RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. - Following a vote of the Great American Conference's 12 women's basketball head coaches, Harding emerged as the preseason favorite, as the Lady Bisons edged out Arkansas Tech, the league announced on Wednesday.
The Lady Bisons posted a 17-10 record last year. They garnered six of the 12 first-place votes. Harding returns a pair of All-GAC selections in Sydney Layrock, a First-Team choice and A'ndrea Haney, a Second-Team member and the 2016 GAC Defensive Player of the Year. Haney enters the season ranked sixth among active Division II players in steals with 198.
The Golden Suns went 27-4, won their fourth regular-season title and added their second GAC Tournament championship. They must replace All-American Fatima Adams, but do bring back a pair of starters from that championship squad in Anissa Pounds and Calli White. Pounds ranked second in the team in scoring at 11.9 points per game and hit 42.0 percent from the 3-point arc to rank fourth in the GAC.
Southwestern Oklahoma State, who advanced to the GAC Championship final, placed third. Hailey Tucker, a D2 Bulletin Freshman All-American returns, after ranking sixth among Division II freshmen in scoring. The Lady Bulldogs also return Hayden Priddy for her sophomore season. Both earned places on the All-Tournament Team at the GAC Championships.
Oklahoma Baptist finished fourth in the poll. The Lady Bison produced a 17-16 record in their first season in the GAC. They return five of their top seven scorers from a season ago, led by McKenzie Cooper, the team's leading scorer. As an Honorable Mention All-GAC choice, she averaged 13.5 points per game.
Southeastern Oklahoma State took fifth and earned a first-place vote. The Savage Storm ranked second in the GAC in 3-point field goals per game last season. They return Olivia Potter, who made 84 3-pointers to lead the GAC and Rachel Wallace, who ranked third in 3-point field goal percentage, 42.3. Wallace set the GAC single-game scoring record with 48 points against SWOSU. Both earned spots on the Honorable Mention All-GAC Team.
East Central, sixth in the poll, picked up the final first-place vote. The Tigers edged out Southern Arkansas by two points. ECU's Jalyn Jackson, a member of the All-GAC Honorable Mention and GAC All-Tournament Teams, averaged close to a double-double, 9.3 points and 9.1 rebounds. SAU won 19 games last season, a school record for its DII era and head coach Juilo Pacheco earned the GAC Coach of the Year award. He must replace Rosa Bryant, the program's first All-Region performer since 2010.
The coaches voted Henderson State eighth and Ouachita ninth. The Reddies bring back four players who started at least nine games led by Haleigh Henson, who averaged 11.7 points per game. The Tigers feature a pair of players that averaged double figures in scoring - Katie Kapler and Kori Bullard. Kapler ranked ninth in the league in scoring while Bullard's 7.3 rebounds per game ranked seventh.
Arkansas-Monticello, Southern Nazarene and Northwestern Oklahoma State rounded out the poll. The Blossoms must replace Jordan Goforth, an Honorable Mention All-American and the GAC's all-time leading scorer. The Rangers have a new head coach in Tasha Diesselhorst. She inherits Kamera Bozeman, a Second-Team All-GAC selection, who led the conference in field goal percentage. She has the highest field goal percentage among seniors in Division II.