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Vikings, Nighthawks Picked To Duel For Softball Title
Western Washington finished third in the conference standings in 2021 but allowed just one run in three GNAC Championships games to win the title. Photo by Jaime Valdez.
Western Washington finished third in the conference standings in 2021 but allowed just one run in three GNAC Championships games to win the title. Photo by Jaime Valdez.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

PORTLAND, Ore. – One team won the regular-season championship. The other gave up just one run in an impressive roll through the GNAC Championships.

Both are expected to duel it out for conference supremacy again in 2022 as Western Washington and Northwest Nazarene top the GNAC Softball Preseason Coaches Poll.

The Vikings, who won the GNAC Championships, picked up four of seven-first place votes and a total of 46 points. The Nighthawks, who earned their second GNAC regular-season title last year, received the other three first-place votes and are a close second in the poll with 44 points.

As close as No. 1 and No. 2 are, the rest of the poll is just as tight with just five points separating the other five teams. Western Oregon is picked third with 24 points, followed by Saint Martin’s with 22 points, Simon Fraser with 21 points, Montana State Billings with 20 points and Central Washington with 19 points.

After finishing third in the regular-season standings at 11-9, Western Washington was virtually unstoppable in the GNAC Championships. In their three games, the Vikings allowed just one run on five hits and received a five-inning no-hitter from ace pitcher Anna Kasner that was one walk shy of a perfect game. Western Washington went 23-14 overall, going 9-3 in the month of March, and led the conference with a 2.51 earned run average while amassing a .319 batting average.

The Vikings bring back an experienced squad with 20 returners, including the bulk of the offense that powered the team to the postseason. Senior shortstop Tatum Dow was named the GNAC Newcomer of the Year and earned Second Team NFCA All-American honors after leading the conference with a .417 batting average to go with 48 hits, 26 RBI and a .635 slugging percentage. Senior outfielder Lauren Lo batted .382, tying for second in the GNAC with 12 doubles en route to Second Team All-West Region honors. Junior third baseman Brooke Fesenbek earned Second Team All-GNAC accolades after hitting .347 with 17 RBI.

While WWU will certainly miss the arm of Kasner, the D2CCA West Region Pitcher of the Year, they return another First Team All-GNAC hurler in senior Kira Doan. The righty went 8-7 in 20 appearances with a 2.53 earned run average, allowing 30 earned runs with 67 strikeouts in 83 innings. Doan also performed at the plate with a .340 batting average.

Northwest Nazarene went 31-14 overall and 11-5 in GNAC play to win the regular-season championship. The Nighthawks won all but one regular-season conference series, taking advantage of a scheduling fluke that saw NNU play its first 20 games of the season at home. The team led the conference in most offensive categories, ranking 13th in Division II with a .413 on-base percentage, 18th with a .328 batting average and 79 doubles and 21st with 398 hits. The Nighthawks were also solid in the circle with a 3.02 earned run average, leading the conference with 279 strikeouts.

The Nighthawks return most of their starting lineup in an attempt to win it all again. Junior outfielder Maia McNicoll was named a Third Team D2CCA All-American after batting .369. She led the conference with 12 home runs and was tied for second with 48 hits and 36 RBI. Senior infielder Ivy Hommel was a Second Team All-West Region performer, batting .383 with GNAC-leading totals of 59 hits and 107 total bases. She also stole 27 bases, ranking 18th in Division II.

The team also returns a pair of pitchers who were just as potent at the plate as they were in the circle. Sophomore Sidney Booth was named the GNAC Pitcher of the Year en route to earning Third Team D2CCA All-American honors. Booth amassed a 16-4 record and 1.80 earned run average, allowing just 36 earned runs and a .193 opponent batting average, and ranked 17th in Division II with 176 strikeouts. She also batted .346 with nine home runs and 41 RBI. Junior Tori Hensley earned Second Team All-GNAC honors with her 8-5 record, 3.90 earned run average and .328 batting average.

Western Oregon returns 17 players and most of its starting lineup after a fifth-place finish in 2021. The Wolves played the least games of any GNAC team last season (31) but still ended up in the GNAC Championships as the No. 4 seed after Central Washington had to withdraw due to COVID protocols. Western Oregon finished 2021 with a .259 batting average and a 4.99 earned run average, leading the GNAC in sacrifice bunts (27) while ranking second with a .968 fielding percentage.

