From Harding University
The Great American Conference women's basketball coaches have selected Arkansas Tech as the preseason favorite to win the inaugural conference championship, therefore predicting the Golden Suns to win a third consecutive conference title.
Arkansas Tech won the Gulf South Conference championship in each of the past two seasons, and also won the NCAA South Region Tournament both years to advance to the NCAA Division II Women's Elite Eight. The Golden Suns received eight first place votes for a total of 64 points in a poll voted on by the league's nine head coaches, who were not allowed to vote for their own team.
The Golden Suns finished the 2010-11 campaign ranked No. 3 nationally in the Women's Basketball Coaches Association Top 25 Poll after compiling a 30-3 overall record. ATU has been ranked No. 4 to start the 2011-12 season by the Women's Division II Bulletin, which named ATU senior forward Natalia Santos a preseason All-America honoree from the South Central region. Santos was a WBCA All-America Honorable Mention last year after averaging 17.1 points and 8.1 rebounds per game. Other notable returners for ATU include Jessica Weatherford (12.6 ppg, 7.1 rpg) and Katie Horsman (7.9 ppg, 42 pct 3FG).
Following its second appearance in the NCAA Tournament in the past three seasons, Ouachita Baptist earned 53 points in the preseason poll to be picked second. The Lady Tigers earned five second place votes and three third place votes after finishing last season 20-9 overall. OBU returns two of its top three scorers from a season ago in leading scorer A'Laeshia Adams (17.3 ppg) and third leading scorer Domino Miller (10.1 ppg).
Southeastern Oklahoma State, which also qualified for the NCAA Tournament last year for the second time in the past three seasons, has earned the third spot in the preseason poll and was given the only other first place vote. In addition to that first place vote, the Savage Storm earned four second place votes, one third place vote, one fourth place vote and one fifth place vote for a total of 51 points. SOSU lost its top scorer from a season ago, but returns its next three top players in Bailey Welch (10.0 ppg), Whitney Coffey (9.6 ppg) and Nikki Nester (9.5 ppg).
Harding follows in fourth with five third place votes and three third place votes for a total of 45 points. Henderson State is ranked fifth with a total of 34 points, followed by East Central (26) and Southwestern Oklahoma State (24).
Rounding out the 2011-12 field is Arkansas-Monticello at eighth with 16 points and Southern Arkansas at ninth with 11 points.
Henderson State and Arkansas-Monticello are the only two squads in the conference to be led by a first-year head coach. Chris Oestreich was promoted to interim head coach on April 25 after serving the previous two season as the team's primary assistant coach. UAM selected Tanya Ray to lead the program on March 28. Ray comes to UAM after an 11-year tenure as an assistant coach at the NCAA Division I level, most recently the top assistant at Arkansas State since 2002.
The 2011-12 regular season tips off November 11 and culminates Saturday, February 25. The inaugural GAC championship tournament is scheduled for March 1-4, 2012 in Bartlesville, Okla. at the Bruin Fieldhouse. Eight of the league's nine teams will participate in the event to determine the league's first ever women's basketball champion.