NCAA Champion Western Washington Picked To Win GNAC
The Vikings currently hold a 24-game unbeaten run dating back to Sept. 4, 2016.
The Vikings currently hold a 24-game unbeaten run dating back to Sept. 4, 2016.

Friday, August 18, 2017

PORTLAND, Ore. – For the second straight season, Western Washington unanimously stands atop the 2017 Great Northwest Athletic Conference Women’s Preseason Soccer Coaches Poll – only this time with a Division II National Championship under its belt.

The five-time defending GNAC champions, Western Washington, received all nine first-place votes. The following four places were separated by eight points. Of those four teams, Concordia was the sole squad to miss the GNAC Championships last year.

Coming off a much-improved conference season, Central Washington was picked second with 62 points after a second-place GNAC finish. Despite a disappointing 2016 that saw Concordia win just five conference games, the Cavaliers finished third in voting with 58 points, edging Simon Fraser (57 pts.) who is picked for fourth. After competing in the NCAA Division II Championship Tournament last year, Seattle Pacific sits in fifth place with 55 points. Rounding out the preseason voting is Montana State Billings (32 pts.), Northwest Nazarene (26 pts.), Western Oregon (23 pts.) and Saint Martin’s (11 pts.).

Achieving a semifinal finish in the 2015 Division II NCAA Championships, the Vikings looked poised for another durable tournament run in 2016, ending the regular season unbeaten at 18-0-1. Western Washington rolled through the regional, allowing just two goals in the first four rounds before eventually knocking off three-time defending champion Grand Valley State to claim its first national championship in program history.

Complementing its 24-0-1 record in 2016, the Vikings were recently ranked No. 1 in the 2017 United Soccer Coaches (formerly NSCAA) Division II Women’s Preseason Poll.

Western Washington returns seven starters from a 2016 team that led the GNAC in shots, goals, assists, fewest goals allowed and shutouts. Among those starters are five defensive players that helped WWU rank No. 5 among all Division II teams with 0.396 goals allowed per game. Senior defender Sierra Shugarts, the 2016 NSCAA National Player of the Year, and GNAC Defensive Player of the Year Emily Webster return for their final season in Viking navy. Senior Ashley Homer also comes back after finishing with 14 shutouts and achieving NSCAA Third Team All-American honors.

Western Washington brings back junior Gabriela Pelogi, who led the team with 11 goals and contributed seven assists. Sophomore forward Liv Larson (seven goals, five assists) and sophomore defender Taylor Hallquist return after honorable mention selections.

With the departure of four key pieces for WWU, the defending champions added forward Karli White, a junior from Division I Seattle who recorded 15 goals and 10 assists in two seasons. The Vikings also acquired sophomore goalie Natalie Dierickx from Division I Colorado State.

Finishing four spots higher than its sixth-place 2015 finish with an 8-3-1 GNAC record, Central Washington is favored for a second-place conference finish. In last year’s Division II Women’s Soccer Championships, the Wildcats defeated Seattle Pacific 2-1 in the tournament’s first round. In the United Soccer Coaches’ Preseason Poll, Central Washington was fourth among teams receiving votes.

Head coach Michael Farrand returns six starters, most notably NSCAA Second Team All-West Region senior midfielder Mackenzie Nolte, who paced the Wildcats with seven goals and two assists a year ago. Senior Whitney Lowe also returns for her senior campaign, recording nine goals and 11 assists in 51 starts during her career.

Defender Abbie Litka and goalkeeper Emily Holt look to provide much needed experience to a depleted Wildcats’ back line that loses three defensive starters. Litka was an Honorable Mention All-GNAC selection while Holt posted 82 saves, six shutouts and a 1.10 goals against average.

In its first full year of Division II membership, Concordia received 58 points to edge Seattle Pacific for third place. After the Cavaliers’ seamless transition to the GNAC in 2015 with an impressive 8-2-2 conference record, Concordia slipped to a fifth-place finish one year later with a 5-4-3 GNAC record (10-4-3). The Cavaliers, however, bring back eight starters from a team whose four losses came by 1-0 margins. 

