Seawolves Narrow Favorites In Women's Hoop Preseason Poll
Alaska Anchorage returns eight players from the 2019-20 championship team, led by senior forward Tennae Voliva. Photo by Skip Hickey.
Alaska Anchorage returns eight players from the 2019-20 championship team, led by senior forward Tennae Voliva. Photo by Skip Hickey.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

PORTLAND, Ore. – For the first women’s basketball conference season since 2019-2020, GNAC coaches have selected the same team who finished on top that year to do so again – Alaska Anchorage.

The Seawolves received seven of 10 first place votes and a total of 92 points in the 2021-22 GNAC Women’s Basketball Preseason Poll, edging them over Western Washington, who had 89 points and two first-place votes. The Vikings were the GNAC Champioinships runners-up in 2019-20. Northwest Nazarene received the final first place vote and are picked third with 70 points.

With the exception of the Vikings, who finished third in 2019-20, and the Nighthawks, who finished second, the projected order for the 10 GNAC teams in 2021-22 is the same as their finishing order in 2019-20.

Alaska Anchorage rolled through the 2019-20 season, going 19-1 in conference and 31-2 overall while outscoring their opponents by 21 points per game. The Seawolves were 3-0 in abbreviated action in spring 2021. Five-time GNAC Coach of the Year Ryan McCarthy will enter his tenth season at UAA without two 2019-20 First Team All-GNAC players in Safiyyah Yasin, the GNAC Championships MVP, and Yazmeen Goo.

Plenty of impact players do return, including Honorable Mention All-GNAC senior forward Tennae Voliva (9.4 points per game, 7.3 rebounds per game and .481 field goal percentage in 2019-20) and junior guard Jahnna Hajdukovich (6 points per game, .378 three-point percentage in 2019-20). Returning guard Stephanie Jackson scored 13.7 points per game in the brief 2020-21 season. The Seawolves will also welcome Miyah Lewis-Hampton, a transfer from Division I San Jose State.

Western Washington advanced to the finals of the GNAC Championships after finishing the regular season third with a 14-6 record (22-9 overall). The Vikings were undefeated in a small sample size last spring, going 6-0 in 2020-21. Head Coach Carmen Dolfo begins her 31st season at WWU and is the winningest coach in GNAC history. In 2020-21, Western Washington led the GNAC in rebounds per game (40.2) and free throw percentage (.743).

The Vikings will lose their 2020-21 second-leading scorer in Kelsey Rogers, but top scorer Mollie Olson (11.5 points per game, .439 field goal percentage in 2020-21) returns, along with guard Dani Iwami (9.2 points per game in 2020-21) and guard Emma Duff (7.5 points per game, 8.2 rebounds per game in 2020-21). The Vikings can also work in a deep recruiting class of five freshmen and forward Brooke Walling, a 6-foot-3 transfer from Division I Fresno State, into the lineup.

Northwest Nazarene finished second in the GNAC in 2019-20 at 17-3 (22-7 overall), but lost to Western Washington in the conference tournament semifinals. The reigning GNAC Player of the Year, Avery Albrecht, wore an NNU uniform but departed after 2019-20. The Nighthawks played a 14-game schedule in 2020-21, tied for the most of any GNAC team, and finished 7-7.

The Nighthawks return four starters: guard/forward Erin Jenkins (12.9 points per game, 22 assists and 19 steals in 2020-21), forward Nyalam Thabuch (12.1 points per game, 6.3 rebounds per game and 11 blocks in 2020-21), guard McKenna Emerson (7.5 points per game, 27 assists and 25 steals in 2020-21) and forward Clare Eubanks (6.9 points per game, 5.4 rebounds per game in 2020-21). Several bench contributors also return to form a deep roster, including guard Jordan Pinson (8.6 points per game in 2020-21), forward Teagan Thurman (8.6 points per game and 5.8 rebounds per game in 2020-21) and guard Cami Knishka (35 assists in 2020-21).

Simon Fraser returns to competition after sitting out the 2020-21 season and will do so projected to finish fourth. In 2019-20, they also finished fourth with a 13-7 record (18-13 overall). As head coach Bruce Langford begins his 21st season in Burnaby, he will have to find a way to replace forward Ozioma Nwabuko, a two-time GNAC Defensive Player of the Year.

Simon Fraser still figures to have good guard play, as First Team All-GNAC Jessica Jones (17 points per game, 4.3 rebounds per game, 50 assists and 39 steals in 2019-20) and Georgia Swant (5.9 points per game, 31 assists and 23 steals in 2019-20) both return. Jones is the GNAC’s top returning scorer from the 2019-20 season.

Forward Claudia Hart (8.6 points per game, 4.6 rebounds per game, .361 three-point percentage and 57 assists in 2019-20) is SFU’s third returning starter, while guard/forward Sophie Klassen (4.1 points per game, .455 field goal percentage and 22 blocks in 2019-20) and guard Kendal Sands (6.5 points per game, .838 free throw percentage and 76 assists in 2019-20) should have larger roles.

Central Washington finished fifth in the GNAC in 2019-20 at 13-7 (19-11 overall), and has been picked to finish in the same spot again. The Wildcats went 0-2 in limited spring 2021 action. In 2019-2020, the Wildcats led the conference with a .762 free throw percentage and were second in scoring defense, allowing just 63 points per game.

