GNACSports.com
Wildcat Repeat: Central Washington Picked For Softball Title
Central Washington finished 2017 with a 34-15 record and finished one game ahead of Western Washington in the GNAC standings at 20-8.
Central Washington finished 2017 with a 34-15 record and finished one game ahead of Western Washington in the GNAC standings at 20-8.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

PORTLAND, Ore. – The Wildcats are picked to win it again.

With two straight regular-season championships under its belt, Central Washington has been selected to win the conference in the 2018 Great Northwest Athletic Conference Softball Preseason Coaches Poll.

The Wildcats, under third-year head coach Mike Larabee, received six of eight first-place votes to finish with 59 points in the poll. Central Washington used a solid start to the season to claim the regular season crown, winning 15 of its first 16 conference games. The magic faded at the end, however, with the Wildcats losing five of their last six and fell in the GNAC Championships consolation bracket to Western Oregon.

Western Washington, which used a strong finish to the season to win the GNAC Championships and earn the conference’s automatic berth to the NCAA Division II Softball Championship, is picked second with 51 points. The Vikings finished the 2017 regular season on an eight-game win streak and swept through the GNAC Championships.

Coaches expect a tight race for the final two tournament positions with three teams tied in the poll with 42 points. Saint Martin’s was picked to repeat in third while Northwest Nazarene and Western Oregon each received one first-place vote.

Following the third-place logjam was Montana State Billings (sixth, 21 pts.), Concordia (seventh, 16 pts.) and Simon Fraser (eighth, 15 pts.).

Repeating in 2017 was not a stretch for Central Washington (34-15, 20-8 GNAC), which returned most of its key players from its 2016 NCAA playoff squad. A repeat will be more of a challenge in 2017, however, with the graduation of GNAC and West Region Player of the Year Kailyn Campbell and GNAC Co-Pitcher of the Year Kiana Wood.

The cupboard, however, is far from bare. Senior Jacie McDaniel was the GNAC Newcomer of the Year in 2017, making an immediate impact as she hit .331 with 56 hits, 54 RBIs, 12 home runs and a .579 slugging percentage to earn Second Team All-GNAC honors. Senior outfielder Celine Fowler also earned Second Team All-GNAC distinction and is the Wildcats’ top returning hitter with a .373 average and 62 hits. The Wildcats also return three other starters from last year in junior outfielder Rachael Johnson and sophomore infielders Julia Reuble and Savannah Egbert.

In the circle, junior Kayla Smith went 10-9 last year with a 3.07 earned run average, striking out 64 in 107 innings. Sophomores Kylie Sweeney and Taylor Williams also return after limited pitching action in their freshman campaigns.

After just missing the GNAC Championships in 2016, Western Washington (34-19, 19-9 GNAC) put together a stellar season thanks to a combination of solid hitting and shutdown pitching. The Vikings’ surge came at the end, winning eight straight to close the regular season. After pulling out a 5-4, 10-inning win over Saint Martin’s in the opening day of the GNAC Championships, WWU proceeded to allow just one run on five hits in the final two games to claim the tournament title.

The Vikings also have some key holes to fill with the loss of First Team All-GNAC first baseman Emily Benson, top-hitting infielder/pitcher Makinlee Sellevold and four other players with at least 20 starts. The team, however, may return the most experienced lineup with seven returning position starters and two pitchers.

Sophomore Anna Kasner took the league by storm, earning first-team honors and sharing both GNAC Pitcher of the Year and GNAC Freshman of the Year honors. Kasner went 16-6 in the circle with a 2.29 earned run average and was 25th in Division II with 188 strikeouts. In addition, Kasner hit .380 in 26 games with 28 RBIs and 11 extra-base hits with an impressive .608 slugging percentage. Junior Shearyna Labasan will also by key in her dual role. She finished with a .360 batting average with 63 hits while throwing 131 innings in the circle, amassing a 12-6 record and 3.37 earned run average.

The Vikings are further bolstered by the return of starters in senior outfielder and NFCA All-West Region selection Carlie Richards, senior shortstop Cylie Richards and sophomore infielder Paityn Cyr.

Western Oregon (29-24, 14-14 GNAC) made the GNAC Championships in the final week of the season and made the most of the opportunity, beating Central Washington twice to advance to the championship final. The Wolves also had their chances against Western Washington, forcing the Vikings to extra innings before falling 2-1 in eight innings in their second game of the tournament.

With the loss of First Team All-GNAC infielders and top hitters Kelsie Gardner and Destinee Kuehl, the Wolves will rely on five up-and-coming returners to fill the void. Junior infielder Ryanne Huffman is the team’s top returning hitter after she finished with a .311 average in 41 games with five triples and a .407 slugging percentage. Senior outfielder Zoe Clark finished 2017 with a .299 average and 32 RBIs. She finished with 13 extra-base hits, including six home runs.

The WOU pitching staff will be led by junior Haley Fabian, who finished with a 3.25 earned run average in 133.2 innings. She struck out 101 while holding opposing batters to a .252 batting average.

Saint Martin’s (25-19, 17-11 GNAC) made its fourth consecutive GNAC Championships in 2017, but faded in the final two weeks and lost five of its final six games. The off-season brought a lot of change to Saints with the departure of longtime head coach Rick Noren, the promotion of assistant Jim Peterson and the loss of all-conference outfielder Mary Dettling and catcher Jackie Schmaeling.

