Wildcats Edge Out Vikings In Tight Preseason Poll
Central Washington senior guard Alexis Pana returns for her final year after earning First Team All-GNAC honors last season.
Central Washington senior guard Alexis Pana returns for her final year after earning First Team All-GNAC honors last season.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

PORTLAND, Ore. – In a close vote that saw the top-three teams come within five points of each other, Central Washington tops the 2019-20 GNAC Preseason Women’s Basketball Coaches Poll.

Selected as the preseason favorites with 109 points and five first-place votes, Randi Richardson-Thornley’s Wildcats return most of its key players to a team that finished fourth in the GNAC last year with a record of 12-8 (18-11 overall).

Following close behind Central Washington is in-state rival Western Washington, picking up three first-place votes to place second in the poll with 107 points. The Vikings made the jump to second place after finishing tied for fifth in the conference last year.

After going 30-3 and losing just one conference game last year, Alaska Anchorage is picked to finish third in the preseason poll with 104 points and three first-place votes. The Seawolves lost four starters from last year’s team that went to the NCAA Division II West Region title game, including Hannah Wandersee, the 2018-19 GNAC Player of the Year.

Following a second-place regular season finish and a win at the GNAC Championships last year, Northwest Nazarene is picked to finish fourth in the preseason poll with 88 points. Simon Fraser, which finished third last year, is picked to finish fifth with 78 points.

Rounding out the preseason rankings is Concordia (66 pts.), Montana State Billings (57 pts.), Saint Martin’s (42 pts.), Seattle Pacific (39 pts.), Western Oregon (23 pts.) and Alaska (15 pts.).

Coming off a fifth straight trip to the GNAC Championships and losing just one key player from last year’s team, expectations are high in Ellensburg. Last season, Central Washington led the conference with 4.4 blocks per game and was second with a .458 field goal percentage. The Wildcats return four starters to an upperclassmen-heavy core.

Returning for her senior campaign is Alexis Pana, a First Team All-GNAC selection who averaged 13.9 points and 4.6 rebounds per game last season. She will be joined by fellow seniors Taylor Shaw (9.9 points and 3.4 rebounds per game) and Kaelie Flores (12.6 points and 4.1 rebounds per game) in the starting lineup. Also returning as a starter is junior Kassidy Malcolm, an Honorable Mention All-GNAC selection last year.

Finishing tied for fifth in the GNAC last season, Western Washington returns all five of its starters and lost just one player as the Vikings look to get back to the GNAC Championships. The Vikings led the GNAC in rebounding offense with 39.4 rebounds per game. Carmen Dolfo enters her 29th season as head coach of the Vikings.

The Vikings will be led by Second Team All-GNAC selection Anna Schwecke, who averaged 11.8 points and 7.6 rebounds per game and had a .566 field goal percentage last year. Schwecke will be accompanied by Lexie Bland (nine points per game and 98 assists) and Kelsey Rogers (12 points and 5.1 rebounds per game), both of whom were honorable mention selections last year.

Alaska Anchorage finished first in the conference last year with a 19-1 record (30-3 overall) but lost 70-64 to Northwest Nazarene in the GNAC Championships. The Seawolves got their revenge, however, beating the Nighthawks, 69-67, in the West Region semifinals before falling to Azusa Pacific in the title game.

Alaska Anchorage lost five players, including four starters, from last year’s squad. The Seawolves will have to replace Hannah Wandersee, a Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) Honorable Mention All-American and the GNAC Player of the Year last season. The Seawolves also lost Second-Team All-GNAC selection Tara Thompson and honorable mention selection Sydni Stallworth, who topped the conference with a .467 three-point field goal percentage.

The only starter returning for the Seawolves is Tennae Voliva. The junior posted a .504 field goal percentage last year. The Seawolves will also rely heavily on Yazmeen Goo, an Honorable Mention All-GNAC point guard who tallied 74 assists and finished fourth in the GNAC with a .545 field goal percentage as a junior.

Northwest Nazarene finished second in the GNAC with an 18-2 conference record (29-3 overall) but took down top-seeded Alaska Anchorage to win the GNAC Championships. The Nighthawks would later fall to the Seawolves in the NCAA West Region semifinals.

Northwest Nazarene topped the GNAC with 83.4 points per game, 31.4 defensive rebounds per game, a .469 field goal percentage, a .784 free throw percentage and a .387 three-point field goal percentage in 2018-19. Much like the Seawolves, the Nighthawks lost their core players from last year, including Ellie Logan, a First Team All-GNAC selection and GNAC Championships MVP.

Returning for the Nighthawks is Avery Albrecht, a First Team All-GNAC and Second Team All-West Region selection who put up 13.7 points per game, a .486 field goal percentage and a .916 free throw percentage last year. Also returning from last year’s starting lineup is Marina Valles, a Second Team All-GNAC selection.

