The Spalding University women's basketball team has been picked as the conference favorites according to the 2016-17 SLIAC Preseason Coaches Poll. The Golden Eagles received 60 total points in the poll including five first-place votes. Greenville College was picked second with 56 points and three first-place votes while Westminster College was third with 45 points and one first-place vote.
Spalding was 17-9 overall last season, going 11-7 in conference play and finishing in fourth place. The Golden Eagles return all five starters from last year as well as bringing back starting point guard Dee Dee Sliter who played in only five games last year due to an injury. Head Coach Charlie Just will be a guard heavy team with the return of three-year starter Sliter and two All-Conference guards in Maya Hardin and Alex Martin. The athletic Hardin averaged 11.3 points and a team high 8.3 rebounds per game last season while Martin led Spalding in scoring at 12.9 points per game. Their inside presence will rely on senior Julie Skaggs who averaged 7.5 points per game while shooting 52-percent from the floor. Junior MacKenzie Myers and senior Brandy Hunter each averaged in double figures last year and also return for Spalding. Among newcomers to the team are Micaiah Bowden, named to the All-State Tournament team, Tselem Gahagan, and Allison Just, a starter on two time state championship team.
Greenville is picked second this year after going 20-8 overall last season and claiming the program's first ever SLIAC Tournament Championship. Head Coach Roy Mulholland returns four starters and 14 players overall from last season. The Panthers must replace their top two scorers from last season but will count on seniors Claire Schmitt and Taylor Paulin to fill that role. Schmitt averaged 5.0 points and 3.1 assists per game. Paulin averaged 10.6 points per game and led the SLIAC in three-point percentage with a .482 mark. Also back are junior forwards Laura Goodnight and Kelli Lenz. Goodnight is the team's leading returning scorer, averaging 10.9 points per game, while Lenz averaged 5.2 points and 5.1 rebounds per game. Among newcomers expected to see time are Ellaina Davis and Morgan St. James.
Westminster finished third in the poll and are the defending SLIAC regular season champions. The Blue Jays, coached by Tracey Braden, went 21-5 overall last season and finished 16-2 in conference play. Westminster will have plenty of shoes to fill with just one returning starter. That starter is Second Team All-Conference swing player Andrea Zalis. Zalis, a senior, tied for the team lead in scoring at 14.1 points per game last season while finishing fourth in the SLIAC in three-point field goals made. Zalis was also a standout on the defensive side, recording 27 blocks and 39 steals. The Blue Jays welcome in seven newcomers including freshman guard Brooke Stauffer.
Iowa Wesleyan University was picked fourth in the poll, receiving 44 total points. The Tigers went 20-8 overall last season, finishing in third place in the standings with a 13-5 record. Head Coach Steve Williamson has a near entire new team with just one returning starter and four players coming back. The lone starter returning is sophomore guard Darby Massner. Massner averaged 10.5 points and 4.8 rebounds per game as a true freshman last season, leading the conference with 72 made three-point field goals. Other returners include guards Cairece Allen and Jaimie Hurd as well as forward Whitney Brandvold. Top newcomers include a pair of junior forwards, Ali Tia and Josie Zerrusen, and freshman guard Allie Massner.
Webster University finished fifth in the poll with 39 total points. The Gorloks were just 12-13 overall last season, going 9-9 in the SLIAC, but return 13 players including four starters. Head Coach Jordan Olufson has a good mix of upperclassman and younger players to go with several newcomers. Seniors Paige Buechele and Chelsea Holman give the team experience while juniors Taylor Lucas and Kelsey Miller were two of the team's top three scorers last year. Lucas averaged 7.8 points while Miller averaged 8.8 points and led the team with 37 three-pointers. Sophomore Megan Brandt is also back after averaging 6.1 points per game and shooting nearly 50-percent from the field. The Gorloks bring in a incoming class that includes two-time All-State performer Jaysea Morgan as well as Jade Sawyer and Ebony Bailey.
Eureka College was chosen sixth with 35 total points in the poll. The Red Devils, coached by Steve Thompson, were 11-15 overall last season and finished 10-8 in conference play. They bring back 10 players including three starters. They will have to replace All-Conference performer Emily Camden but senior forward Michaela Balducci showed signs of being a go-to player after earning All-Tournament honors last year. Balducci averaged 11.5 points and 8.0 rebounds per game while leading the team in steals as well. Luci Weis is back as well, after averaging 8.8 points per game as is Lexi Dooley, who averaged 6.6 points per game. Kerrigan Dura returns as the starting point guard as well after averaging 5.5 points and 3.6 assists per game. Newcomers include Kennedy Dura, Ashley Harfst, and Hayley Reneau.
Fontbonne University finished seventh with 22 points. The Griffins finished last year with an 8-17 overall record, going 7-11 in the SLIAC. Head Coach Maureen Sias brings back just one starter but 16 total players. The Griffins will look to go inside more this year than in the past but the guard position will be in good hands with senior Emmie Haring returning. Haring was named Second Team All-Conference and All-Defensive Team last year after averaging 8.3 points per game and leading the conference in both assists and steals. Sophomore forward Kaitlynn Walker is also back after playing in 20 games last year and averaging 4.7 points per game. Among top newcomers the Griffins will count on will be freshman guard Mallory Proffer.
MacMurray College was picked eighth in the poll, receiving 13 points. The Highlanders finished last year 4-21 overall with head coach Derek James bringing back four players. The team will have to overcome the unexpected departure of last year's SLIAC Newcomer of the Year, forward Brianna Markusic. The Highlanders top returners include sophomore guard Kayla Horlacher, who finished with the third most three-pointers last year in program history with 56. Also returning are Elizabeth Kruemmelbein, Andie Marvel, and Ashley Huels. Among newcomers that will add to the improved depth for MacMurray will be a trio of freshmen that include center Karyssa Pedersen and All-Conference performers Faythe Newberry and Destyne Powell.
Wrapping up the preseason poll in the ninth spot is Blackburn College with eight points. Blackburn went 2-23 last season under the guidance of first-year head coach Katie Fonseca. With one year at the helm Fonseca brings back four starters and welcomes in 12 newcomers. Among the starters returning are Aliesha Stiltner, Candace Pollock, and Angela Andrews. Stiltner, a junior, led the team in both scoring (10.8) and assists (2.2) last year. Pollock, a junior guard, ran the point for the Beavers last season, averaging 6.2 points per game with a season high of 21 points. Andrews, a sophomore center, averaged nearly a double-double at 8.5 points and 9.2 rebounds per game in limited duty. Among newcomers expected to contribute will be Abby Frerichs, an All-Conference performer; Jordan Lazckowski, a three-year starter; and Raven Holmes, the conference defensive player of the year.
The 2016-17 St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Women's Basketball Preseason Poll is voted on by league coaches. Conference action begins on November 30th with a full slate of games.
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