Balancing the Saints’ losses, however, is five returning position starters and a cadre of four returning starters. Junior outfielder Lauren Diuco is SMU’s top returning hitter after batting .368 with 56 hits, 16 RBIs and 14 stolen bases in 2017. Senior outfielder/pitcher Lindsay Miller batted .363 while starting in all 44 games for the Saints. She has six doubles, 17 RBIs and also stole 14 bases. Miller will see her work in the circle increase after she threw in 47 innings last year, going 3-3.

Senior Kim Nelson will be a key contributor at the plate and in the circle. The Saints’ top pitcher and Honorable Mention All-GNAC selection in 2017 finished with a 3.52 earned run average and a 12-10 record, allowing 74 earned runs in 147.1 innings. At the plate, Nelson batted .325 with 37 hits, two home runs and a .430 slugging percentage. Junior Lauren Maley also returns in the circle after going 8-4 with a 4.14 earned run average as a sophomore.

Northwest Nazarene (23-27, 13-15 GNAC) finished 2017 a game out of a GNAC Championships berth, but returns 10 starting position players, two pitchers and the majority of their key performers. The list starts with sophomore Brittany Genuardi, who shared GNAC Freshman of the Year honors while earning First Team All-GNAC honors. She finished with a .388 batting average in 50 games with 10 doubles, nine home runs, 48 RBIs and a .619 slugging percentage.

Junior infielder Kylie Orr was a Second Team All-GNAC selection despite some spectacular numbers. She led the Nighthawks with a .406 average with 17 doubles, eight home runs, 49 RBIs and a .667 slugging percentage and finished 32nd in Division II in doubles. Junior outfielder Cassidy Fifield finished with a .349 batting average to go along with 13 doubles, two triples, six home runs and a GNAC-leading 26 stolen bases. The Nighthawks also return junior shortstop Anna Olson, who finished 2017 with a .361 batting average.

In the circle, junior Rylee Thomas is NNU’s lone returning regular starter. She went 9-9 and had a 4.60 earned run average as a sophomore, striking out 49 in 120.1 innings.

Picked to finish sixth, Montana State Billings improved to 16-33 overall (10-18 GNAC) in the program’s first season under head coach Jessica Rayman. The Yellowjackets will line up behind the talent of senior outfielder Heather Tracy, who earned First Team All-GNAC and Second Team NFCA All-West Region honors. Tracy finished 15th in Division II last year with a .458 batting average with 82 hits, 36 RBIs and 17 extra-base hits, including six home runs.

Senior first baseman Cameron Cassinelli earned Second Team All-GNAC honors after she hit .348 with 12 doubles, 13 home runs and 51 RBIs. Her .725 slugging percentage is the best among the conference’s returning hitters. Senior pitcher/designated player Megan Dettling will continue to be a dual-threat after hitting .364 last year while compiling seven wins and 102 strikeouts in 141 innings in the circle. Sophomore pitcher Maddy Lincoln was the Yellowjackets’ top hurler last year with eight wins and a 5.37 earned run average in 131.2 innings.

Concordia (19-28, 11-17 GNAC) worked through adversity with a coaching change late in the fall non-traditional season and will be rebuilding in 2018 with the departure of All-American outfielder Megan Luebbert and First Team All-GNAC shortstop Taylor Bussey. Junior first baseman Mckenzie Smith is the Cavaliers’ top returning hitter with a .344 average in 47 games. She finished with 10 doubles, two triples, two home runs and 29 RBIs. Senior outfielder Kelsie Merritt finished with a .295 average last year while stealing 12 bases. Junior Jessica Lambourn is the Cavaliers’ top returning pitcher with five wins in 101.2 innings last year.

Picked eighth, Simon Fraser (12-32, 8-20 GNAC) is hoping to move up in the GNAC standings with an experienced group of seven returners. Senior infielder Taylor Lundrigan was a Second Team All-GNAC and NFCA All-West Region selection after she led the Clan with a .396 batting average. She finished with 55 hits, 12 doubles, eight home runs and a .655 slugging percentage. Senior outfielder Taylor Gillis hit .318 last year while junior infielder Taylor Gearey hit .333 with 17 RBIs. Senior Alia Stachoski is the Clan’s top returning pitcher with a 5.27 earned run average in 110.1 innings.

The 2018 campaign begins on Thurs., Feb. 1, when Northwest Nazarene plays a doubleheader at Dixie State. Seven of eight GNAC teams will compete at the Desert Stinger in Las Vegas, hosted by Montana State Billings, from Feb. 2 to 4. Conference play begins on Fri., Mar. 2, when Northwest Nazarene travels to Western Washington.

2018 GNAC PRESEASON SOFTBALL COACHES POLL
Pos. Team (1st Place Votes) Overall
Record
GNAC Record
(Place)
Pts.
1. Central Washington (6) 34-15 20-8 (1st) 59
2. Western Washington 34-19 19-9 (2nd) 51
3. Northwest Nazarene (1) 23-27 13-15 (5th) 42
  Western Oregon (1) 29-24 14-14 (4th) 42
  Saint Martin's 25-19 17-11 (3rd) 42
6. Montana State Billings 16-33 10-18 (7th) 21
7. Concordia 19-28 11-17 (6th) 16
8. Simon Fraser 12-32 8-20 (8th) 15

Votes awarded on 8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 basis.
Copyright ©2022 Great Northwest Athletic Conference. All Rights Reserved. GNACSports.com