), Northern State (101) and Upper Iowa (93) rounded out the top 10.
The bottom six teams in the NSIC, as voted by the coaches, were Minnesota-Crookston (81), St. Cloud State (77), Bemidji State (59), Sioux Falls (41), Mary (34) and Minot State (34). Sioux Falls and Minot State will be newcomers to the NSIC this fall.
Kayla Koenecke, the Golden Bears' junior right-side hitter, was named the NSIC Preseason Player of the Year. Koenecke was named to the AVCA All-American First Team, NCAA All-Tournament Team, Central Region First Team and NSIC First Team in 2011.
Mustangs senior middle blocker Devin Diedrich was named as a "Player to Watch." After missing the 2011 season due to a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) during a spring volleyball tournament, Diedrich looks to return to her All-American form from 2010. The NSIC Offensive Player of the Year in 2010, Diedrich enters the 2012 season needing 322 kills to move into second place on SMSU's all-time kills list.
The Mustangs report for fall practice on Monday, and will open the season on Aug. 31, facing Hillsdale College (Mich.) at the Concordia-St. Paul Tournament.