(Editor’s note: Montana State athletics release)
FORT COLLINS, Colo. – Proving that its popularity in women’s college basketball runs deep throughout the nation, tournament officials for the 2018 Preseason WNIT have secured another impressive 16-team field that includes nine teams playing in the event for the first time.
This will be the 25th edition of the Preseason WNIT; the November event features a three-game guarantee for all teams, with first-round matchups and the bracket to be announced later this spring. All games are hosted by participating schools, with the championship game televised on CBS Sports Network.
“Playing in the preseason WNIT is an exciting opportunity for us to face some outstanding programs that will provide us with a high-level of competition,” said Montana State head coach Tricia Binford. “The WNIT is a prestigious tournament and to be invited to be part of the 16-team field is a good reflection of our program. We look forward to seeing who and where we will be playing.”
The 2018 Preseason WNIT field includes: Auburn (SEC), Delaware (Colonial), Hartford (America East), Iowa State (Big 12), Marquette (Big East), Miami (ACC), Montana State (Big Sky), Morgan State (Mid-Eastern), New Mexico (Mountain West), Niagara (Metro Atlantic), Nicholls State (Southland), Northern Illinois (Mid-American), Northern Iowa (Missouri Valley), Stephen F. Austin (Southland), Texas State (Sun Belt) and Yale (Ivy).
This is the first time in the Preseason WNIT for nine programs: Auburn, Iowa State, Miami, Montana State, Morgan State, Niagara, Nicholls State, Texas State and Yale. It’s the second time around for Marquette and Northern Iowa, with Hartford, Northern Illinois and Stephen F. Austin playing for the third time. Delaware is in the mix for the fourth time, and this will mark the fifth WNIT for New Mexico.
“After a quarter of a century, we have a lot of high-achieving teams that have had an opportunity to play in the Preseason WNIT. We look forward to seeing some fresh faces as well as others who know this is a terrific way to kick off the season,” said Renee Carlson, Executive Director of the WNIT. “Fans of the women’s game will see which teams are prepared for a run to the postseason.”
In 2017, eventual Final Four participant Louisville won the Preseason WNIT, slipping past Oregon (which ended up reaching the NCAA Elite Eight). In 2016, Notre Dame claimed the Preseason WNIT with a core of players who keyed the Fighting Irish’s run to the 2018 NCAA Championship.
2017-18 Record: 16-15 overall, 9-9 Big Sky
The Bobcats say goodbye to a strong senior class that includes their top two scorers, but two double-digit producers are ready to pick up the slack in juniors Madeline Smith (10.2 ppg, 7.5 rpg) and Oliana Squires (10.2 ppg, 36 percent from 3-point range), as well as a couple of incoming transfer players eligible to play. Head coach Tricia Binford has 13 years with the program and enjoyed remarkable progress from her debut season (3-23 overall). The Bobcats won 25 games in 2016-17 and earned a berth in the NCA Tournament for the first time since 1993.
2017-18 Record: 14-15 overall, 5-11 SEC
The Tigers have been to the NCAA Tournament two of the past three years, and had some nice wins last season (including one over 2018 Postseason WNIT champion Indiana) and nearly upset Tennessee in the SEC Tournament. Auburn’s three top scorers return, led by senior-to-be guard Janiah McKay (16.6 ppg). McKay also led the team in assists. Daisa Alexander (14.2 ppg) paced the Tigers in steals, and Unique Thompson (11.5 ppg) was the team’s top rebounder with 8.4 boards per contest. Last year, Auburn forced nearly 23 turnovers per game.
2017-18 Record: 19-13 overall, 11-7 Colonial Athletic (L to Georgetown in 1st Rnd. of Postseason WNIT)
The Blue Hens are trending in the right direction after a rebuilding period that followed their 32-win run in 2012-13 with Elena Delle Donne, earning their first postseason berth in four years. They came close to a CAA Tournament run but lost a semifinal to Drexel in overtime. The roster’s top seven scorers from last year are heading back; senior Nicole Enabosi is a force underneath in averaging 18 points and 12 rebounds per game, and junior Samone DeFreese is an effective slasher who came through with 11.3 and 7.4 rebounds per contest. This will be just the second year in Delaware for head coach Natasha Adair, who ran the show at Georgetown for three years.
