GNAC Poll Comes Up Blue For WWU Women’s Soccer
Defending GNAC and NCAA Champion Western Washington is tabbed to repeat as conference champion in the 2023 GNAC Women's Soccer preseason coaches poll.
Defending GNAC and NCAA Champion Western Washington is tabbed to repeat as conference champion in the 2023 GNAC Women's Soccer preseason coaches poll.

Monday, August 14, 2023

PORTLAND, Ore. – It’s no surprise, after a dominant season and a national title, coaches around the conference have picked reigning NCAA Champion Western Washington to repeat as conference champion in the 2023 GNAC Women’s Soccer preseason coaches poll. 

Western Washington is the consensus choice among coaches to repeat as champion, receiving seven of the eight first-place votes with Central Washington also earning one. Three of the top-four ranked teams also featured in last year’s GNAC Championships tournament. The Vikings led all teams with 63 points in the poll followed by Seattle Pacific in second with 52 and Northwest Nazarene in third with 46 points. Western Oregon was fourth (36 pts.), Simon Fraser fifth (31 pts.), Central Washington sixth (28 pts.), Saint Martin’s seventh (20 pts.) and Montana  State Billings eighth (12 pts.).

Rank Team (1st Place Votes) 2022 Record GNAC Record (Finish) Points
1. Western Washington (7) 19-2-4 11-1-2 (1st) 63
2. Seattle Pacific 11-6-2 9-4-1 (3rd) 52
3. Northwest Nazarene 12-4-4 9-2-3 (2nd) 46
4. Western Oregon 7-6-5 4-6-4 (5th) 36
5. Simon Fraser 5-7-7 4-5-5 (4th) 31
6. Central Washington (1) 3-11-4 2-9-3 (8th) 28
7. Saint Martin's 5-10-2 3-9-2 (6th) 20
8. Montana State Billings 3-12-4 3-9-2 (7th) 12

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

The Vikings return nine starters from their championship-winning squad for the 2023 season. Western Washington went 11-1-2 in conference play last year (19-2-4 overall) en route to winning the program’s ninth GNAC title. The Vikings rode that momentum to the second national title in program history last December, defeating West Chester 2-1 in Seattle. Western Washington was also ranked No. 1 in the United Soccer Coaches preseason poll.

Sophomore midfielder/forward and 2022 GNAC Freshman of the Year  Morgan Manlili will look to pick up right where she left off last season. Manalili led Western Washington and the GNAC in scoring last year with 10 goals and five assists for 25 points through 25 matches. She was especially dangerous in the postseason, scoring four of those goals after the regular season concluded.

The hero of last year’s NCAA Final, sophomore forward Claire Potter, also returns after a freshman campaign where she started every match for WWU. Across 25 contests, Potter amassed five goals and four assists to finish the season eighth in the GNAC with 14 points. Potter’s highlight of the season came in the NCAA Final where she assisted on the Vikings’ opening goal before scoring the game-winner in the 83rd minute.

There will also be a familiar presence in net for the Vikings as veteran goalkeeper Claire Henninger returns for her fifth season between the pipes. Henninger was one of the top goalkeepers in the nation last year, leading the GNAC and ranking No. 12 in Division II with a 0.54 goals against average. Her 1,992 minutes played also led the conference and ranked fourth in the division.

Seattle Pacific was predicted to go one better in 2023 after finishing third in the conference last season with a record of 9-4-1 (11-6-2 overall). The Falcons were one of the top offensive teams in the conference last season, ranking third in the GNAC with 33 goals and 91 points. Seattle Pacific was one of three GNAC teams to receive votes in the United Soccer Coaches preseason poll. The Falcons return six of last year’s starters as head coach Arby Busey heads into his ninth season at the helm.

The offensive strength looks set to continue for SPU as all five top-scoring threats from last season are back for 2023. Senior forward Sophie Beadle leads the charge for Seattle Pacific after leading the team and ranking sixth in the GNAC with 16 points. Beadle’s six assists ranked second in the conference while her five goals were tied for seventh. Beadle’s production on the attack earned her second team all-GNAC and United Soccer Coaches second team all-west region recognition.

Senior midfielder Chloe Gellhaus also returns to the pitch for SPU on the back of a season where she earned first team all-GNAC and United Soccer Coaches second team all-west region honors. Gellhaus racked up three goals and three assists through 15 games to rank fifth for the Falcons with nine points. Her 0.60 points per game ranked 10th in the GNAC while her 0.20 assists per game were tied for ninth.

Seattle Pacific goalkeeper Mercedes Cullen returns for her sophomore campaign after starting all but three games of her debut season. Cullen amassed a 9-6-1 record in 16 matches for SPU while owning a 1.28 goals against average. She recorded four shutouts to tie for third in the GNAC and made 60 saves to rank fourth in the conference.  

Last year’s GNAC title runner-up Northwest Nazarene enters the new season returning seven players from its starting 11. Along with Western Washington and Seattle Pacific, the Nighthawks also received votes in the United Soccer Coaches preseason poll.

Senior forward Madison Grande led the Nighthawks to a 9-2-3 conference record (12-4-4 overall) with 11 goals in 2022. Grande’s 22 points ranked second in the GNAC while her 1.10 points per game average led the conference. Her offensive prowess earned her first team all-GNAC and second team United Soccer Coaches all-west region honors.

On the back line, the Nighthawks return a pair of strong defenders in junior Kate Bleffert and senior Makayla Roggow. Bleffert was a key defender for NNU last season, logging 1,684 minutes while starting all 20 games for the Nighthawks en route to earning second team all-GNAC honors. Roggow put in over 1,700 minutes last season, also starting every match. She added offensive upside as well with a goal and an assist.

