The three-team race for the ConfCarolinas championship is on — at least based on the conference’s preseason coaches poll.
Barton finished as the preseason favorite, but both Mount Olive and King were within five points of the defending conference champions in the ConfCarolinas poll that was released Tuesday.
The Bulldogs received four of the eight first-place votes to earn 66 points — two points more than second-place Mount Olive and four more points than third-place King. In addition, all three of these schools ended the 2017 regular season in the top three of the ConfCarolinas standings.
Barton returns three all-conference starters from last year’s team that reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history. The Bulldogs ended last season fifth in the nation with a .320 attack percentage, including hitting at least .300 in 18 of their 29 matches.
Both Mount Olive and King also return multiple all-conference starters. Among these 2017 All-ConfCarolinas selections includes King outside attacker Jeff Sprayberry, who was the 2017 ConfCarolinas Player of the Year
Barton, Mount Olive and King were the only teams to receive first-place votes in the preseason coaches poll.
Belmont Abbey and North Greenville finished tied for fourth place to round out the top half of the poll.
The ConfCarolinas season begins in January and concludes with the conference tournament in April. The winner of the ConfCarolinas Tournament receives an automatic berth to the seven-team NCAA Tournament.
2018 ConfCarolinas Preseason Coaches Poll
1. Barton — 66 (4) points
2. Mount Olive — 64 (3) points
3. King — 62 (1) points
T-4. Belmont Abbey — 44 points
T-4. North Greenville — 44 points
6. Lees-McRae — 39 points
7. Limestone — 37 points
8. Erskine — 36 points
*Emmanuel is ineligible for preseason poll and postseason because it is transitioning to NCAA Division II status.
ConfCarolinas Preseason Players to Watch
Setter: Nick Drooker, King
Setter: Matt Friddle, Erskine
Setter: Logan Riley, Limestone
Opposite: Francisco Salinger Cenzual, Limestone
Opposite: Angelos Mandilaris, Barton
Opposite: Robert Poole, Mount Olive
Opposite: Wes Rogman, Lees-McRae
Opposite: Gavin Schaffer, Belmont Abbey
Outside attacker: Robert Bowling, Lees-McRae
Outside attacker: Aleksa Brkovic, Barton
Outside attacker: Danny Hermida, Erskine
Outside attacker: Vasilis Mandilaris, Barton
Outside attacker: Liam Maxwell, Belmont Abbey
Outside attacker: Bret Rutledge, Mount Olive
Outside attacker: Anthony Savage, Limestone
Outside attacker: Jeff Sprayberry, King
Middle attacker: Ben Hamsho, North Greenville
Middle attacker: Matthew McManaway, North Greenville
Middle attacker: Hector Serviat, Lees-McRae
Middle attacker: Jon Wheaton, King
Libero: Bryan Cardozo, Erskine
Libero: Josh Donahue, Mount Olive
Libero: Dustin King, North Greenville
Libero: Robert Valentine, Belmont Abbey