2017-18 Record: 19-13 overall, 9-7 America East
The Hawks have regained their footing after a rough stretch; head coach Kim McNeill has 36 wins in two seasons, getting Hartford to the America East Tournament title game last year after an upset of Albany in the semifinals. Senior Lindsey Abed averaged 13.4 ppg, led the team in assists and was effective from 3-point range (35 percent) and from the free-throw line (89 percent). A foot injury slowed down Sierra DaCosta, but she returns for her junior campaign with proven ability, having been named to last year’s preseason all-conference list for the America East. The Hawks forced 22 turnovers per game last year.
2017-18 Record: 14-17 overall, 7-11 Big 12
The Cyclones typically have more ups than downs, so expect a bounce-back from Bill Fennelly and his roster. He’s been there 23 years and will get his 650th career win this season. Iowa State has a reliable focal point in senior Bridget Carleton, a 6-1 guard from Canada who is on pace to score 2,000 points in her career – she’s a two-time first-team All-Big 12 selection. Sophomore Madison Wise had a terrific first year, starting 28 games and shooting better than 41 percent from 3-point range. Incoming freshman and Iowa City native Ashley Joens was the No. 19 player on ESPN’s girls recruit list for the Class of 2018. She headlines an incoming class that is ranked 15th in the country; this marks second time in the last four years that Iowa State has recruited a Top-15 class.
2017-18 Record: 24-10 overall, 15-3 Big East (lost to Louisville in Round 2 of NCAA Tournament)
The Golden Eagles are relevant again thanks to the approach of head coach Carolyn Kieger, who has back-to-back 20-win seasons after going just 9-22 her first year in 2014-15. Marquette is primed for another move up the charts with all five starters returning, led by Big East player of the year Allazia Blockton (19.1 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 39 percent shooting from 3 and 51 percent shooting overall). The offense is super productive (17th in the nation at more than 80 points per contest) and takes care of the ball, totaling 108 more assists than turnovers last year. The team also dealt with the loss of transfer Tori McCoy, who had to sit out the year with a condition that will eventually require a kidney transplant.
2017-18 Record: 21-11 overall, 10-6 ACC (lost to Quinnipiac in Round 1 of NCAA Tournament)
The Hurricanes employed a deep roster last year, with 10 players averaging more than 12 minutes per contest and no one with more than 26 minutes. Sophomore Mykea Gray (11.7 ppg) is a 5-foot-4 dynamo who is the top returning scorer, with Netherlands native Emese Hof (9.0 ppg, 5.4 rpg) and Baylor transfer Beatrice Mompremier (who is now eligible to play) solid down low. Head coach Katie Meier has guided her squad to the NCAA Tournament in seven of the past eight seasons and had wins last year over Top-25 teams Duke, Kentucky and NC State. Miami’s rigorous defense held opponents to 38 percent shooting overall and just 30 percent from 3-point range.
2017-18 Record: 16-15 overall, 8-8 MEAC
The Lady Bears are looking at a major reset with five seniors leaving, including their top three scorers. This will be a big year for JUCO transfer Adre’onia Coleman, who averaged 9.3 points and 6.6 rebounds per game last year as a junior. Two-year head coach Ed Davis has been a steadying influence for the program, as the team broke a streak of six straight losing seasons with their finish in 2017-18. Defensively, the team was solid in forcing almost 20 turnovers per game and holding teams to 39 percent shooting overall.
2017-18 Record: 25-11 overall, 10-8 Mountain West (lost to TCU in Round 3 of Postseason WNIT)
After getting settled in for two seasons under head coach Mike Bradbury, the Lobos got a monster effort from junior center Jaisa Nunn, who averaged 17 points and more than 10 rebounds per contest. She shot 64 percent from the field and a stellar 81 percent from the free-throw line. The Lobos averaged more than 80 points per game (No. 16 nationally) and enjoyed a nice run in the Postseason WNIT. While a couple of freshmen transferred out this spring, the roster got two additions in Australian guard Ahlise Hurst and Washington State graduate transfer Nike McClure, who at 6-3 gives Nunn some defensive help under the rim.
2017-18 Record: 13-18 overall, 9-9 MAAC
The Purple Eagles are making positive steps after winning just eight games in both 2015-16 and 2016-17. This will be the fourth season for head coach Jada Pierce, whose team found its footing after a 1-8 start last year. Key returners include junior guard Jai Moore, who averaged 10.3 points per contest, as the team will be looking for options after the exit of Victoria Rampado, the program’s all-time leading scorer and rebounder. A six-person recruiting class comes in to help fill the gaps, arguably led by 6-2 forward Valentina Pepic, who averaged more than 20 points and 10 rebounds per game as a junior in high school.
