Yellowjackets Predicted To Claim 2023-24 GNAC Title
Montana State Billings made it to the NCAA West Regional Semifinals last season and is anticipated to capture the 2023-34 GNAC regular-season title.
Montana State Billings made it to the NCAA West Regional Semifinals last season and is anticipated to capture the 2023-34 GNAC regular-season title.

Friday, October 20, 2023
by Thomas Lal

PORTLAND, Ore. – Coming into the year on the back of a second-place regular-season finish in the 2022-23 season, the Montana State Billings women’s basketball team is tabbed to go one better and claim the 2023-24 regular season title for the second time in program history.

The Yellowjackets received five of the first-place votes in the 2023-24 Great Northwest Athletic Conference Preseason Coaches Poll after finishing runner-up in the regular season and GNAC Championships last season before making it to the NCAA West Regional Semifinal. Western Washington claimed four first-place votes after winning both the regular season title and the program’s third conference tournament title. Alaska Anchorage received the remaining first-place vote after finishing fourth last season and making it to the GNAC Championships where the Seawolves fell to Seattle Pacific.

Montana State Billings leads all teams with 94 points in the poll followed by Western Washington with 91 and Alaska Anchorage with 75. Simon Fraser is fourth with 68 ahead of Central Washington in fifth (66 pts.), Seattle Pacific in sixth (51 pts.), Northwest Nazarene in seventh (42 pts.), Saint Martin’s in eighth (27 pts.), Western Oregon in ninth (19 pts.) and Alaska in 10th (17 pts.).

Rank Team (1st Place Votes) 2022-23 GNAC Record (Finish) Points
1. Montana State BIllings (5) 25-8 14-4 (2nd) 94
2. Western Washington (4) 24-4 16-2 (1st) 91
3. Alaska Anchorage (1) 18-10 10-8 (4th) 75
4. Simon Fraser 10-13 8-10 (6th) 68
5. Central Washington 21-9 12-6 (3rd) 66
6. Seattle Pacific 15-13 9-9 (5th) 51
7. Northwest Nazarene 11-15 7-11 (T7th) 42
8. Saint Martin's 10-16 6-12 (9th) 27
9. Western Oregon 13-13 7-11 (T7th) 19
10. Alaska 4-21 1-17 (10th) 17

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

Montana State Billings will have a strong core to lean on this season as four of last year’s starting five return for the 2023-24 campaign. Leading the returners for MSUB is second-team all-GNAC guard Kortney Nelson. The junior from Scobey, Mont., was one of the top playmakers in the conference last season, ranking fifth in the GNAC with 3.4 assists per game to go along with 8.2 points and five rebounds per contest while shooting 32.7% from the field. Junior forward Dyauni Boyce is the top scorer returning for MSUB after averaging 10.7 points per game and shooting 42% from the field to earn honorable mention all-conference a season ago.

As head coach Kevin Woodin prepares to start his 20th season at the helm of the Yellowjackets’ program, he will look to senior transfer forward Kola Bad Bear from Division I Montana State along with a trio of freshmen in Layla Bauman, Avery Burkhart and Jaeli Jenkins to help fill the gap left by last year’s team-leading scorer Taryn Shelley. Bad Bear comes to the team after spending four years with the Bobcats and finished last season averaging 9.8 points, five rebounds and 1.2 assists per game.

Western Washington returns to the court this season after clinching both the regular-season and GNAC Championships title a year ago. The Vikings only have two starters returning for the 2023-24 campaign, but recent history indicates that they are two of the best in the conference. Last year’s leading scorer Brooke Walling leads the offensive returners for WWU after a season where she averaged 13.6 points and 9.2 rebounds per game while shooting 57.8% from the field. Walling’s efforts last season earned her first team all-GNAC and first team D2CCA all-west region honors in addition to being named a WBCA honorable mention All-American and the GNAC Championships MVP.

Complimenting Walling’s veteran presence is sophomore guard Mason Oberg who played in 22 of Western Washington’s 28 games last season, starting five, and averaged 8.2 points and 1.2 assists per game in her freshman campaign. Junior guard Riley Dykstra is also back for head coach Carmen Dolfo and will play alongside her younger cousin Demi Dykstra in her freshman season. Demi Dykstra will be the third Dykstra of this generation to play for the Western Washington women’s basketball team after Riley and two-time GNAC Defensive Player of the Year Avery Dykstra who concluded her collegiate career last season.

Alaska Anchorage garnered one first-place vote and is predicted to finish third in this season’s preseason poll after finishing in fourth last season. The Seawolves will feature a fresh lineup this year as four players including three of last year’s starters are back along with a wealth of transfer talent.

Leading the returners for UAA is senior forward Vishe’ Rabb who was named first team all-conference last year after averaging 16.8 points, 6.3 rebounds and two assists per game to lead the team and rank fifth in the GNAC. Rabb is set to return to the court this year after ACL surgery in March due to an injury sustained in the GNAC Championships quarterfinals less than a year ago.

Junior guard Jazzpher Evans and junior forward Kate Robertson also return for head coach Ryan McCarthy after featuring as regular starters last season. Evans was another one of the Seawolves’ best-scoring players, averaging 9.4 points per game to go with 2.4 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.8 steals per contest. Robertson ranked fourth for UAA last season with 6.5 points per game and led the team with an average of six rebounds per game.

