Seven of those newcomers are freshmen hailing from four different states...the final newcomer is redshirt senior Alyse Whitaker, who transferred to Gonzaga after four years at Duke...she is available immediately after graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree in the spring.
ONE LAST LOOK BACK:
Gonzaga went 17-11 during 2016...it was the Bulldogs’ best record since 1990...also, it was GU’s third straight winning season, something that hadn’t happened since 1988-90.
In the West Coast Conference, the Zags tied for third with a 10-8 mark...that’s the best finish since 1994...also, they picked up historic wins against conference foe Pepperdine, winning in Malibu for the first time ever on Oct. 6 and completing the season sweep a month later.
Gonzaga ran on defensive grit last season, averaging 14.96 digs per set, the highest in five years...at the net, GU blocked 2.52 attacks per set, once again finishing No. 2 in the WCC.
The 2016 season was the first under head coach Diane Nelson, who was elevated from assistant coach in May 2016...she is the first alum of the program to serve as head coach, playing from 1995-98...she has been on staff since 2011.
HAPPY NEW YEAR:
The Zags are 4-2 in season openers dating back to 2011...they’re 10-8 overall in opening weekends during that time period and have posted winning records over the last three seasons.
GU opened 2016 with a 3-2 win over Butler in Salt Lake City...they went on to win the 2016 Utah Volleyball Classic with wins over Utah and Idaho State as well...current Zag Faith Smith made the All-Tournament team, as did graduated seniors Emmy Allen and McKayla Ferris, with Ferris being named MVP.
Three 2017 opponents reached the NCAA Tournament last season: Denver, BYU, and San Diego...ten posted winning records.
Gonzaga will face two opponents for the first time this season, including Air Force Aug. 25 at 4:00 p.m.
Four dormant series will be renewed this year...GU hasn’t faced Friday’s season-opening opponent Illinois since 1991...they last played San Diego State in 2008 and both Idaho and Denver in 2010.
The Zags will play 12 matches at home this season, nine home WCC matches and three as part of the Gonzaga Invitational...Arizona State, Nevada, and Portland State will come to Spokane for three matches inside the Martin Centre...the Martin Centre’s new videoboard will make its debut at that tournament.
ZAGS TAKE ON THE GLOBE:
Recent alum Imani Wimbush (‘16) is representing both the United States and Gonzaga at the World University Games Aug. 19-30...those are taking place in Taipei, Taiwan.
She saw action Aug. 22 against Latvia, serving as libero for a set.
The US went 1-2 in group play and will begin the 9-16 placement round Friday, Aug. 25 against Mexico...that match will begin at 8:00 p.m. local time (5:00 a.m. Pacific).
The Zags finished ninth in the 2017 WCC Preseason Coaches Poll, seven points behind Loyola Marymount for eighth and 12 above San Francisco in 10th.
Last year, the Zags were also selected to finish ninth before ending the season tied for third.
SCOUTING THE FIELD:
Illinois returns eight players from a team that went 17-14 in 2016...they tied for seventh in the Big 10 after going 10-10 in conference play.
They return blocks leader Ali Bastianelli, full-time setter Jordyn Poulter, and libero Brandi Donnelly in addition to one other starter, but lost leading attacker Michelle Strizak.
The Fighting Illini are led by Chris Tamas, who was named head coach last February...he has coached at Nebraska, Cal Polly, Minnesota, and UC Riverside in the past.
Ten members of Air Force’s 2016 squad return, including all six starters...the Falcons went 10-21 last season, finishing 11th in the Mountain West.
OH Liz Pennington led the Air Force attack, tallying 410 kills, 3.57 a set...defensively, five different players tallied at least 150 digs, while MB Piper Heineck led the squad with 111 total blocks.
Head Coach Marc Swindle is heading into his second year with the squad...before taking over in 2016, he was the Falcons’ assistant coach for six seasons.
Montana State has nine returning players from last season, including five starters and a libero...they posted a 5-20 record in 2016 and finished fifth in the Big Sky’s North division.
OH Natalie Passeck is the top returning attacker, landing 245 kills last season...L/DS Alyssa Rizzo led the way with 382 digs...MB Kiana Black added 82 blocks.
Daniel Jones is Montana State’s interim head coach for the 2017 season after third-year coach JJ Riley resigned in May...Jones had served the previous two seasons as one of Riley’s assistants.