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Alaska Anchorage Expected To Continue GNAC Success
Last season, Alaska Anchorage outscored opponents by 26.7 points. They led the GNAC in scoring offense, scoring defense, assists, steals and three-point field goals made.
Last season, Alaska Anchorage outscored opponents by 26.7 points. They led the GNAC in scoring offense, scoring defense, assists, steals and three-point field goals made.

Monday, October 30, 2017

PORTLAND, Ore. – Dominating the GNAC women’s basketball landscape for the past few years, Alaska Anchorage is expected to continue its run of three-straight regular-season titles in the GNAC Preseason Women’s Basketball Coaches Poll.

Finishing No. 10 in the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) rankings and going 30-2 a season ago, Alaska Anchorage is selected as the preseason favorite despite the loss of a few key players.

The Seawolves, who picked up six first-place votes, finished first with an undefeated GNAC record. Seattle Pacific is expected to make a huge improvement this season as the Falcons received two first-place votes to finish second with 103 points. Despite tying for sixth last season, Central Washington won six of its last seven conference games and made a strong run to the GNAC Championships’ semifinals. Just like Seattle Pacific, the Wildcats picked up two first-place votes for 85 points and a tie for third place.

Northwest Nazarene rounds out the teams receiving first-place votes, tying for third with Central Washington. The Nighthawks finished 2016-17 in a tie for fourth place and exited the GNAC Championships in the quarterfinals. In what may be the surprises of the poll, Simon Fraser (78) and Western Washington (76) are predicted to finish fifth and sixth, respectively. The Clan finished in third last year while the Vikings were the runner-up to GNAC champion Alaska Anchorage.

Coming off its 20-0 conference season and Division II West Regional semifinal appearance, Alaska Anchorage is chosen to repeat 2017-18 as the GNAC women’s basketball champions. Losing just two games last year, the Seawolves cruised through its schedule, outscoring their opponents by 26.7 points. The Seawolves ranked first in the GNAC in scoring offense (81.5), scoring defense (54.8), assists (19.0), steals (15.5) and three-point field goals made (259).

Despite losing four starters that include Autumn Williams (D2CCA & WBCA All-American), Kiki Robertson (GNAC Defensive Player of the Year) and Alysha Devine (Honorable Mention All-GNAC), the Seawolves bolster their roster with five transfers and return Preseason All-GNAC guard, Tara Thompson. In 2016-17, Thompson averaged 8.9 points and 3.5 rebounds per game. The junior also led the GNAC with a .463 three-point field goal percentage, recording 79 three-pointers.

Alaska Anchorage also brings in five transfers, headlined by senior guards Rodericka Ware and Kian McNair. Ware, a 2016-17 First Team All-PacWest selection for Academy of Art, led the Knights in points (17.8 per game), assists (4.0 per game), steals (73) and minutes (891). McNair joins the Seawolves after making 27 appearances for Division I Portland State last season. Seawolves’ head coach Ryan McCarthy has compiled a 133-26 record in six seasons at the helm.

Tying for fourth in the conference last year, Seattle Pacific is expected to be a legitimate GNAC title contender in 2017-18. The Falcons return four starters, which include a pair of Preseason All-GNAC guards in Courtney Hollander and Jordan McPhee. Hollander, a Second Team All-GNAC selection a year ago, led the team with 11.8 points per game and recorded the highest single-game point total last season, netting 23 points in an 11-point win at Western Oregon on Dec. 1. McPhee ranked second on Seattle Pacific with 11.2 points per game and was just one of two Falcons to start all 30 games during her Honorable Mention All-GNAC season.

Starters Erica Pagano and Rachel Shim also return, as the two averaged more than eight points per game. The Falcons return 12 players and bring in Cici West, a senior guard from Portland State. As a Viking, West was fifth on the team with 4.7 points per game and appeared in all 33 contests. Senior center Julia Haining and junior center Carly Rataushk return to command the paint for the Falcons. In 2016-17, Haining averaged 5.4 points per game and pulled down 5.0 rebounds per game. Rataushk recorded 5.3 points per game while taking down 1.6 rebounds on average.

The Falcons look to capture its seventh GNAC title and first in the GNAC Championships’ era. Last season, Seattle Pacific won its opening 11 games and first 13 of 14 to begin the year.

Receiving two first-place votes, Central Washington is picked to finish tied for fourth after a semifinal appearance in the GNAC Championships a season ago. Preseason All-GNAC selections Jasmin Edwards and Taylor Baird highlight a cast of four Wildcats’ starters returning for the 2017-18 campaign. Edwards, the senior guard, recorded a team-high 10.5 points per game and 5.4 assists per game and orchestrated six wins in the Wildcats’ final seven regular-season games en route to Second Team All-GNAC honors. Baird, who transferred from Division I Southern Utah during her junior year, claimed preseason honors after averaging 12.8 points per game off the bench last season.

