Central Washington Picked To Repeat As Softball Champs
After winning the GNAC regular season crown, Central Washington rebounded from first game losses to win both the GNAC Championships and the NCAA West Regional. Photo by Paul Dunn.
After winning the GNAC regular season crown, Central Washington rebounded from first game losses to win both the GNAC Championships and the NCAA West Regional. Photo by Paul Dunn.

Friday, January 27, 2017

PORTLAND, Ore. – A year after taking the conference by storm en route to a conference championship and a spot in the NCAA Division II super regionals, Central Washington is the pick of coaches to repeat as regular season champions in the 2017 GNAC Preseason Softball Coaches Poll.

The Wildcats picked up six of eight possible first place votes to top the poll with a total of 61 points. Western Oregon, which lost to Central Washington in the GNAC Championships final game, picked up the remaining two first place votes and is picked second with 50 points.

Saint Martin’s is picked a close third with 46 points while Western Washington is picked fourth with 41 points. Concordia is fifth in the poll with 34 points after having tied for second in their first Division II regular season. The Cavaliers are followed by Northwest Nazarene (23 points), Simon Fraser (20 points) and Montana State Billings (13 points).

Central Washington, which also opens the season ranked No. 14 in the NFCA Division II Coaches Poll, had finished no better than third place in the previous five seasons before surging under first year head coach Mike Larabee to win the regular season title by one game over Western Oregon and Concordia. In the postseason, the Wildcats proved the model of resiliency as they lost the first game of both the GNAC Championships and the NCAA West Regional and came back to win both tournaments.

The Wildcats return nine players from last year’s squad, including five position starters and two pitchers. Senior Kailyn Campbell earned Third Team D2CCA All-American honors after she batted .446 with 58 runs, 9 home runs and a .653 slugging percentage. Junior outfielder Celine Fowler batted .407 on her way to all-region honors, finishing with 20 RBI and a .451 slugging percentage to go along with 16 stolen bases. Senior Kiana Wood is the defending GNAC Pitcher of the Year, having won 20 games with a 2.29 earned run average and 75 strikeouts.

Central Washington has bolstered the lineup with a pair of Division I transfers in sophomore outfielder Molly Nutt, from Idaho State, and junior Bailey Seek, who joins the program from Weber State.

Western Oregon surged in April to challenge for the regular season title, winning 12 of its final 16 regular season games to claim the GNAC Championships’ No. 3 seed. The Wolves won their first two games in the tournament before dropping two games to Central Washington on Championship Saturday.

The Wolves return a very experienced squad of 14 players, incuding eight position starters and two of their three starting pitchers. Senior infielder Kelsey Gardner earned First Team All-GNAC honors after she hit .430 with 12 RBI, a .515 slugging percentage and a .450 on-base percentage. Senior infielder Destiny Kuehl earned Second Team All-GNAC distinction after she hit .355 with 38 runs, 41 RBI, 13 home runs and a .697 slugging percentage. Senior Sammy Cadwallader leads the pitching staff after going 8-3 in 2016 with a .244 ERA. The Second Team All-GNAC pick allowed just 30 earned runs in 86 innings with a .249 opponent’s batting average.

Western Oregon did not land any transfers, but is reloading with a solid freshman class. The Wolves landed a pair of Hawaii standouts in outfielders Gabriella Alonzo and Kaylee Harmon and a trio from Washington in infielder Ayanna Arceneaux, pitcher Chandler Bishop and first baseman Ashley Doyle.

A year removed from its second GNAC regular season championship, Saint Martin’s used a solid start to the year to secure the No. 4 spot in the GNAC Championships, which was held in Lacey. The Saints return a total of 13 players from last year’s squad, all of whom are hungry to perform better when the conference tournament returns to their home field May 4-6.

Senior outfielder Mary Dettling leads seven returning position starters. The First Team All-GNAC selection batted .397 with 42 runs, 27 RBI, 18 doubles and a .564 slugging percentage. Sophomore outfielder Lauren Diuco earned Second Team All-GNAC honors by hitting .366 with 29 runs and 22 RBI to go along with eight stolen bases. Senior catcher Jackie Schmaeling was also a second team selection after she hit .345 with 35 runs, 16 doubles and 11 stolen bases. Junior Kim Nelson leads the pitching after she won 13 games last year with a 3.03 ERA and 48 strikeouts.

Saint Martin’s welcomes four freshmen and one transfer to the fold, led by junior infielder/pitcher Tessani Dixon, who joins SMU after two seasons at nearby Bellevue College.

Western Washington missed the GNAC Championships by one game after finishing second in the regular season standings each of the previous two seasons. After struggling early in the season, the Vikings rebounded to go 9-5 in April to challenge for a tournament spot.

