Nighthawks Nab No. 1 Spot To Top Women’s Poll
Led by senior forward Danielle Jardine, Northwest Nazarene was selected first by the GNAC coaches in the 2018-19 preseason poll.
Led by senior forward Danielle Jardine, Northwest Nazarene was selected first by the GNAC coaches in the 2018-19 preseason poll.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

PORTLAND, Ore. – After a season that featured 22 wins and a trip to the NCAA Division II Championships a year ago, it’s Northwest Nazarene that tops the 2018-19 GNAC Preseason Women’s Basketball Coaches Poll.

Selected as the preseason favorite with 116 points, the Nighthawks return a pair of starters from a team that finished in a tie for first while losing just two conference games last year. In total, Steve Steele’s team received six first-place votes from the league’s coaches.

Finishing as close as possible behind NNU is Alaska Anchorage, picking up five first-place votes to place second in the poll with 115 points. The Seawolves, who finished last season in a tie with Northwest Nazarene at the top of the GNAC standings, will be led by the GNAC’s Preseason Player of the Year, forward/center Hannah Wandersee.

The trend of tight voting continued further down the poll as Simon Fraser and Western Washington finished in a tie for third with 83 points. Marked improvements are expected from both teams after the Clan and Vikings placed sixth and seventh in last year’s final standings.

Rounding out the upper half of the preseason rankings is Central Washington (77 pts.) and Concordia (76 pts.) in fifth and sixth place. The prediction for the Wildcats matches their fifth-place finish last season, while the Cavaliers are expected to improve after returning four starters from last year’s team that went 14-14.

Coming off its NCAA Division II Championships appearance and a shared regular season conference title, expectations are high in Nampa. Losing just five games last year, Northwest Nazarene dominated the majority of its opponents. The team ended the regular season with 13 consecutive victories, the program’s longest-winning streak in its 17-year history of Division II basketball. The regular season title marked the Nighthawks first since moving to the Division II ranks in 2001.

An emphasis on a strong offensive attack carried Steele’s team throughout the campaign. The Nighthawks led the GNAC with 79.6 points per game and allowed the club to outscore its opponents by an average of 11 points per game (second-highest in the conference). It was senior guard Lexi Tubbs who led NNU with 15.6 points and 6.2 rebounds per game.

The team’s two returning starters will be tasked with replacing Tubbs’ production in senior Raquel Jardine (Eight points and 4.8 rebounds per game) and McKenna Walker (Honorable Mention All-GNAC in 2017-18, 2018-19 Preseason All-GNAC). Joining Walker on the preseason all-conference team is unanimous selection Danielle Jardine and senior Ellie Logan.

The Jardine twins will be relied upon heavily in the post game, while the backcourt duo of Walker and Logan should pace Northwest Nazarene up top. Walker was one of just three Nighthawks to average in double figures a year ago (11 points per game) and Logan will be looking to get back into the swing of things (led the 2016-17 team in scoring) after missing last season with a torn ACL.

Tying for first last year, Alaska Anchorage is expected to be a GNAC title contender once again in 2018-19. The Seawolves return four starters, which include a pair of unanimous preseason All-GNAC upperclassmen in Wandersee and Yazmeen Goo. Wandersee, the conference’s Preseason Player of the Year and First Team All-GNAC selection a year ago, led the team in points (14.8 per game), rebounds (6.3) and blocks (1.5) a year ago. Goo shined in her first season as a starter in Anchorage, leading the conference in steals while also producing steadily on the offensive end of the floor at a clip of 8.5 points per game.

A pair of senior starters at guard also return for head coach Ryan McCarthy, bolstering a loaded Seawolves backcourt. Both Tara Thompson and Kian McNair averaged 6.4 points per game last season and are back to give McCarthy some depth at the one and two spots. The duo played key roles on a team that finished the 2017-18 campaign with a record of 27-5, advancing all the way to the NCAA West Regional final.

Simon Fraser finished third in the GNAC in 2016-17 and the conference coaches are predicting a return to that spot after the Clan dropped to sixth a year ago. Head coach Bruce Langford is back for an 18th season in Burnaby and will lean on forwards Sophie Swant and Ozi Nwabuko for a return to the upper reaches of the league standings.

Swant was a Second Team All-GNAC selection last March after averaging a team-high 14.2 points per game, while Nwabuko will look to build on a 2016-17 season that earned her the GNAC Freshman of the Year award (did not play last season due to injury). Both of the B.C. natives received preseason All-GNAC honors.

With all but one starter from last year’s team returning this season, Western Washington is selected to finish tied with Simon Fraser in third place. Preseason All-GNAC selection Dani Iwami highlights a quartet of returners after tallying 9.4 points and four assists per game to earn GNAC Newcomer of the Year honors. This will be her second season in Bellingham after transferring in from Hawaii Pacific.

Lexie Bland, Gracie Castaneda and Anna Schwecke round out the returning Vikings’ starters. Castaneda is the team’s returning leading-scorer with 10.6 points per game in the 2017-18 season. The sharp-shooting Bland will be joining Iwami and Castaneda in a loaded backcourt this year. The junior led WWU in three-point field goal percentage as a sophomore (37.8 percent). Rounding out the group is Schwecke, who started all but two games a year ago while averaging 8.3 points and tying for a team-high 6.9 rebounds per game.

