STORY COURTESY OF WINGATE ATHLETIC COMMUNICATIONS
Lexington, Ky.----For the 11th consecutive season, the Wingate University Bulldogs have made an appearance in the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) top 25. Still the only school in SAC history to earn an AVCA top 25 ranking, Wingate checks in at number 25 in the preseason poll, which was released Tuesday afternoon. This marks the sixth time in program history the Bulldogs have earned a preseason ranking and the first time since 2015. The 'Dogs are coming off a 32-2 season, winning the SAC regular season and tournament titles, then going on to capture the NCAA Southeast Regional championship.
"When our program receives recognition such as this in a national poll of coaches, it is rewarding for us because we do appreciate being respected and relevant," head coach Shelton Collier says. "We are in the early stages of developing a new team after last year's team had some incredible success, and we will see where it takes us."
Wingate was ranked in each of the final four AVCA top 25 polls last season, checking it at number 20 in the final poll, released after the NCAA championships, where the Bulldogs made an appearance in the national quarterfinals. The 'Dogs were the only team in the region to finish the 2018 season in the top 25 and are the lone Southeast Region team in the 2019 preseason poll.
This marks the 66th time the Bulldogs have appeared in the AVCA top 25. Wingate's first-ever ranking came during the 2009 season. The Bulldogs cracked the top 25 again in the 2010 season, while the program's first-ever regional title that season helped Wingate finish the year ranked for the first time ever. The Bulldogs received their first-ever preseason ranking in 2011. Wingate was ranked in every poll that year, ranking as high as 14th. The 'Dogs were once again ranked in the 2012 preseason poll, staying in the top 25 for three weeks that year to run the streak of consecutive weeks in the top 25 to 20.
Wingate returned to the top 25 at the end of the 2012 season, winning its second regional title to finish the year ranked 23rd. The 'Dogs were in every top 25 poll in 2013, cracking the top 10 for the first time in program history. Wingate was in every poll during the 2014 season, ranking as high as seventh, the highest in Wingate volleyball history. The Bulldogs were ranked 16th in the 2015 preseason poll. Wingate spent three weeks in the top 25 in 2016. The Bulldogs were included in three polls in 2017, ranking as high as 21st while entering the top 25 with four weeks to go in the 2018 season. Wingate was included in 30 consecutive polls from late in 2012 through early in the 2015 season.
For the fourth time in the last 12 seasons the Bulldogs led the nation in winning percentage in 2018. Wingate went 33-2 to lead the nation in 2007, while a 31-2 mark in 2010 was also the best in the country. The 'Dogs were 32-1 the following season to lead the nation for the third time in five years. Wingate has ranked in the top 15 in winning percentage every year since 2007, while ranking in the top three eight times in that span.
The Bulldogs topped the 30-win mark for the ninth time in the last 12 seasons in 2018. This marked the sixth time during that span that Wingate has lost two matches or less in a season. Wingate is an incredible 377-35 overall since the 2007 season started.
The 2018 season saw the Bulldogs win the SAC regular season title, SAC Tournament championship and NCAA Southeast Region title. That is the fifth time since 2010 the Bulldogs have won all three titles in the same season. Wingate improved to 22-15 all-time in the NCAA Tournament, making its 14th straight appearance in the tournament and 15th all-time. The Bulldogs lead the SAC in NCAA Tournament appearances and victories, while also leading the league with five region titles. The rest of the conference has combined for one region championship. Wingate hosted the NCAA Southeast Regional for the seventh time in 11 seasons in 2018. The Bulldogs are the only SAC team to ever earn hosting duties.
The Bulldogs went 19-1 in conference play last year to collect their 12th regular season SAC title in 13 years. Wingate added an 11th SAC Tournament championship in 13 years, giving Wingate 27 conference titles all-time, more than the other 10 current SAC schools combined. The Bulldogs are 216-12 in league matches since the 2007 season started. Wingate reeled off the two longest SAC winning streaks in conference history, winning 83 straight league matches from 2007-2012, then adding a 55-match SAC winning streak.
The Bulldogs will be led this season by 2018 SAC and Region Player of the Year Rachel Alles, who ran a Wingate offense that led the SAC and ranked in the top 10 nationally in kills per set, assists per set and hitting percentage. Alles earned second team All-American honors from the AVCA and third team accolades from the D2CCA, becoming just the third player in Wingate or SAC volleyball history to make multiple All-American teams in the same season.
Junior Sophie Schaff earned All-Tournament honors at the NCAA Southeast Regionals last season, while classmate Anne Abernathy battled through injuries to average 2.41 kills per set with a .278 hitting percentage last year. Sophomore Molly Lambillotte played a huge role in Wingate's success last season, collecting 112 kills and 285 digs to go along with 32 aces. Senior Treslyn Ortiz registered 2.65 digs per set last season, and has piled up 1,011 digs in her career.
Wingate will open the season Friday, Sept. 6 with a pair of matches at the Queens Fall Classic in Charlotte. The 'Dogs will take on North Greenville at 12:45 p.m., then face Belmont Abbey at 5:15 p.m. Wingate faces Converse and Augusta the following day to wrap up the Queens Classic, then welcomes Limestone to Cuddy Arena on Sept. 10 for the home opener on ESPN3. The Bulldogs open SAC play Friday Sept. 13, hosting Anderson at 7 p.m. in a rematch of the 2018 NCAA Southeast Regional semifinal match.