Despite the new-look roster, the Seawolves will have plenty of college basketball experience in the form of seven incoming transfers. Among the transfers are a pair of juniors from Laney College in forward Jessica Gamble and forward/center Tori Hollingshead and two former Central Arizona College guards In Senya Rabouin and Mia Ross.

After making it to the GNAC Championships as the No. 6 seed last season, Simon Fraser is predicted to make the tournament once again but with a higher seeding courtesy of a fourth-place regular-season finish. Consistency was the name of the game for head coach Bruce Langford in the offseason as his team brings back four starters and nine total players, the second-most of any program.

Leading the returners is first team all-GNAC selection Jessica Wisotzki after a season where she averaged an impressive 21 points and 4.4 rebounds per game while shooting 42.9% from the field and 32.8% from three-point range. She is joined by honorable-mention all-conference forward Gemma Cutler on the heels of a season where she led the team with 8.7 rebounds per contest while also averaging 10.7 points per game. Simon Fraser’s top playmaker, Sophia Wisotzki, also returns after dishing out 76 assists last season.

Central Washington went to the first round of the NCAA West Regional last year, but coaches predict an uphill battle to a fifth-place finish for the Wildcats after the loss of 2022-23 D2CCA Ron Lenz Player of the Year Samantha Bowman. The record-setting center from Zillah, Wash., closed the books on her collegiate career last season before moving on to play professionally in Australia but there is still plenty to look forward to for CWU as it returns three of last year’s starters.

Leading that group is junior guard Sunny Huerta after being named first team all-GNAC a season ago. Huerta was one of the most dominant offensive players in the conference last season, averaging 18.4 points and 3.2 assists per game while shooting north of 40% from both the field and three-point range. Huerta wrote her own GNAC history in 2022 by setting the single-game scoring with 46 points against Walla Walla on Dec. 19.

Two other key members of CWU’s lethal offensive attack return up front in honorable mention all-conference senior guard Tori Maeda and reigning GNAC Freshman of the Year Asher Cai. Maeda was one of the preeminent passers in the conference last year, leading the GNAC and ranking 11th in Division II with 158 assists. Cai started all 30 games for the Wildcats last season, averaging 14 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game in her debut campaign.

Seattle Pacific is predicted to finish sixth in the GNAC standings this season and will come into the season with a drastically changed starting lineup. The Falcons return a single starter from last season in sophomore guard Hunter Beirne who averaged 6.5 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game a year ago. Head coach Mike Simonson will also look toward players like junior center Schuyler Berry to build upon last season and claim starting roles. Berry started five games for SPU last season and is the top returning scorer on the team with 7.4 points per game to go with 3.4 boards per contest.

 Northwest Nazarene is predicted to repeat its seventh-place finish from last season and returns two of last year’s starters along with seven total players. The Nighthawks returners are led by sisters Emma and Kate Clark. Emma Clark posted an average of 5.9 points and 4.3 rebounds per game last season while Kate Clark averaged 4.8 points and 1.3 steals per contest. The two sisters will be joined by their younger sister, Kendall Clark, this season for her freshman campaign as she is among five players to make their debut for NNU.

Saint Martin’s is set to return the most players of any team in the conference and is predicted to go one better than last season with an eighth-place finish in the regular season. Senior guard Anjel Galbraith leads 12 total returners for the Saints after earning second team all-GNAC honors with a conference-leading 5.6 assists per game. Galbraith was no slouch in providing her own scoring either, leading the Saints and ranking sixth in the GNAC with 15.4 points per contest. The Saints return the totality of last year’s starting five with junior forward Lauryn Morris, sophomore guard Kiana Rios, sophomore center Sarah Lamet and junior Rian Clear all back for 2023-24.

Western Oregon is predicted to finish ninth in the regular season after tying for seventh last year. The Wolves return four of last year’s starters and are led by senior guard Cali McClave after she earned second team all-conference honors with 17.2 points, five rebounds, 2.6 assists and 2.2 steals per game. Continuing the sibling trend, Cali McClave is joined by younger sister and junior guard Ana McClave who also returns after starting 24 of WOU’s 26 games last season. Ana McClave was the Wolves’ best player on the boards, averaging 7.8 boards per contest while also chipping in 5.2 points and 2.7 assists.

Rounding out the poll is Alaska which returns seven total players from last season, including four starters. The Nanooks’ leading scorer, senior guard Emma McKenney, returns to the hardwood after a season where she averaged 12.8 points per game while shooting 44.6% from the field. Junior forward/center Ellen Silva also returns for second-year head coach Amy Donavan after leading UAF with 7.7 rebounds per game.

The 2023-24 regular season tips off on Friday, Nov. 3 with Montana State Billings hosting the D2CCA Tournament in Billings and Simon Fraser hosting the D2CCA Canadian Tip-Off Classic in Burnaby where Central Washington and Alaska will also feature. The conference slate begins on Nov. 30 with all 10 GNAC teams in action. The complete conference schedule for 2023-24 can be found online here.