A tight race is expected in St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Women's Basketball this year, with the two schools that have won the the last four SLIAC Tournament Championships predicted to once again battle for postseason supremacy. Westminster College was chosen as the 2015-16 SLIAC preseason favorite just ahead of Spalding University.
Westminster received 76 total points and five first-place votes and were picked as the 2015 SLIAC favorites. Head Coach Tracey Braden and the Blue Jays finished last year with a 17-8 overall record and a 14-4 conference record; and return all five starters from last year's team that was the #2 seed in the SLIAC Tournament. The Blue Jays will feature three returning All-Conference players highlighted by First Teamer Kasey Gatson. Gatson, a senior guard, led the Blue Jays in scoring last season at 14.1 points per game while hitting on 46-percent of her three-point shots. Andrea Zalis, a junior forward, was Second Team All-Conference after averaging 13.8 points and a team best 6.5 rebounds per game while Mackenzie Haddox, a senior guard, was named Third Team All-Conference after averaging 10.8 points per game and leading the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio. The Blue Jays will also return key starters in senior guard Sadie Theroff and junior forward Krista Armontrout.
Two-time defending SLIAC Tournament champion Spalding was picked second in the preseason poll, receiving 74 total points and garnering three first-place votes. Head Coach Charlie Just will lead a new look Golden Eagles after losing SLIAC Newcomer of the Year Kayala Styles and two time First Team All-Conference performer Jessica Guy. Spalding returns just one starter and six players from last year's team that went 22-5 overall and 17-1 in conference play. Among the returnees are Dee Dee Sliter, Maya Hardin, and Brandy Hunter. Sliter, a junior guard, averaged 6.0 points per game while starting 22 games last year. Hardin, a junior forward, averaged 6.2 points and 3.9 rebounds per game coming off the bench and Hunter, a junior guard, saw action in 26 games, averaging 6.3 points and 2.2 rebounds per game. The Golden Eagles will count on transfers Mackenzie Myers and Lelanda Matthews as well as freshman Alex Martin to round out the scoring and give the team a balanced offense.
Last year's preseason favorite, Iowa Wesleyan University received 57 total points and one first-place vote to finish third in the 2015 preseason poll. The Tigers were 19-7 overall and 15-2 in the SLIAC and this year will be their final year in transition in which they will not be eligible for postseason play. Head Coach Steve Williamson returns just four players from last year's team but three of those players were starters. The biggest loss will be Karla Vietinghoff, the two time defending SLIAC Player of the Year. But with all four returners being seniors the experience should help offset the loss. Rachel Williams, a guard, averaged 10.1 points, 5.4 assists, and 2.1 steals per game while earning Second Team All-Conference honors last season. Guard Dakota Flesner averaged 7.3 points and a team high 6.8 rebounds per game last year while forward Breanna Hall averaged 6.5 points per game and shot 35-percent from three-point range. Kaylee Mosely, a guard, is also back after averaging 5.2 points and 2.9 rebounds per game last year. Among the newcomers that will see time on court will be guards Aimee Iverson and Darby Massner as well as forward Whitney Brandvold.
After making the SLIAC Tournament last year for the first time since 2011, the Greenville College Panthers are picked fourth in the 2015 poll with 56 points and one first-place vote. The Panthers, coached by Roy Mulholland, finished last year 12-14 overall and 9-9 in the SLIAC. The Panthers return all five starters and 13 players from last year's squad including Second Team All-Conference performer Laura Goodnight. Goodnight, a sophomore guard, averaged 12.5 points and 5.3 rebounds per game as a true freshman last year, knocking down 41-percent of her deep shots. The Panthers also return senior forward Coley Baker, a SLIAC All-Defense Team member, who averaged 6.1 points and 3.9 rebounds per game while leading the league in blocked shots with 69. Juniors Taylor Paulin (9.3 ppg) and Claire Schmitt (7.8 ppg) will once again be back to provide scoring depth while Kelly Lenz will give the Panthers another inside force after averaging 5.6 points and 5.0 rebounds per game. Newcomer, sophomore, Maria Reinhard should figure into the team's rotation.
Webster University and Eureka College tied for fifth in the poll with 47 total points. Webster returns two starters and eight players from last year's team that finished 10-15 overall and 7-11 in the SLIAC. Leading the way will be senior guard Ashley Brooks. Brooks was second on the team in scoring last season at 11.2 points per game while also dishing out 2.7 assists per game and averaging 2.2 steals per game. Coach Jordan Olufson will need to find break a near new team as he brings in 14 new players including eight transfers that will give the team immediate on-court experience. Among the newcomers that will be counted on will be Nadine Vaughn, a junior forward from Parkland, as well as freshman guard Madison Butler, a three time All-Conference performer and Conference MVP, as well as sophomore guard Kelsey Miller.
Eureka College is coming off their fourth straight postseason trip after going 14-13 overall and 10-8 in conference play last year. The Red Devils, coached by Steve Thompson, will look to life beyond Kelsey Shoemake after her graduation, and the loss of two other starters. The Red Devils return senior guard Emily Camden, a Second Team All-Conference performer, after averaging 15.8 points per game and leading the conference in three-pointers with 78 made. Also back for the team are junior guard Luci Weis (10.3 ppg) and Michaela Balducci (11.3 ppg). Among the newcomers for Eureka are Samantha Sarnes, Kelsey Forsythe, and Rachel Pouliot.
Fontbonne University received 40 total points in the poll and return all five starters and 13 players from last year's team that finished 11-14 overall and 7-11 in conference play. The Griffins, coached by Maureen Sias, will be led by Second Team All-Conference player Emmie Harring. Harring, a junior guard, averaged 8.8 points per game and led the conference in assists at 6.0 per game; breaking the Fontbonne single season record for assists. Also returning are junior post players Olivia Hollander, who led the team in scoring at 10.3 points per game, and Chelsey Gibson, who averaged 9.2 points and a team high 7.1 rebounds per game, as well as senior Erika Kuhn, who averaged 8.4 points per game. The Griffins will bring in four newcomers including freshmen guards Paige Black and Kaitlynn Walker.
Principia College and MacMurray College tied for 8th in the preseason poll with 22 total points. Principia went 11-12 overall last season and 6-11 in conference play under the direction of head coach Colie Bushong. The Panthers were led last year by senior forward Kara Johnson, who averaged 15.8 points and 9.8 rebounds per game while earning Third Team All-Conference honors. Junior Rachel Perea, an athletic guard, averaged 13.0 points, 7.8 rebounds, 3.1 assists, and 2.2 steals per game last season.
MacMurray went 6-19 last year and 4-14 in the SLIAC last year. The Highlanders return two starters and seven players and will bring in 10 newcomers, of which nine are freshmen. Head Coach Derek James will look towards returners Melinsa Wilson and Elizabeth Kruemmelbein for leadership early on while the team finds their footing. Wilson, a senior guard, averaged 7.6 points per game last season while Kruemmelbein, a sophomore forward, averaged 5.3 points and 3.2 rebounds per game as a freshman. Among the class of newcomers that will be looked upon for minutes will be Briana Markusic, a forward who is her high school's single season scoring leader; and Paige Zertuche and Kayla Horlacher, a pair of guards that set school records for three-pointers.
Blackburn College received nine total points in the poll after going 0-25 overall last season and will welcome in new head coach Katie Fonseca. It will be an adjustment period for the Beavers this season as they must replace All-Conference performer Briana Rae and return just four players from last year's squad. Danae Smith, a senior guard, is the team's leading returning scorer after averaging 7.3 points per game last season. Also back is sophomore guard Candace Pollock, who averaged 5.0 points per game.
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