A pair of Second Team All-GNAC selecrions, junior first baseman Zoie Recolan and sophomore outfielder Bella Valdes, leads the returners. Recolan batted .258 with two home runs while Valdes batted .273 with a .422 slugging percentage. Senior infielder Logan Carlos is the Wolves’ top returning batter with a .288 average. Senior Reilly Tidwell leads four returning pitchers. She finished with a .394 earned run average in 13 appearances. Senior Maddie Mayer amassed a 5-8 record and a 5.63 earned run average in seven starts and 14 appearances.

Picked to repeat in fourth place, Saint Martin’s put together its 10th winning season in the last 11 years while finishing at 10-10 in conference play. The Saints’ young roster finished the year hitting .268 with a 3.96 earned run average. The team played best at the beginning and end of the season, compiling a 7-1 record over the first eight games of the season and going 7-3 in the final 10 games of the regular season, which included a six-game win streak.

Sophomore infielder Britney Patrick, the 2021 GNAC Freshman of the Year, leads 13 returners for the Saints. The Second Team D2CCA All-West Region selection batted .328 with 31 runs, 11 doubles, five homers and 25 RBI. Sophomore outfielder Olivia Schmidt batted .315 and added 14 RBI. Sophomore Abby Runyon earned Second Team All-GNAC honors in the circle, going 11-8 with a 3.15 earned run average, 68 strikeouts and a .292 opponent batting average.

Simon Fraser is excited to return after missing the entire 2021 season due to the border closure necessitated by the pandemic. The team appeared headed for a shot at the GNAC championship in 2020 in Tina Andreana’s first year as head coach, going 13-5 overall and 7-1 in conference play before the season was shut down. Simon Fraser batted .304 on the season and led the GNAC with a .497 slugging percentage in 2020.

Sophomore pitcher Anissa Zacharczuk has yet to lose a game for SFU. She compiled a 10-0 record in 2020 and a 3.58 earned run average in 2020 as she allowed 36 earned runs in 70.1 innings pitched. Junior third baseman Alex Ogg batted .521 that season with an impressive .704 slugging percentage and a .541 on-base percentage. In 74 plate appearances, Ogg walked twice and never struck out. Junior infielder Hannah Boulanger also returns after hitting .362 with a .660 slugging percentage in 2020.

Montana State Billings brings 15 players back in its quest to improve from a sixth-place finish. The Yellowjackets finished 2021 with a .280 batting average and 6.31 earned run average but excelled in the power department. The team finished fourth in Division II with 1.31 home runs per game and 18th with 47 total home runs. The team’s .476 slugging percentage was second in the conference.

The Yellowjackets return their top slugger in senior first baseman Brittanee Fisher, who earned Second Team NFCA All-West Region honors after she hit .337 with 11 home runs, 29 RBI and a .705 slugging percentage that ranked third in the GNAC. Junior shortstop Sidney Pollard earned Second Team All-GNAC honors thanks a .329 batting average while sophomore third baseman Marin Penney batted .294 to be named Honorable Mention All-GNAC. Sophomore Jenna Kister leads three returning pitchers after going 3-5 with a 5.12 earned run average as a freshman.

Central Washington finished second in the GNAC last year. The Wildcats did not compete in the GNAC Championships due to health and safety protocols,but still earned selection to their second NCAA West Regional in the last three years. Central was second in the league with a .323 batting average and .407 on-base percentage and led Division II with a conference record 25 triples.

The Wildcats enter the season having lost six key players last season, including Honorable Mention All-American Theresa Moyle, as well as their head coach. New skipper Joe DiPietro will build around the likes of First Team All-GNAC infielder Harlee Carpenter, who batted .370 with eight doubles, seven triples and 14 RBI, and sophomore Sasha Mitchell, who earned Honorable Mention All-GNAC honors after batting .276 with a .621 slugging percentage. Senior pitcher Rhaney Harris was also an Honorable Mention All-GNAC selection, going 5-1 with a 3.50 earned run average last year.

Four of the GNAC’s seven teams will open play over the first week of February, with Western Oregon hosting Bushnell for a doubleheader on Tuesday, February 1 to open the season. Conference play will begin on Friday, March 11.

2022 GNAC PRESEASON SOFTBALL COACHES POLL
Pos. Team (1st Place Votes) Overall
Record
GNAC Record
(Place)
Pts.
1. Western Washington (4) 23-14 11-9 (3rd) 46
2. Northwest Nazarene (3) 31-14 11-5 (1st) 44
3. Western Oregon 14-17 9-11 (5th) 24
4. Saint Martin's 19-18 10-10 (4th) 22
5. Simon Fraser DNP DNP 21
6. Montana State Billings 10-26 6-14 (6th) 20
7. Central Washington 18-16 9-7 (2nd) 19

Votes awarded on 7-6-5-4-3-2-1 basis.
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