GNAC Women's Hoops Back In Action This Spring
A Second Team All-GNAC selection in 2019-20, Saint Martin's junior forward Claire Dingus has earned back-to-back GNAC Women's Basketball Player of the Week awards.
A Second Team All-GNAC selection in 2019-20, Saint Martin's junior forward Claire Dingus has earned back-to-back GNAC Women's Basketball Player of the Week awards.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

PORTLAND, Ore. – It took some time, but GNAC women’s basketball is back and picking up speed.

Seattle Pacific leads the four GNAC teams that have hit the court this season with a 5-4 record. All of the Falcons’ losses, including a pair of tough one-point losses, were by less than 10 points.

After just two games, Montana State Billings sits at 1-1. Saint Martin’s enters the week with a 3-4 record while Northwest Nazarene is right behind at 3-5. After dropping their first three games of the season on their California road trip, the Nighthawks have won three of their last five games.

With the cancellation of the conference-mandated GNAC season as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the field looks a little different. Montana State Billings, Northwest Nazarene, Saint Martin’s and Seattle Pacific opened their seasons in January. Central Washington is scheduled to hit the hardwood for the first time on Feb. 26.

FALCONS ON THE RISE: Seattle Pacific is fighting to stay above .500 but looks poised as they enter the tail end of their season.

The Falcons opened the season with seven straight home games. The year opened with a 56-51 win at home over Division III Pacific Lutheran on Jan. 11. The Falcons split four straight two-game meetings after the opening-night victory, most recently dropping a close 55-54 game to Saint Martin’s on Feb. 4 in Lacey before bouncing back to beat the Saints on Feb. 5, 70-64.

Over the course of its nine games, Seattle Pacific stuck to the basics and it has paid off. The Falcons rank No. 2 in Division II with a 12.4 rebound margin. They also rank 22nd in scoring defense (57.9) and 33rd in offensive rebounds per game (14).

Junior forward Ashley Alter is the Falcons’ top scorer, ranking third among GNAC players with 13.2 points per game to go with 4.2 rebounds per game. She leads conference players with 2.2 steals per game. Junior guard Rachel Berg is averaging 10.9 points and 3.1 rebounds per game and is 21st in Division II with a .487 three-point percentage.

Seattle Pacific’s .403 field goal percentage and .343 three-point percentage both top the conference field. The Falcons are ranked No. 5 in the latest D2SIDA West Region rankings.

Seattle Pacific has yet to win back-to-back games this season but the Falcons will have a chance to get the ball rolling as they host Northwest (Wash.) on Wednesday.

Seattle Pacific will close the season with four games against GNAC opponents. The Falcons will host Northwest Nazarene on Feb. 19 and 20 before finishing with a home-and-home series against Central Washington on Feb. 26 and 27.

YELLOWJACKETS BACK AT IT: Montana State Billings was the most recent GNAC team to open its season, hosting Lewis-Clark State on Jan. 29 and 30. The Yellowjackets dropped the first game, 56-49, then sparked a second-half comeback to win the second game, 77-69.

Junior forward and Honorable Mention All-GNAC selection Taryn Shelley got off to a hot start. Shelley scored 18 points on 7 of 13 from the field to go with eight rebounds in the loss. She erupted for 27 points and six rebounds in the eight-point victory over the Warriors, connecting on 12 of 14 from the field and 3 of 4 from the free throw line. After two games, Shelley leads Division II with a .704 field goal percentage and ranks ninth with 22.5 points per game.

Junior forward Cariann Kunkel is averaging 9.5 points and six rebounds per game to go with a team-leading nine assists. Freshman forward Dyauni Boyce has impressed in her first two games in a Yellowjacket uniform. She is averaging eight points and 4.5 rebounds per game.

Montana State Billings has eight games remaining on its schedule. The Yellowjackets have three exhibition games on the road this week, playing at Rocky Mountain on Wednesday and at Lewis-Clark State on Friday and Saturday.

The Yellowjackets will have another matchup with Rocky Mountain at home on Feb. 17 before closing their season with four games against Northwest Nazarene.

PUTTING THE PIECES TOGETHER: Saint Martin’s is 3-4 on the season but has a solid combination of veterans and youth to make some moves. The Saints were the first team back in action, dropping a hard-fought game at Division I Seattle on Jan. 8, 80-69. The Saints are in a similar boat as Seattle Pacific, having won every other game since their season opener.