Guards Sadie Mensing and Sarah McGee round out the returning Wildcats’ starters. Along with Baird, Mensing was the only other Wildcat to start all 30 games last season. The junior was fourth on the team with a .493 field-goal percentage and averaged 9.3 points per game. In 17 starts, McGee totaled 4.3 points per game and pulled down 3.9 rebounds per game. First-year head coach Randi Richardson-Thornley will have a deep and experienced squad to work with, as the Wildcats lose just one player from a year ago. Tying for sixth, Central Washington fell to Western Washington in the GNAC Championships’ semifinals. 

Northwest Nazarene is selected to finish tied with Central Washington after winning four of its final five conference games to qualify for the GNAC Championships. Lexi Tubbs leads a Nighthawks team that went 12-15 in head coach Steve Steele’s first season with the program. Tubbs’, who was second on the team with 10.2 points per game, was awarded Honorable Mention All-GNAC honors and is one of seven players to be unanimously selected to the Preseason All-Conference Team. She ranked ninth in the GNAC with four defensive rebounds per game.

With Ellie Logan’s injury sidelining her for GNAC action this season and loss of Honorable Mention All-GNAC selection Kate Cryderman, Northwest Nazarene will look to utilize its 12 returners to the fullest. Of the 12, Kaitlyn Merritt and Colette Gall join Tubbs as the three Nighthawks’ starters. In 2016-17, Merritt recorded 3.1 assists as a guard while Gall pumped in 6.1 points per game and pulled down 3.2 rebounds per game. Junior guard McKenna Walker finished fourth on the team with 8.6 points per game in a reserve role. Danielle Jardine was another key piece to the Nighthawks’ postseason run, leading the team with 5.3 rebounds per game in 27 appearances. With the possibility of Jardine seeing more minutes in the paint this season, the forward will look to build off her team-high .496 field goal percentage.

Appearing in the GNAC Championships for the past six seasons and placing third last year, Simon Fraser is poised to continue its GNAC success despite the departure of all its starters. The Clan is led by junior forward Sophie Swant, who averaged 6.9 points in 33 appearances. Of the six returning players for SFU, only three of them saw starts last year, combining for a total of 11 during the season. Along with Swant, Taylor Drynan, Tia Tsang, Tayla Jackson and Samantha Beauchamp all appeared more than 30 times last season.

With their top-five scorers exiting, the Clan will need production from different parts of the team. Last season, the combination of ball movement and well-executed offense spurred Simon Fraser, as it ranked second in the GNAC with 17.6 assists per game and second in turnover margin. The Clan also used good shot selection to stifle its opponents, ranking third in the league in field goal percentage and three-point field goal percentage.

With the loss of key starters such as guard Taylor Peacocke (First Team WBCA All-American, GNAC Player of the Year), forward Tia Briggs (First Team All-GNAC) and forward Kiana Gandy (Honorable Mention All-GNAC), the GNAC coaches have Western Washington achieving sixth place despite the Vikings’ runner-up finish last season. A bulk of the offense will come through Preseason All-GNAC selections Hannah Stipanovich and Lexie Bland. Stipanovich, the senior center, averaged 5.6 points per game and led WWU with an .892 free throw percentage. Bland made all but one of her 27 appearances off the bench last season, tallying 3.4 points per game as a freshman guard.

Joining Stipanovich as the only other player to appear in all 32 contests last year is Nikki Corbett. The junior forward made the most of her shots in the paint, averaging 4.5 points per game on 50 percent shooting from the floor. A lot will be asked of by Vikings’ newcomers to provide key starting minutes. Guard Dani Iwami joins WWU after averaging 5.9 points per game in 27 appearances in her inaugural season at Hawaii Pacific. Forward Anna Schwecke looks to build off her solid freshman year at UC Colorado Springs, where she played in all contests and finished fourth on the Mountain Lions with 5.3 points per game. Bobbi Westendorf joins the Vikings from Tacoma CC, where she was named the NWAC East Region MVP after averaging 20.5 points and 11.8 rebounds per game as a sophomore. Western Washington has been a GNAC powerhouse the past several years, finishing third or higher in the regular season since 2008-09. In six of the past seven years, the Vikings have made the GNAC Championships’ title match and have achieved two GNAC titles during that span.

Highlighted by the return of Preseason All-GNAC Player of the Year, senior forward Alisha Breen, Montana State Billings looks to return to the success it experienced during the 2015-16 campaign. Missing all of last season with a knee injury, Breen led the Yellowjackets to the Division II West Region Championships in 2016 with 17.4 points per game and 5.4 assists per game. Her presence on the wing was missed last year, as MSUB won just eight games after going 21-11 in 2015-16.