2017-18 Record: 19-14 overall, 11-7 Southland (lost to Mississippi State in Round 1 of NCAA Tournament)
The Colonels blew away expectations last year – after winning 10 games in both 2015-16 and 2016-17, Nicholls State got over the .500 mark and then swept through the Southland Tournament, beating the top two seeds (Lamar, Stephen F. Austin) on the way to the program’s first-ever appearance in the NCAA Tournament. Senior guard Cassidy Barrios returns; she averaged 17.3 points and 9.1 rebounds per game, shot 40 percent from 3-point range and led the team in steals and blocks as she earned the conference’s Player of the Year, Tournament MVP and Student-Athlete of the Year. Another key asset to the roster is Tykeria Williams (13.2 ppg, 78 made 3-pointers).
2017-18 Record: 15-15 overall, 7-11 MAC
The Huskies have to replace just one senior who played significant minutes, so this is a promising year for fourth-year head coach Lisa Carlsen, who guided the team to its first postseason game since 1995 in the 2017 Postseason WNIT. She’ll certainly lean on senior Courtney Woods, an Australian native who averaged 22 points and eight rebounds per game who is comfortably on pace to top 2,000 career points. Senior guard Mikayla Voigt is another reliable talent, averaging 14 points a game and hitting 40 percent from long range. The team shot an impressive 77 percent from the free-throw line last year (No. 13 nationally).
2017-18 Record: 19-14 overall, 13-5 Missouri Valley (lost to Milwaukee in Round 1 of Postseason WNIT)
The Panthers have every reason to be excited about the road ahead after losing just one senior. Junior Megan Maahs (10.4 ppg, 9.8 rpg) and senior Ellie Howell (10 points and four rebounds per game) are key starters, as is senior Mikaela Morgan. Head coach Tanya Warren now has 205 wins in her 11-year run at UNI and has eight postseason appearances in the past nine years – she will welcome in an unusual recruiting class, as three of the four incoming freshmen played together at Cedar Falls HS, the same town where UNI is located.
STEPHEN F. AUSTIN
2017-18 Record: 25-7 overall, 16-2 Southland (lost to George Mason in Round 1 of Postseason WNIT)
The Ladyjacks used their remarkable depth to secure another terrific season that ended with a couple of tough losses. Nine players played at least 13 minutes per game, and by staying fresh SFA was able to outscore opponents by more than 14 points per contest. Stevi Parker (12.8 ppg, 9.5 rpg) leads the way going forward, with Chanell Hayes (12.3 ppg) also in the primary mix. Head coach Mark Kellogg enters his fourth season with the Ladyjacks and has won 77 percent of his games in his career; his D-II West Texas squad reached the NCAA title game.
2017-18 Record: 23-10 overall, 14-4 Sun Belt (lost to Rice in Round 1 of Postseason WNIT)
The Bobcats are looking to extend the positives of arguably the program’s best season – the 23 victories were the best in the team’s D-I history, and Texas State led the nation in 3-point field goal defense (25.3 percent). Impressively, the team also ranked 15th nationally in assist-turnover margin. Leading scorer Toshua Leavitt (17.9 ppg, 43 percent from 3-point range) returns, as does Brooke Holle (11.7 ppg, 5.7 rpg). Head coach Zenarae Antoine guided the team to its first Postseason WNIT appearance in 10 seasons after winning nine of the last 10 Sun Belt Conference games; she enters her eighth season there.
2017-18 Record: 19-13 overall, 8-6 Ivy (beat Central Arkansas in WBI championship game)
The Bulldogs are elevating their hoops profile under head coach Allison Guth, setting a program record for victories last year and earning the Ivy League’s first-ever national championship at the WBI – that victory came at Central Arkansas, the nation’s second-toughest scoring defense. Yale won its WBI semifinal game against South Alabama after trailing by 11 points with two minutes to go. Some key seniors are gone, but junior Roxy Barahman is back after averaging 13.5 points and 4.5 rebounds per contest. Another important role should be filled by sophomore Ellen Margaret Andrews, who started 28 games last year.