The Saints are 3-3 against GNAC opponents, having won two of four meetings with Seattle Pacific and one of two meetings with Northwest Nazarene. The Saints’ 7.6 three pointers per game ranks 46th in Division II.

Claire Dingus leads the Saints in 2021. The junior forward is averaging 15 points and a conference-leading 9.6 rebounds per game to go with a .506 field goal percentage. Dingus’ 4.6 offensive rebounds per game rank ninth in Division II.

Senior guard/forward Mallory Vivola is averaging 11.3 points per game and is 35th in Division II with a .429 three-point percentage. Senior guard Tierney DeDonatis is averaging 9.4 points per game over seven games and six starts.

Saint Martin’s is among those receiving votes in the latest D2SIDA West Region rankings.

Saint Martin’s will host Northwest Nazarene on Friday and Saturday before hosting Northwest (Wash.) on Feb. 19 and 20. The Saints will end their season with a home-and-home series against Central Washington on Mar. 5 and 6.

ON THE RIGHT TRACK: Northwest Nazarene lost its first three games on its California road trip in January but finished strong with a 78-69 win at Fresno Pacific. The Nighthawks followed by winning three of their next four games. Their most recent victory was a convincing 76-51 win over College of Idaho on Feb. 3.

Erin Jenkins is next in line to lead the Nighthawks. The junior forward leads the team with 11.3 points per game to go with 3.4 rebounds per game and a .450 field goal percentage. Sophomore forward Clare Eubanks is averaging 10.3 points and 7.7 rebounds per game after missing the trip to California. Nyalam Thabach is settling in nicely with the Nighthawks after transferring from UC Santa Barbara. The sophomore forward is averaging 9.6 points and 6.4 rebounds per game.

Northwest Nazarene will end its season with eight games against GNAC opponents, starting at Saint Martin’s on Friday and Saturday.

THE DINGUS SHOW: Of the four GNAC Women’s Basketball Player of the Week awards handed out this season, two of them went to Saint Martin’s junior forward Claire Dingus. The Second Team All-GNAC selection earned her first award on Feb. 1 after posting a pair of 20-plus point performances at Northwest Nazarene. She had a huge double-double of 25 points and 16 rebounds in a 69-64 win over the Nighthawks on Jan. 29 then topped that scoring performance with 28 points in an 85-69 loss on Jan. 30.

Dingus earned her second-straight Player of the Week honor on Monday after she averaged 16 points and 4.5 rebounds per game to lead the Saints to a split against Seattle Pacific at home on Feb. 4 and 5. She finished with 11 points and five rebounds in a close 55-54 win over the Falcons on Thursday then scored 21 points on 8 of 15 from the field in Friday’s 70-64 loss.

Seattle Pacific’s Ashley Alter was honored on Jan. 18 after leading the Falcons to a 2-1 start to the season. She averaged 19 points and four rebounds per game. Alter registered back-to-back 20-plus point performances in a split with Saint Martin’s on Jan. 15 and 16.

Falcons’ junior guard Rachel Berg was honored on Jan. 25 after she averaged 13.5 points and four rebounds per game as the Falcons split a pair of home games with Lewis-Clark State. She scored 14 points in a close 68-67 loss on Jan. 22 then scored 13 points and added three rebounds and four assists in the Falcons’ 72-63 win on Jan. 23.

IN THE WINGS: While four teams are already in action, there is still one team eagerly waiting for their season to start.

Central Washington is set to take the court on Feb. 26, hosting Seattle Pacific in Ellensburg before playing at Seattle Pacific the following night. The Wildcats are scheduled to play four games this season, ending with a home-and-home series against Saint Martin’s on Mar. 5 and 6.

POSTSEASON POSSIBILITIES: While there is no GNAC Championships and no conference champion to be declared in 2021, there will still be an NCAA postseason.

The Division II Presidents Council affirmed the decision to move forward with the division’s winter championships on Friday. The national tournament will feature a reduced field of 48 teams with six teams expected to make each regional field. To balance the regional fields for the 2020-21 season only, the RMAC has been grouped with the GNAC and PacWest Conferences in the West Region.

To qualify for the Division II Championships, teams must play a minimum of 11 games against Division II opponents. The first regional rankings, which will ultimately determine the regional tournament field, will be announced on Feb. 17.