By the slimmest of margins, the conference coaches are predicting a fifth-place finish for Central Washington. It’s the same spot the Wildcats finished in a year ago, going 15-14 overall with an 11-9 record in GNAC action. Only one starter returns from Randi Richardson-Thornley’s first season in Ellensburg, so she will be relying heavily on Snohomish, Washington native Sadie Mensing. A preseason All-GNAC selection, Mensing averaged 12.3 points per game last year and is one of just three seniors on the roster.

Assisting Mensing in more ways than one will be point guard Alexis Pana. A unanimous pick to the Preseason All-GNAC Team, Pana is one of just two returners who scored in double figures last season. Her 10.1 points per game average led to Honorable Mention All-GNAC honors last February.

Slotted just one point behind CWU is sixth-place Concordia. The Cavaliers are looking to build on a 2017-18 campaign that saw them finish in a tie for seventh. Assisting in those efforts will be four returning starters, headlined by unanimous Preseason All-GNAC selection Bailey Cartwright.

Cartwright picked up First Team All-GNAC honors a year ago and is the team’s leading returning scorer at 13.8 points per game. Also back for head coach Sean Kelly is senior guard Keesha Sarman, fresh off a season in which the Union, Oregon native averaged 7.7 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. Sarman will look to build on that campaign which earned her Honorable Mention All-GNAC honors.

With the loss of key guards like Jordan McPhee (WBCA All-American, First Team All-GNAC), Courtney Hollander (Second Team All-GNAC) and Rachel Shim (Honorable Mention All-GNAC), the GNAC coaches have Seattle Pacific achieving seventh place after a run to the GNAC Championships final last March.

The majority of the team’s looks will run through unanimous preseason All-GNAC selection Riley Evans, back for her senior season in Seattle. Evans will be leaned on heavily by first-year coach Mike Simonson as the guard is one of the team’s top-two leading returning scorers. An influx of three transfers, including guard Kaprice Boston from Division I Northern Arizona, will also bolster the Falcons’ depth.

Highlighted by the return of unanimous Preseason All-GNAC selection Vanessa Stavish, Montana State Billings looks to duplicate some of its success experienced during the 2017-18 campaign. The Yellowjackets, picked seventh to start last season, ultimately won the GNAC Championships and NCAA Division II West Region behind a stellar season from GNAC Player of the Year Alisha Breen. Head coach Kevin Woodin gets a pair of starters back from that team in Stavish and forward Taylor Cunningham.

Saint Martin’s, picked ninth, is expected to improve on its 10th place-finish a year ago. Second-year head coach Christy Martin’s efforts will be helped by the return of four starters and one additional preseason All-GNAC selection as the Saints’ roster begins to stabilize. Guards Saniah Simpson (14.1 points per game) and Makenna Schultz (13.3) received the nods from the conference coaches. The pair makes up the team’s top two returning scorers entering the 2018-19 campaign.

Guard Rebekah Baugh, forward Mercedes Victor and guard/forward Jayla Russ make up SMU’s other three returning starters. Victor averaged 9.2 points per game a year ago, while Russ and Baugh scored at clips of 6.2 and 5.7 points, respectively.

The GNAC coaches have Western Oregon placing 10th after a ninth-place finish a year ago. The addition of seven newcomers will help the Wolves in their quest to return to the upper half of the conference. Holli Howard-Carpenter returns one starter from last year’s 11-15 (7-13 GNAC) squad in the form of guard Keyonna Jones. As a freshman, Jones helped pace WOU with 6.9 points and 2.8 rebounds per game.

Rounding out the preseason voting is Alaska. The Nanooks will be led by a trio of returning starters, including senior guard Emily Evans. Evans peppered the stat sheet on a consistent basis last season, averaging 8.9 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game. This will be head coach Kerri Nakamoto’s first season in Fairbanks, coming to The Last Frontier after five years in the same position at Cal State Monterey Bay.

Western Washington opened the 2018-19 season for GNAC teams in an exhibition victory over Trinity Western on Oct. 22. The conference’s regular season opener is slated for Nov. 7 when Saint Martin’s battles Pacific Lutheran at Marcus Pavilion in Lacey. Conference play begins a few weeks later when the Vikings travel to Burnaby to face Simon Fraser on Nov. 27.

Pos. Team (1st Place Votes) Overall
GNAC Record
1. Northwest Nazarene (6) 22-5 18-2 (tie 1st) 116
2. Alaska Anchorage (5) 27-5 18-2 (tie 1st) 115
T3. Simon Fraser 14-15 9-11 (6th) 83
T3. Western Washington 12-16 8-12 (tie 7th) 83
5. Central Washington 15-14 11-9 (5th) 77
6. Concordia 14-14 8-12 (tie 7th) 76
7. Seattle Pacific 23-8 15-5 (3rd) 55
8. Montana State Billings 25-12 12-8 (4th) 46
9. Saint Martin's 8-20 4-16 (10th) 36
10. Western Oregon 11-15 7-13 (9th) 27
11. Alaska 4-22 0-20 (11th) 12

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


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