NFCA Preseason Poll Includes Vikings, Nighthawks
Brooke Fesenbek of Western Washington (left) and Maia McNicoll of Northwest Nazarene led their teams to the GNAC Championships final and NCAA West Regional appearances. Photos by Jaime Valdez.
Brooke Fesenbek of Western Washington (left) and Maia McNicoll of Northwest Nazarene led their teams to the GNAC Championships final and NCAA West Regional appearances. Photos by Jaime Valdez.

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The two teams expected to duke it out for the GNAC championship are also among the teams to watch in Division II.

Western Washington and Northwest Nazarene were both among teams receiving votes in the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) Division II Top 25 Coaches Preseason Poll. The two GNAC programs were among four total West Region programs to make the poll.

Picked to win the conference by a narrow margin, Western Washington topped the list of nine teams receiving votes with 20 points and missed the top 25 by just two votes. Northwest Nazarene, picked second in the GNAC, picked up six points in the preseason voting.

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.

Both the Vikings and Nighthawks will open the 2022 season at next weekend’s Concordia Kickoff Classic in Irvine, California. Northwest Nazarene will face Biola on Thursday, February 3 to open the tournament. Western Washington will play Cal State East Bay and Stanislaus State on Friday, February 4.