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WWU Women’s Soccer Returns To Top In Preseason Poll
Western Washington is ranked No. 1 in the United Soccer Coaches Preseason Poll after winning the NCAA Divison II Championship last year. | Photo by Thomas Lal
Western Washington is ranked No. 1 in the United Soccer Coaches Preseason Poll after winning the NCAA Divison II Championship last year. | Photo by Thomas Lal

Tuesday, August 1, 2023

PORTLAND, Ore. – Reigning NCAA Champion Western Washington is tabbed to continue its run of success and is ranked No. 1 in the United Soccer Coaches Division II Women’s Soccer National Preseason Poll.

The Vikings lead three teams from the GNAC to feature in the preseason poll with GNAC Championships runner-up Northwest Nazarene and Seattle Pacific also receiving votes. Western Washington won its second national title in program history last season, finishing the historic campaign with a 19-2-4 record (11-1-2 GNAC). The Vikings have familiar company at the top of the poll with West Chester ranked No. 2 after being defeated 2-1 by WWU in the NCAA Championships final last year.

The Vikings were dominant in 2022, leading the GNAC in goals (46), assists (40), shots (454), goals allowed (13), goals against average (0.52) and shutouts (15).  Their regular season campaign featured  13 consecutive victories and just one loss against conference competition.

Western Washington returns the majority of its championship-winning team with nine starters back for 2023. Last year’s conference-leading scorer Morgan Manalili leads the offensive returners for WWU. The sophomore midfielder tallied 10 goals and five assists last season en route to being named the GNAC Freshman of the Year along with First Team All-GNAC honors.

Senior forward Estera Levinte also returns for the Vikings on the back of a season where she recorded seven goals and eight assists. Levinte’s efforts in the postseason earned the First Team All-GNAC honoree selection as the NCAA Championships Most Outstanding Player.

The Vikings will also have a veteran presence in net this season with senior goalkeeper Claire Henninger returning for a fifth season. Henninger was one of the best goalkeepers in Division II last season, leading the GNAC and ranking No. 12 in the division with a 0.54 goals against average. Her 1,992 minutes played also led the conference and ranked fourth in Division II.

Northwest Nazarene earned votes in the preseason poll after finishing second in the GNAC with a 9-2-3 record (12-4-4 overall) last season. The Nighthawks are set to return seven players from last year’s starting 11, including three all-conference selections in senior forward Madison Grande, junior defender Kate Bleffert and senior defender Kailyn LaBrosse.

Grande was tied for second in the GNAC last season with 22 points courtesy of 11 goals. Her offensive prowess also earned her United Soccer Coaches Second Team All-West Region honors. Bleffert and LaBrosse combined for just over 3,200 minutes last season as part of a defense that allowed just 0.65 goals per game to rank second in the conference.

Seattle Pacific received votes after finishing its 2022 campaign with a 9-4-1 record to finish third in the GNAC (11-6-2 overall). The Falcons were one of the best passing teams in the conference last year, ranking third in the GNAC with 25 assists and second with 1.32 goals per game. They also ranked third in the conference in shots (263), points (91) and goals (33).

All five of last year’s top-five scoring threats are set to return for SPU. Senior forward Sophie Beadle leads that group after a season where she put up 16 points to rank sixth in the GNAC and earn Second Team All-GNAC and United Soccer Coaches Second Team All-West Region honors. Beadle’s six assists ranked second in the conference while her five goals were tied for seventh.

Western Washington will kick off the season on Wednesday, August 16 with a preseason exhibition against Victoria in Victoria B.C. Both Northwest Nazarene and Seattle Pacific will open their seasons with exhibitions on Thursday, August 17. The Nighthawks will host Everett in Nampa while the Falcons host Trinity Western in Seattle.

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