Simon Fraser finished third in the conference last season but lost in the quarterfinals of the GNAC Championships. The Clan had the conference’s fourth-best scoring offense last year while also ranking third with four blocks, 16.2 assists and 9.1 steals per game.

Head coach Bruce Langford will need to replace First Team All-GNAC forward Sophie Swant, but returning is a trio of starters from last year’s team. Returning are Taylor Drynan (12.4 points per game and 131 assists) and Jessica Jones (12.4 points per game). Both players received honorable mention honors last year. Also returning is Ozi Nwabuko, a Second Team All-GNAC standout and the 2018-19 GNAC Defensive Player of the Year.

Concordia finished in the middle of the pack last year and made the GNAC Championships, finishing tied for fifth with Western Washington. The Cavaliers will look to return to the GNAC Championships without First Team All-GNAC guard Keesha Sarman.

Two of the three returning starters for the Cavs are seniors Tamika Etherly and Iraide Juez. Also returning to the starting lineup is junior Olivia Vezaldenos, who put up 16 points per game and earned Second Team All-GNAC honors as a sophomore in 2018-19.

Montana State Billings was picked seventh in the preseason poll, right where it left off last year. The Yellowjackets lost just one starter from last year’s team that went 25-12 (8-12 GNAC) on the season.

Montana State Billings returns Hannah Collins, a Second-Team All-GNAC selection who scored 14.8 points per game as a sophomore last season. Also returning are Taylor Cunningham (11.4 points per game) and Taryn Shelley (11.1 points and 8.2 rebounds per game).

Saint Martin’s finished tied for ninth last year but return four starters as Christy Martin enters her third season as head coach.

Returning for the Saints is Makenna Schultz. The senior scored 11.8 points per game and dished out 94 assists on her way to earning Honorable Mention All-GNAC honors last year. Claire Dingus was the GNAC Freshman of the Year after she led the Saints with 13.5 points and 7.4 rebounds per game.

Seattle Pacific finished eighth in the GNAC and lost four of its starters from last year. Head coach Mike Simonson will depend on senior Hailee Bennett, the only returning starter, to lead the way. Bennett finished last season with 7.7 points and 2.5 rebounds per game while distributing 46 assists.

Also returning for Seattle Pacific is Madi Hingston. Hingston tallied 32 assists and 33 steals off the bench for the Falcons last season. Kaprice Boston and Natalie Hoff are also returners who are expected to contribute.

Western Oregon tied for ninth place with Saint Martin’s last year but will enter the 2019-20 season without Second Team All-GNAC standout Natalie DeLonge. Holli Howard-Carpenter’s Wolves return just two starters.

The two returning Western Oregon starters are both juniors. Keyonna Jones tallied 9.4 points and 3.8 rebounds per game while also adding 96 assists and 22 steals last year. Olivia Denton contributed with 6.2 points and five rebounds per game as well.

Also expected to play a key role this season is Tresai McCarver. McCarver was one of five Wolves to appear in all 26 games last season, posting 6.8 points and 3.3 rebounds per game to add to 45 assists as a freshman.

Rounding out the 2019-20 GNAC Preseason Women’s Basketball Coaches Poll is Alaska. Alaska will have a new look this season after losing five of its 11 players from last year. Returning Nanook veterans include Sabrina Ungaro and Kylie Wallace. Ungaro was credited with 95 assists and 46 steals to go along with 8.6 points and 2.7 rebounds per game as a sophomore. Wallace also contributed with 10.8 points and 5.1 rebounds per game.

The regular season is set to start on Nov. 1 as Simon Fraser and Montana State Billings will play in the Division II Conference Commissioners Association (D2 CCA) Tip-Off Classic in Orange, California. Conference play is scheduled to start on Dec. 3 when Simon Fraser hosts Western Washington in Burnaby, B.C.

Pos. Team (1st Place Votes) Overall
GNAC Record
1. Central Washington (5) 18-11 12-8 (4th) 109
2. Western Washington (3) 17-13 11-9 (Tie 5th) 107
3. Alaska Anchorage (3) 30-3 19-1 (1st) 104
4. Northwest Nazarene 29-3 18-2 (2nd) 88
5. Simon Fraser 17-11 13-7 (3rd) 78
6. Concordia 16-13 11-9 (Tie 5th) 66
7. Montana State Billings 12-14 8-12 (7th) 57
8. Saint Martin's 7-21 5-15 (Tie 9th) 42
9. Seattle Pacific 8-19 7-13 (8th) 39
10. Western Oregon 8-18 5-15 (Tie 9th) 23
11. Alaska 4-22 1-19 (11th) 15

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