The Wildcats return all their core players from 2020-21, including Honorable Mention All-GNAC forward Kassidy Malcolm (10.7 points per game, 8.7 rebounds per game and a .462 field goal percentage in 2019-20) and center Samantha Bowman (11.4 points per game with a .608 field goal percentage and 1.3 blocks per game in 2019-2020). Guards Kizzah Maltezo and Tori Maeda are other returning players with considerable experience.

Coming in sixth in the preseason poll was Saint Martin’s, who finished 9-11 (14-13 overall) to tie for sixth in the GNAC in 2019-2020 before compiling a 7-6 record in 2020-21. The Saints were third in the conference with 38.3 rebounds per game in 2019-2020, and second in offensive rebounds with 12.7 per game.

The Saints return all five starters from 2020-21, including two-time Second Team All-GNAC forward Claire Dingus, who was an Honorable Mention WBCA All-American last year. The 2019 GNAC Freshman of the Year, now a junior, averaged a double-double in 2020-21 with 17.5 points per game and 10.2 rebounds per game while shooting .559 from the field and .458 from three-point range. Other returners include guard Tierney DeDonatis (11.1 points per game and 41 assists in 2020-21), guard Lauryn Morris, who went a perfect 22-for-22 from the free-throw line in 2020-21 and forward Iternite Reed, who had 20 assists and 17 blocks off the bench in 2020-21.

Just one point behind Saint Martin’s in seventh was Montana State Billings. The Yellowjackets tied for sixth with the Saints with a 9-11 GNAC record (14-16 overall) in 2019-20 and went 5-3 in the 2020-21 season. In 2020-21, MSUB was second in the GNAC in scoring offense (71.2 points per game), field goal percentage (.426) and assists per game (16.6).

The Yellowjackets return all 11 members from 2020-21, including forward Taryn Shelley, who scored a conference-leading 17.9 points per game across eight contests in 2020-21, as well as forward Cariann Kunkel (14 points per game, 7.5 rebounds per game in 2020-21) and guard Shayla Montague (14 points per game in 2020-21). Starting guards Addison Gardner and Skylar Patton also return, alongside key bench pieces Dyauni Boyce and Danielle Zahn.

Seattle Pacific came in eighth with 43 total points. They finished eighth in the GNAC in 2019-20 with a 6-14 record (8-20 overall) before recording a 7-7 mark in 2020-21. In 2020-21, SPU outrebounded their opponents by 6.5 rebounds per game and was second in the GNAC in blocks with three per game.

The Falcons return all five of their top scorers from 2020-21, including guard/forward Ashley Alter (13.3 points per game, 21 assists and 25 steals in 2020-21), guard Rachel Berg (11.1 points per game, 34 assists and .426 three-point percentage in 2020-21) and guard Kaprice Boston (5.4 points per game, 5.9 rebounds per game and .393 field goal percentage in 2020-21). Last spring’s GNAC assist leader, guard Abril Rexach Roure (76 assists, 5.4 per game) also returns.

Western Oregon is ninth in this year’s poll. In 2019-20, the Wolves came in 10th with a 3-17 record (6-21 overall), but will look very different when they step on the court this winter. The Wolves did not compete in 2020-21 and lost three starters from the 2019 team.

Guard Tresai McCarver (8.7 points per game, 3.9 rebounds per game, 71 assists and 30 steals in 2019-20) is WOU’s top returning performer. Forward Amber Winkler (4.1 points per game, 50 blocks in 2019-20) and center Alexis Wright should see playing time in the frontcourt, while guard Cali McClave (.842 free throw percentage, 22 assists and 38 steals in 2019-20) should help with playmaking and perimeter defense.

Alaska wraps up the poll with 15 total points. They will have a new coach at the helm, with Jessie Craig taking charge on an interim basis. The Nanooks did not compete in 2020 and finished eleventh in the GNAC in the 2019-20 season. The Nanooks will need to replace four starters, including 2019-2020 GNAC Newcomer of the Year and the conference’s leading scorer Jocelyn Gandara.

The returning starter, sophomore guard Sam Toliver (14 points per game, 54 assists and 35 steals in 2019-20) figures to lead the team on the stat sheet. 6-foot-1 forward Ellen Silva comes over as a transfer from in-state rival Alaska Anchorage after redshirting a year with the Seawolves, and Alaska will likely lean on a recruiting class of five freshmen.

Montana State Billings opens the season on Monday, November 1 when they host Montana Tech. Four days later, the Yellowjackets host the D2CCA Tip-Off Classic At The Trailhead. The GNAC season begins Thursday, December 2.

Pos. Team (1st Place Votes) 2020-21
GNAC Record
1. Alaska Anchorage (7) 3-0 31-2 19-1 (1st) 92
2. Western Washington (2) 6-0 22-9 14-6 (3rd) 89
3. Northwest Nazarene (1) 7-7 22-7 17-3 (2nd) 70
4. Simon Fraser DNP 18-13 13-7 (tie 4th) 69
5. Central Washington 0-2 19-11 13-7 (tie 4th) 60
6. Saint Martin's 7-6 14-13 9-11 (tie 6th) 48
7. Montana State Billings 5-3 14-16 9-11 (tie 6th) 47
8. Seattle Pacific 7-7 8-20 6-14 (8th) 43
9. Western Oregon DNP 6-21 3-17 (10th) 20
10. Alaska DNP 7-22 2-18 (11th) 12

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