Northwest Nazarene will look toward players like senior forward Yacine Bitibale ( 2 goals, 1 assist), to fill the gap in the attacking third left by the graduation of last year’s GNAC Player of the Year and United Soccer Coaches first team all-west region selection, Ashley Parton.

Western Oregon narrowly missed out on qualifying for the GNAC Championships last year, finishing the 2022 campaign fifth in the GNAC standings with a 4-6-4 record (7-6-5 overall) and is expected to go one better to make the tournament in 2023. The Wolves ranked fourth in the conference with 20 goals, 17 assists and six shutouts last season.

Leading the returners for WOU is senior defender Hannah Rispler. The Gresham, Oregon native started 15 matches for the Wolves last year. She logged 1,278 minutes and one assist on the back line and was selected for first team all-GNAC and United Soccer Coaches first team all-west region honors.

The Wolves also return both of their top scorers in senior forward Chloe Smith and junior forward Briana Kubli. Both Smith and Kubli were honorable mention all-GNAC players and started all 18 games of WOU’s season. Smith led Western Oregon with five goals and two assists while Kubli was second on the team with three goals and one assist.

In net, Western Oregon will look toward junior goalkeeper Darien Walton and junior transfer Sophia Pierce to take the reigns. Walton was undefeated as the Wolves’ backup keeper last season, compiling a 3-0-1 record and a 1.56 goals against average. Pierce comes to Western Oregon after transferring from Division I Montana.

Simon Fraser comes into the new season on the back of a 2022 campaign that saw the team battle until the final day of the regular season to qualify for the GNAC Championships with a 4-5-5 conference record (5-7-7 overall). The Red Leafs picked up points with gritty performances ranking third in the GNAC with seven shutouts and fourth with 78 saves. Their seven draws were the most of any team in the conference.

The Red Leafs will look toward last year’s backup goalkeeper, sophomore Sarah Loewen, to continue her work for SFU and grow in net. In nine matches, Loewen posted a 3-4-1 record, a 1.01 goals against average and an .830 save percentage. She also notched three shutouts while making 39 saves.

Offensively, the top point-producer returning for Simon Fraser is junior midfielder Kate Cartier who was tied for third on the team with six points last season. Cartier’s three goals were also tied for second on the team.

The Simon Fraser midfield will benefit from returning GNAC Newcomer of the Year and second team all-GNAC honoree Isabella Muzzolini. After transferring from University of Georgia last season, Muzzolini made an immediate impression creating opportunities in the midfield and notching three assists.

Central Washington is predicted to improve on its eighth-place 2-9-3 conference record (3-11-4 overall) from last season and finish sixth this year as head coach Lindsey Lee enters her second season leading the team. The Wildcats ranked sixth in the GNAC last season with 17 goals and 0.94 goals per game.

Senior midfielder Emily Darcy is one of nine starters to return after leading the team in scoring with 18 points. Darcy’s points total was tied for fourth in the GNAC with Player of the Year Parton. Her one-point-per-game average was tied with Manalili for second while she stood alone ranked second in the GNAC with 0.44 goals per game.

Junior goalkeeper Kassandra Jaggard also returns for CWU after playing 17 games and amassing a 3-8-4 record last season. Jaggard owned a 1.86 goals against average through 1,259 minutes while posting three shutouts. Her 77 saves ranked second in the GNAC.

Saint Martin’s comes into 2023 ranked seventh after finishing last season sixth in the conference with a 3-9-2 GNAC record (5-10-2 overall). The Saints were one of the more defensively-minded teams in the GNAC last year, tied for third with 23 goals allowed and ranked fifth with a 1.35 goals against average.

First-year head coach Derek Faulkner will look toward defenders like sophomore Rose Ivanis to continue leading the back line. Ivanis started all 17 games for Saint Martin’s, logging 1,107 minutes and adding offensive upside with a pair of assists. Senior goalkeeper Ali Campigotto returns in net after splitting duties with honorable mention all-GNAC keeper Soph Mendoza last season. In seven matches, Campigotto amassed a 3-2-2 record, a 1.14 goals against average and a GNAC-leading .835 save percentage. She also notched two shutouts while making 43 saves. Campigotto’s 6.14 saves per game ranked third in the conference.

In the attacking third, sophomore Maria Pagnotta leads the returners for Saint Martin’s. Pagnotta punched through for five goals last season to lead the Saints in scoring and earn second team all-GNAC honors. While featuring in every match for SMU, Pagnotta averaged 0.29 goals per game to rank fifth in the conference.

Montana State Billings is one of two teams to enter the season with a first-year head coach. Former assistant coach Abiye Jack is at the helm now and returns six of last year’s starters. The Yellowjackets finished last season seventh in the GNAC with a 3-9-2 record (3-12-4 overall).

Leading the returners for MSUB is first team all-GNAC selection Clare Keenan. The senior goalkeeper from Tallahassee, Florida led the conference with 102 saves last season, averaging 6.80 per game. Keenan finished 2022 with a .779 save percentage to rank seventh in the GNAC while her two shutouts were tied for eighth.

Junior forward Jackie Sharpe heads up the offense coming into the new season after leading MSUB with six points. Sharpe tallied two goals and two assists last season while starting all 19 of the Yellowjackets’ matches. Fellow junior forward Jillian Hust also returns for Montana State Billings after netting a pair of goals to go with 14 starts last season.

The 2023 GNAC women’s soccer regular season kicks off on Wednesday, Aug. 30 with Montana State Billings taking on cross-town rival Rocky Mountain. The conference slate begins on Thursday, Sept. 21 with all eight GNAC teams in action.