First Team All-GNAC selection Ana Delgadillo, Honorable Mention All-GNAC honoree Martha Heaps and McKenna Stocker all return to a Cavalier defense that ranked second in the conference with eight goals allowed for a 0.63 goals against average. Junior midfielder Gabrielle Ewing returns after four goals and three assists landed her as a Second Team All-GNAC selection. Forward Bobbi Eckler departs after tallying a team-high five assists in 2016.

Despite a last place finish in 2014, Simon Fraser has drastically improved within the span of three years. The Clan finished 2016 in fourth with a 7-5-0 conference record, achieving its first GNAC Championships berth in program history. Only two seniors return from that 2014 team, including goalkeeper Priya Sandhu, who earned Honorable Mention All-GNAC honors after posting eight shutouts and allowing 1.04 goals per game.

Reigning GNAC Freshman of the Year and First Team All-GNAC forward Emma Pringle looks to continue the initial success that saw her record nine goals and three assists in 17 starts. Juniors Allyson Dickson and Christina Dickson round out the Clan’s midfield as both earned All-GNAC honors last year. With 10 starters returning, head coach Annie Hamel is handed a blend of experience with tested youth to improve off the previous campaign.

With a third-place finish (7-2-3 GNAC) last season, Seattle Pacific looks to fill the hole league-leading goal scorer Hannah Huesers leaves up top. Huesers’ departure caps the loss of five starters with more than 15 appearances each in 2016.

Senior goalkeeper Molly Stinson recorded 106 saves, seven shutouts and allowed 0.96 goals per game. She is accompanied by returning starters senior Maddie Sjothun, junior Kaytlin Willis and sophomore Asia Cayetano on the defensive line.

Similar to Concordia, Montana State Billings also returns eight starters to a team that ended 2016 with a 4-6-2 GNAC record. With six matches remaining in the season, the Yellowjackets scuffled on a 1-4-1 run to end in sixth place. All four of their regular season victories came against GNAC opposition.

Senior forward Jessica Spang comes back after tallying five goals and a team-high five assists in 17 starts. Junior Lili Delgadillo returns between the posts after recording 84 saves and allowing 1.63 goals per game in 2016.

Finishing tied for eighth with a 2-10-0 conference record, Northwest Nazarene return nine starters to its lineup. The Crusaders look to take the GNAC by storm this season, as they have not finished in the top half of the conference table since the league’s inception. Midfield transfer Anita Maryskova (Brevard Coll. (N.C)) will accompany NNU’s 2016 leading goal scorer, midfielder Madi Taylor (four goals, one assist), this season.

Western Oregon remains the only team to defeat Western Washington in a GNAC contest since the 2013 season. Despite losing six starters, WOU’s recruiting class includes three transfers and four key freshmen to aid starting senior defender Kai Mahuka and senior midfielder Meli Cortez.

Saint Martin’s concludes the voting in ninth place after finishing tied for eighth with two conference victories. First-year head coach Heather Cato returns six starters, which led by senior midfielder Lauren Allison. In their final three matches last year, the Saints lost each GNAC contest by one goal to end the season on a three-game skid.

Seven teams start regular season action on August 31. Montana State Billings and Central Washington kick off against non-conference opponents on September 2 and 3, respectively. The conference slate is scheduled to begin September 16.

Rank Team (1st Place Votes) 2016 Record GNAC Record (Finish) Points
1. Western Washington (9) 24-0-1 12-0-0 (1st) 81
2. Central Washington 14-6-1 8-3-1 (2nd) 62
3. Concordia 10-4-3 5-4-3 (5th) 58
4. Simon Fraser 9-7-1 7-5-0 (4th) 57
5. Seattle Pacific 11-5-4 7-2-3 (3rd) 55
6. MSU Billings 4-10-3 4-6-2 (6th) 32
7. Northwest Nazarene 4-13-0 2-10-0 (Tie 8th) 26
8. Western Oregon 5-11-1 2-9-1 (7th) 23
9. Saint Martin's 3-14-1 2-10-0 (Tie 8th) 11
Points awarded on a 9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 basis.