RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. – On Tuesday, the Great American Conference announced the results of its 2021 women’s basketball preseason poll. Harding earned the top spot in the Eastern Division while Southeastern Oklahoma State and Southwestern Oklahoma State tied for first in the Western Division.
Last month, the GAC announced its basketball regular season would consist of a 20-game division schedule. As such, the league’s head coaches only ranked their division opponents. Both Southeastern and SWOSU received three first-place votes. In the Eastern Division, The Lady Bisons claimed four first-place votes while Arkansas Tech captured the remaining two. The 12 head coaches also chose an overall champion. In that poll, Harding and Southeastern each garnered four votes while Arkansas Tech and Southwestern Oklahoma State picked up two.
In 2019-20, the Savage Storm and the Lady Bulldogs shared the GAC’s regular-season title and qualified for the NCAA Tournament. Southeastern won the GAC Championship led by Tournament MVP Kamryn Cantwell. The first-team All-GAC selection averaged 22.7 points per game at the GAC Championships. Briley Moon, an Honorable Mention pick in the regular season also made the All-Tournament Team. They must replace Katie Webb, the league’s Player of the Year. She put together an All-American campaign in which she averaged a league-leading 18.7 points per game.
A season ago, the Lady Bulldogs became the first women’s program to win at least a share of three consecutive GAC regular-season titles. They return five of their top six scorers including three All-GAC honorees – Makyra Tramble, Taber Beer and Bethany Franks. Tramble joined former SWOSU All-American Hailey Tucker as the second Lady Bulldog to win GAC Freshman of the Year. Her 15.8 points per game ranked seventh amongst Division II freshmen.
Harding tied Southeastern and SWOSU in winning a share of the 2019-20 regular season title. The Lady Bisons’ Carissa Caples joins Southeastern’s Cantwell as the only two returning First-Team All-GAC selections. She led the team in scoring and ranked in the top five in the league in both 3-point field goals and 3-point field goal percentage. Harding also brings back Jordan Elder who garnered the Newcomer of the Year accolade. She placed second in the league in 3-point field goals made per game. Harding also hopes to have former All-Region forward Kellie Lampo back from injury in January.
Arkansas Tech took second in the Eastern Division balloting. The Golden Suns return six players that started at least five games last season. In an injury-shortened freshman season, Jalei Oglesby reached double figures in all eight contests and averaged 19.4 points. Kaley Shipman averaged 13.8 points – second among GAC freshmen - and shot 42.3 percent from the 3-point arc. Jayana Sanders placed second in the league in assists per game and made the All-GAC Second Team.
Henderson State and Southern Arkansas shared third place in the Eastern Division. The Reddies enter 2021 off of their second 20-win season in their last three seasons. They return three double-digit scorers in Karrington Whaley, Maci Mains and Lani Snowden. Whaley ranked third in the league in rebounds and blocks. Mains averaged 11.9 points per game off the bench and Snowden placed second in the league in 3-point field goals and 3-point field-goal percentage.
Last season, SAU produced the most-improved turnaround in Division II as the Muleriders went from 3-25 in 2018-19 to 17-12 in 2019-20. They ranked second in Division II and shattered the GAC’s single-season records for both steals per game and turnovers forced per game. They return eight of the 12 players that averaged between 11.7 and 18.9 minutes per game.
In the Western Division, Southern Nazarene placed third, followed by East Central. The Crimson Storm has produced consecutive 17-win campaigns in the two seasons with Trent May at the helm. He brings back four starters including leading scorer Jaycee Soap, leading rebounder Alexus Jones and leading shot blocker Abby Niehues. Niehues has led the GAC in blocked shots per game in each of her previous three seasons and she needs 19 to set the GAC career record. ECU brings back three double-figure scorers in Kendall Schulte, Madison Rehl and Hannah Ladd.
Arkansas-Monticello and Ouachita tied for fifth in the Eastern Division while Oklahoma Baptist and Northwestern Oklahoma State rounded out the Western Division poll. The Blossoms registered their first 20-win season since 2008-09 and advanced to the final of the GAC Championships. They replace GAC Defender of the Year and All-Region selection Berniezha Tidwell and have a first-year head coach as Markell Cox takes over for Greg Long. Oklahoma Baptist also features a new head coach in Bo Overton. He inherits a squad that includes Kalifa Ford; she averaged 17.7 points and 8.8 rebounds in a truncated 2019-20.
The league’s basketball season will feature a 20-game divisional schedule with an opening night slated for Thursday, January 7 with six doubleheaders – Arkansas Tech at Arkansas-Monticello, Southwestern Oklahoma State at East Central, Ouachita at Harding, Southern Arkansas at Henderson State, Southern Nazarene at Northwestern Oklahoma State and Southeastern Oklahoma State at Oklahoma Baptist.