Birks, McMahon Named Preseason All-Big Ten
Aug. 14, 2014
Rosemont, Ill. - The Big Ten Conference has awarded junior Jocelynn Birks and senior Liz McMahon with Preseason All-Big Ten honors, as selected by the conference coaches. The pair of Illini are among 15 student-athletes that garnered all-conference honors. While 10 of those 15 are seniors, McMahon is the only player to earn her third-straight preseason all-conference selection, while Birks picks up the honor for the second-straight season.
Birks became the 15th Illini to be named AVCA All-America, earning a Third Team selection in 2013, to go along with AVCA All-Region honors and a unanimous Big Ten selection. Birks was one of six Big Ten players to appear on every preseason all-conference ballot and is the only returning player to have been a unanimous pick at the end of last fall.
The outside hitter totaled 500 kills in 2013 to post her second consecutive season with at least 500, a feat achieved just twice before by members of the Fighting Illini. She finished the season ranked fifth in the Big Ten and 40th in the nation in kills per set, and fourth in the Big Ten and 38th in the NCAA in points. Additionally, her 17 services aces in conference play tied for seventh in the league. After her first two seasons, Birks ranked second in the NCAA among active players in career attacks per set and ninth in kills per set, ranking third among active underclassmen with a total of 1,010 career kills.
McMahon enters her senior season after receiving AVCA All-Region and All-Big Ten honorable mentions in 2013. The 6-6 opposite hitter tallied 391 kills and 100 blocks last fall, posting at least six kills in every match, including 24 double-digit kills performances. The Liberty Township, Ohio, native posted 23 kills, including the final four of the match, to propel Illinois to a tight victory over Arizona State in five sets. She hit her stride in last October, tallying 59 kills while hitting .343 over matches against Ohio State, Northwestern and Wisconsin.
Birks is one of five 2013 All-Big Ten selections returning for 2014, all of whom received unanimous Preseason All-Big Ten honors: Kadie Rolfzen (Nebraska, So., OH), Micha Hancock (Penn State, Sr., S), Val Nichol (Purdue, Sr., S/OH) and Lauren Carlini (Wisconsin, So., S). Additionally, Michigan State senior libero Kori Moster earned a unanimous preseason award after tabbing an honorable mention in 2013.
Michigan setter Lexi Dannemiller (Sr.) earned her second preseason award, and Minnesota had two members on the team, Adrianna Nora (Sr., MB/OPP) and Hannah Tapp (So., MB). Rolfzen's Nebraska teammate Mary Pollmiller (Sr., S) earned her first Big Ten honor, while Kiki Jones (Purdue, Sr., MB) and Ellen Chapman (Wisconsin, Sr., OH) also appeared on the team. Penn State is the only Big Ten team to have more than two players featured on the Preseason All-Big Ten team, as Megan Courtney (Jr., S/OH) earns her second award and Nia Grant (Sr., OH) also joins Hancock on the preseason team.
In addition to individual awards, the Big Ten coaches voted on the projected order of finish for the 2014 season. 2013 champion Penn State, voted No. 1 in the AVCA Preseason Poll, is once again picked to win the conference this season, followed by Nebraska (2), Wisconsin (3) and Illinois (4). Rounding out the top half of the standings are Purdue (5), Michigan State (6) and Minnesota (7), followed by Michigan (8). All of the student-athletes on the Preseason All-Big Ten team came from one of the schools picked to finish in the top eight, who are also the eight teams that earned bids to the 2013 NCAA Tournament, with the top seven all advancing to the Sweet 16.
Ohio State (9) and Northwestern (10) were both on the bubble last season, while Iowa (11) and Indiana (12) follow them in the rankings. Newcomers Maryland (13) and Rutgers (14) are predicted to finish at the bottom of the standings in their first season in the conference.
The projected standings do not differ greatly from the final 2013 standings, with Minnesota having the biggest predicted change, dropping from a third-place finish in 2013 to a seventh-place prediction for 2014. Wisconsin and Illinois tied for fourth in 2013, but Wisconsin advanced further in the postseason, and Ohio State also jumps Northwestern in the predictions, after the Wildcats finished tied with Michigan for eighth last year, two matches ahead of the Buckeyes.
Big Ten Preseason Poll