Guard Rylee Kane joins Breen as the MSUB representatives on the Preseason All-GNAC team. She ended last season as an Honorable Mention All-GNAC selection, averaging a team-high 13.9 points per game to rank ninth in the GNAC. The Yellowjackets return 10 players, three of which were starters a year ago. Lexi Provost and Grace Weeks look to provide solid output in their senior seasons, as they both averaged more than six points per game last campaign.

Concordia, picked eighth, narrowly missed the GNAC postseason as it tied for sixth with Central Washington and Alaska. Since its transition to the Division II landscape, the Cavaliers have improved from its initial 2015-16 season, a year in which they finished in 10th. Senior guard Danielle Hartzog and junior forward Bailey Cartwright headline the eight Cavaliers’ returners, as both were named to the 2017-18 Preseason All-GNAC Team. Hartzog was named Honorable Mention All-GNAC after ranking 14th in the GNAC with 11.9 points per game. Cartwright commanded the paint, averaging 8.6 points per game while ranking fourth in the league with seven rebounds per game. The duo is joined by returning starter Keesha Sarman, who posted 8.4 points, 5.4 rebounds, three assists and 1.6 steals per game. Sophomore guard Kizzah Maltezo was second on the team with 9.2 points per game in a reserve role.

Selected to finish ninth, Western Oregon returns all five starters. Preseason All-GNAC selection Sydney Azorr finished second on the team with 10 points per game and a .381 field goal percentage. She tallied a team-high 17 points in the Wolves’ 78-75 win over Northwest Nazarene on Jan. 21. Leading the team in minutes and points, senior guard Shelby Snook looks to continue her GNAC success after coming from Lane C.C. a season ago. Snook’s team-leading 13.6 points per game made her the eighth-highest scorer in the league. Jasmine Miller, Kaylie Boscma and Ali Nelke round out the Western Oregon starters. Miller averaged 9.5 points per game and led the team with 5.1 rebounds per contest. Boscma totaled 8.1 points per game while Nelke had 4.8.

Finishing tied for sixth last season, Alaska will need quality minutes from their newcomers as the Nanooks see all five starters depart. With the loss of Jordan Wilson (First Team All-GNAC) and Kaillee Skjold (Honorable Mention All-GNAC), Alaska will rely on junior transfers Ashlie Blackburn, Angela Murnion, Josie Sewell and Emily Evans for scoring output.  Lexi Carpenter returns as the highest Nanooks’ scorer from a season ago, averaging 4.9 points per game coming off the bench. The sophomore guard led the team shooting 37.8 percent from beyond the arc. The Nanooks boast a youthful squad, as Cassi Williams is the lone senior on the roster that includes nine newcomers and first-year head coach Brett Sawyer.

Rounding out the voting is Saint Martin’s. The Saints are led by senior forward Elin Johansson, an Honorable Mention All-GNAC selection last season. After averaging a team-high 13.9 points per game for ninth in GNAC scoring, Johansson is the lone Saint on the GNAC Preseason All-Conference Team. In Christy Martin’s first year at the helm, SMU sees three starters return for a total of 12 players. Mercedes Victor, who was second on the team with 8.8 points per game as a forward, returns with senior sharpshooter Hannah Reynolds (8.3 points per game) to round out the Saints’ starters.

Alaska Anchorage opens the 2017-18 for GNAC teams on Thurs., Nov. 2, when they take on Johnson & Wales (N.C.) in Charlotte, N.C., before engaging Duke in an exhibition game on Sun., Nov. 5, at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The conference’s remaining teams open play on the weekend of Nov. 10 and 11. 

2017-18 GNAC PRESEASON WOMEN'S BASKETBALL COACHES POLL
Pos. Team (1st Place Votes) Overall
Record
GNAC Record
(Place)
Pts.
1. Alaska Anchorage (6) 30-2 20-0 (1st) 106
2. Seattle Pacific (2) 19-11 10-10 (Tie 4th) 103
3. Central Washington (2) 15-15 9-11 (Tie 6th) 85
  Northwest Nazarene (1) 12-15 10-10 (Tie 4th) 85
5. Simon Fraser 26-8 15-5 (3rd) 78
6. Western Washington 26-6 18-2 (2nd) 76
7. Montana State Billings 8-20 5-15 (9th) 66
8. Concordia 12-16 9-11 (Tie 6th) 55
9. Western Oregon 9-19 4-16 (10th) 33
10. Alaska 13-14 9-11 (Tie 6th) 21
11. Saint Martin's 5-23 1-19 (11th) 18

Votes awarded on 11-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 basis.
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