The Vikings are led by junior first baseman Emily Benson, who earned First Team All-GNAC honors after hitting .342 with 52 hits, 45 RBI, 12 home runs and a .638 slugging percentage. Senior second baseman Kali Patterson earned Second Team All-GNAC distinction after she hit .377 with 30 runs, 21 RBI and 10 doubles. Western Washington returns two solid pitchers in junior Makinlee Sellevold and sophomore Shearyna Labasan. Sellevold amassed a 12-7 record and 3.24 earned run average with 77 strikeouts in 138 innings. Labasan went 11-9 in 129 innings and had 72 strikeouts.

Six newcomers add to the strength of the returners. The list includes junior transfer catcher Alex Boyd and a pair of high school conference players of the year in shortstop/pitcher Paityn Cyr and pitcher Anna Kasner.

In its first full season as a Division II and GNAC member, Concordia showed that its transition from the NAIA was going to be a smooth one. The Cavaliers surged to finish with a 32-23 record, tied with Western Oregon for second at 17-11 and earned the No. 2 seed at the GNAC Championships. Concordia hopes to repeat its success under first year coach Shelley Whitaker, who was hired to lead the program in December.

The Cavaliers will benefit from the presence of GNAC Player of the Year and First Team NFCA All-Region performer Meghan Luebbert. The senior outfielder led the league with a .447 batting average with 84 hits, 60 runs, 17 doubles, 17 home runs and an impressive .851 slugging percentage. Senior shortstop Taylor Bussey also earned first team honors after she hit .354 with 64 hits and 46 RBI. Senior Mattie Boucher paces the pitching staff after having amassed a 12-9 record and a 3.20 earned run average. Sophomore Jessica Lambourn was 14-9 with a 3.31 ERA in 139 innings.

A young Northwest Nazarene team finished seventh last year with an 11-17 GNAC record and a 17-29 overall mark. After going an even 7-7 in the first month of conference play, the Crusaders won just three games in the month of April. Experience will prove to be the difference for the Crusaders, who welcome back 12 players and nine position starters.

Sophomore Kylie Orr should be a force again after earning First Team All-GNAC honors and being selected as the league’s Freshman of the Year. The first baseman and outfielder batted .393 with 28 runs, 35 RBI and had a .587 slugging percentage. Sophomore outfielder Cassidy Fifield batted .331 with 38 runs and a GNAC-best 26 stolen bases on her way to Honorable Mention All-GNAC honors. Senior pitcher Brooke Bonsen shared GNAC Newcomer of the Year honors after she won nine games and amassed a 3.56 earned run average with 64 strikeouts in 129 innings. Northwest Nazarene welcomes six newcomers, led by a pair of homegrown products in freshman outfielder Madison Strickler and pitcher Alli Byron.

Simon Fraser posted its first winning overall record since 2013, going 26-24 while finishing sixth in the GNAC at 12-16. The Clan played its best softball at the beginning of the conference season, building a seven-game win streak that included a four-game sweep of Montana State Billings and a doubleheader sweep of Central Washington.

Junior infielder Taylor Lundrigan leads the Clan after earning Second Team All-GNAC honors as a sophomore. The middle infielder finished with a .341 batting average with 39 runs, 31 RBI and a .500 slugging percentage. Pitcher Alia Stachoski was a Honorable Mention All-GNAC pick after she went 14-8 with 97 strikeouts. A core of talented newcomers is led by two transfers from nearby Douglas College in junior pitcher Morganne Blatmann and junior outfielder Dallas Tilley.

One year after winning the GNAC Championships, Montana State Billings struggled to just 14 wins and eighth in conference play. The Yellowjackets, including a core of five returning position players and three pitchers, will look for a resurgence under first year head coach Jessica Rayman.

Outfielder Heather Tracy returns for her junior year after earning Second Team D2CCA All-West Region honors. Tracy finished with a .429 batting average with 31 runs, seven home runs, 24 RBI and 16 stolen bases. Senior outfielder Bella Rovens was a second team pick after she hit .357 with 56 hits and 35 runs while junior Cameron Cassinelli earned Second Team All-GNAC honors after she hit .295 with 37 RBI and a .589 slugging percentage. The Yellowjackets welcomes four newcomers, led by sophomore transfer catcher Tylee Oxendahl.

The 2017 GNAC season commences on Thurs., Feb. 2, with Northwest Nazarene playing a doubleheader at Dixie State. The Crusaders then join three other conference teams that weekend at the Desert Stinger, hosted by Montana State Billings in Las Vegas. Saint Martin’s will open with doubleheaders in San Diego on Feb. 3 and 4 while Western Oregon will play four weekend games in Hawaii. Conference play opens with games on the weekend of Mar. 3-5.

Pos. Team (1st Place Votes) Overall
GNAC Record
1. Central Washington (6) 42-17 18-10 (1st) 61
2. Western Oregon (2) 31-24 17-11 (Tie 2nd) 50
3. Saint Martin's 34-20 16-12 (4th) 46
4. Western Washington 26-21 15-13 (5th) 41
5. Concordia 32-23 17-11 (Tie 2nd) 34
6. Northwest Nazarene 17-29 11-17 (7th) 23
7. Simon Fraser 26-24 12-16 (6th) 20
8. Montana State Billings 14-36 6-22 (8th) 13

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