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Western Washington Slight Favorite In Coaches Poll

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

PORTLAND, Ore. – After Alaska Anchorage ran away with the GNAC titles each of the last two years, the preseason coaches poll for the 2016-17 season predicts a much tighter race with Western Washington as the slight favorite.

The Vikings narrowly missed out on the NCAA playoffs last spring, but picked up six of 11 first-place votes in the preseason coaches poll ahead of the 2016-17 season, claiming 112 points. Simon Fraser grabbed second place in the poll with one first-place vote, while Alaska Anchorage claimed the remaining four first-place votes for third place. Only nine points separated the top three teams.

Western Washington finished in second place in the GNAC last year, but Montana State Billings, which is picked fourth in the preseason poll, upset WWU in the semifinals of the GNAC Championships. The Yellowjackets went on to take the No. 8 seed in the West Regional Tournament.

The Vikings return four starters from last year, including First Team All-GNAC selection Taylor Peacocke, who averaged 16.8 points per game as a junior. The only starter that WWU lost to graduation was center Kayla Bernsen, but head coach Carmen Dolfo already has a pair of players ready to step into that roll. Center Nikki Corbett recorded 22 blocks off the bench as a freshman last year. Junior transfer Hannah Stipanovich, who was a Second Team All-RMAC selection at center for Metro State last year, joins the Vikings after scoring a team-best 13.8 points per game.

Simon Fraser took fourth place in the GNAC last year and reached the semifinals of the conference tournament, despite losing Meg Wilson to injury after just two games. In the 2014-15 season, Wilson was an All-GNAC Honorable Mention. Her senior season was off to a great start with 33 points, 16 rebounds, and seven steals in the first two games before an injury forced her to take a medical redshirt. She now rejoins the team that has four returning starters.

In fact, the Clan brought back eight of 10 players from last year’s roster, including the team’s leading scorer and Second Team All-GNAC honoree Elisa Homer. She’s joined in the backcourt by First Team All-GNAC selection Ellen Kett, who dished out 7.1 assists per game, which was third best in Division II. This year, SFU also made an addition in the forecourt with 6-foot-3 transfer Tayla Jackson, who played in all 31 games for Division I UC Irvine with a team-best .408 field goal percentage as a true freshman.

After two years dominating atop the GNAC standings, defending national runner-up Alaska Anchorage is picked to finish third in the conference. The Seawolves lost three starters from last year, but the two returning starters both made major contributions in UAA’s run to the national championship game.

Senior forward Alysha Devine was an All-GNAC Honorable Mention. In the West Regional semifinal and final, she combined for 29 points, 13 rebounds, five assists and four steals to earn the tournament’s MVP award. The other returning starter, point guard Kiki Robertson, tallied a conference-best 208 assists last year. Robertson was a Second Team All-Conference Selection and GNAC Tournament MVP after being named the GNAC Defensive Player of the Year in 2014-15.

The Seawolves also added a pair of Division-I transfers to fill the gaps left by last year’s graduating class. Senior forward Autummn Williams played in 11 games for Arkansas-Little Rock last year. Before spending two years at North Idaho JC, junior forward Shelby Cloninger spent her freshman season at Utah State, where she played in 18 games and started five. She registered 72 points, 12 steals, and nine assists in 2013-14.

Montana State Billings, picked fourth, returns the GNAC’s leading scorer in Alisha Breen, who averaged 17.4 points per game last year with 76 assists, 46 steal and 16 blocks. The senior forward twice tallied 30 points in a game, including 31 against No. 1 seed Azusa Pacific in the NCAA Regional Tournament. Earlier in the month, Breen was named to Division II Bulletin’s Super 16 List.

Breen is joined by Marissa Van Atta, who averaged 7.2 points per game and registered a team-high 52 steals in 2015-16. Rylee Kane will lead the Yellowjackets backcourt. Kane had 4.5 assists per game last year, which ranked fourth in the conference and 53rd in the nation. Tiana Hanson also returns after starting 11 games last year. She averaged 5.3 points and 2.7 rebounds per game as a junior.

Seattle Pacific won its last two regular season games last year, but narrowly missed out on a spot in the GNAC Championships. The Falcons are picked to finish fifth in the conference. They returned all five of its leading scorers from the 2015-16 season, including a pair of juniors who were Honorable Mention All-GNAC selections, Courtney Hollander and Jordan McPhee.

The Falcons lost starting center Molly Grager, but added redshirt freshman center Jane Grisley and have sophomore center Carly Rataushk to compliment the depth at the guard position, which includes four returning starters that play guard.

Picked to finish sixth, Northwest Nazarene tied for fifth in the regular season standings and qualified for the GNAC Championships despite a mid-season coaching change. All-GNAC Honorable Mention Ellie Logan returns for NNU after registering 13.9 points per game last year, pacing the league’s second best scoring offense. The Crusaders were known for their depth last year with all 14 players on the roster playing in at least two-thirds of the team’s game and 11 of them starting in a game.

Central Washington finished 2016 tied with Northwest Nazarene and little separated the two teams in the preseason poll. The Wildcats, picked seventh, return a pair of guards, including Jasmin Edwards, who led the team in points (337), assists (153) and steals (46). The Wildcats also added a pair of Division I transfers from Southern Utah in 6-foot-2 forward Taylor Baird and junior guard Sarah McGee. Baird tallied 114 rebounds for the Thunderbirds, which was third on the team, while McGee played in 23 games and started one.

Concordia took 10th place in its first year in the conference and is picked to finish eighth this year. The Cavaliers return all five starters from last year, including Bailey Cartwright, who averaged 6.4 points and 5.3 rebounds per game with a team-best 33 blocks. In total, Concordia had eight players that were averaging at least six points per game and six of them are back on the roster this year.

As a team, Alaska ranked fifth in the conference in scoring and the Nanooks bring back Second Team All-Conference selection Jordan Wilson, who averaged 17 points per game, which ranked second in the conference. Alaska also returns Kailee Skjold, who averaged 11.9 points per game with team-highs in rebounds (194), assists (97) and blocks (23) to go along with 50 steals.

Saint Martin’s and Western Oregon wrap up the preseason poll with 22 and 18 points, respectively. The Saints bring back three starters from last year’s ninth place team, while the Wolves return two in hopes of building on their four wins from last year.

Exhibitions for the 2016-17 begin the final weekend of October. Then Simon Fraser will tip off the season with a crucial matchup against 2014-15 national runner-up California Baptist on November 4. The rest of the conference gets started with various tournaments on November 11, which includes Montana State Billings facing West Regional Tournament runner-up UC San Diego in the San Marcos Classic.

2015-16 GNAC PRESEASON WOMEN'S BASKETBALL COACHES POLL

Pos. Team (1st Place Votes) Overall
Record
GNAC Record
(Place)
Pts.
1. Western Washington (6) 20-9 16-4 (2nd) 112
2. Simon Fraser (1) 16-11 13-7 (4th) 105
3. Alaska Anchorage (4) 38-3 18-2 (1st) 103
4. Montana State Billings 21-11 15-5 (3rd) 84
5. Seattle Pacific 12-15 9-11 (7th) 79
6. Northwest Nazarene 12-15 10-10 (tie 5th) 61
7. Central Washington 17-12 10-10 (tie 5th) 58
8. Concordia 4-16 6-22 (10th) 45
9. Alaska 12-18 7-13 (8th) 39
10. Saint Martin's 7-20 5-15 (9th) 22
11. Western Oregon 4-24 3-17 (11th) 18

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