San Antonio – St. Mary’s enjoyed a historic start in volleyball last season and finished with its best record since 2006, but still fell just short of its ultimate goal of making the Heartland Conference Tournament.

Motivated to make the tournament this time around, the Rattlers are expected to be right in the thick of the chase according to the conference’s preseason poll, which placed St. Mary’s sixth in the rankings that we were released this week.

The Rattlers may have a few tricks at the net this season to rise up by season’s end and crack the top four to earn a spot in the tournament.

When the careers of two highly decorated players, Stephanie Proske and Kirsten Chapman, ended last season, questions of how they would be replaced immediately came to mind. But the answers to those questions now appear to be on the roster.

Four new faces will wear a Rattler uniform next season, all primed and ready for St. Mary’s play, representing a young team that will have just one senior, setter Allie Murray (San Antonio). With the majority of the team returning, St. Mary’s might have a young team, but it is nevertheless stacked with players ready to make their mark and step up – including one that already has.

Entering as a freshman last season, Victorria Martinez’s (So., Arlington, Texas) age didn’t prevent her from making an impact on the competition, as she rose to become the Heartland Conference Freshman of the Year. Martinez played in all 111 sets last season, a fact that could be driving force for the new set of freshmen – defensive specialist Hannah Fields (Helotes, Texas), setter Mikayla Bass (Coppell, Texas), outside hitter Jenna Paul (Alvin, Texas) and middle blocker Lauren Holman (Rowlett, Texas) – to make their own impact this year.

Last season, St. Mary’s won its first 10 matches, marking the best start in program history. The Rattlers also finished with their first winning record since 2006 with an overall record of 17-13. But as proven last year, the conference contains fierce competition.

Pegged in the preseason poll at first and second, respectively, Arkansas-Fort Smith and St. Edward’s finished the conference with only four losses combined last season.

Arkansas-Fort Smith, the Heartland’s defending champion, received 104 total votes from the conference’s coaches and sports information directors, with seven first-place votes. The Lions were followed closely by St. Edward’s with 101 total votes and five first-place votes. St. Mary’s received 56 total votes, 10 shy of Texas A&M International, which was picked fourth. Dallas Baptist was polled to finish third with 73 votes, while Texas-Permian Basin came in at fifth with just two more votes than St. Mary’s.

How accurate are these polls? That will largely be up to a talented young Rattler roster eyeing a return to the Heartland Tournament.

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