RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. – The Great American Conference women’s basketball coaches have selected Harding as the preseason favorite to win the conference championship, the league office announced on Wednesday.

The Lady Bisons captured five of the nine first-place votes to edge out the reigning regular-season champion, Arkansas Tech, as well as the conference tournament champion, Southwestern Oklahoma State. They return a core that includes 2011-12 First Team All-GAC performer Kristen Celsor. She averaged 13.5 points and 6.1 rebounds per game. They also feature a pair of sophomores, Montana Lewis and Arielle Saunders. Lewis earned GAC Freshman of the Year after averaging 11.1 points per game in league play. Saunders landed on the All-Tournament Team after she averaged 20.0 points and 11.7 rebounds  in the Lady Bisons run to the title game.

Arkansas Tech took second in the poll, one point in back of Harding. The Golden Suns, who received three first-place votes, finished last season 22-4 and reached the No. 1 spot in the USA Today/ESPN WBCA Division II Coaches’ Poll in January. They feature seniors Jessica Weatherford and Roselis Silva. Silva set the Arkansas Tech single-game record for steals with 12 and the single-season mark with 126. Silva received GAC Defender of the Year, First-Team All-GAC, and Daktronics Second-Team All-South Central Region awards. More recently, Division II Bulletin named her the “Super 16” Preseason All-America team. Weatherford averaged close to 12 points and seven rebounds per while connecting on 51.5 percent of her field goals.

Southwestern Oklahoma State received the final first-place vote to place third in the poll. The Bulldogs won 20 games last season and beat Harding in the final the win the inaugural GAC Championship. They replace six graduating seniors and feature 10 newcomers. Among the newcomers, GAC Coach of the Year Kelsi Musick brought in two sets of twins – Taryn and Sarina Sayama and Britton and Brooklyn Scott – to join a third set of twins, MaRiah and SaRaya Oyler on the roster.

The Arkadelphia rivals, Henderson State and Ouachita Baptist, took fourth and fifth in the poll. Southeastern Oklahoma State placed sixth followed by Arkansas-Monticello and East Central, who shared seventh. Southern Arkansas rounded out the poll.

Coaches did not include provisional members Northwestern Oklahoma State and Southern Nazarene in the preseason ballot.

The 2011-12 regular season tips off Friday, November 9 and culminates Saturday, March 2. The GAC championship returns to Bartlesville, Okla. at the Bruin Fieldhouse and will take place fron March 7-10, 2013. Eight of the league’s nine teams will participate in the event.

 

2012-13 Great American Conference Preseason Women’s Basketball Poll

RANK

SCHOOL (2011-12 Record)

Points

1st-Place Votes

1.

Harding (18-11)

59

5

2.

Arkansas Tech (22-4)

58

3

3.

Southwestern Oklahoma State (20-9)

54

1

4.

Henderson State (14-13)

39

5.

Ouachita Baptist (18-10)

35

6.

Southeastern Oklahoma State (11-17)

27

T7.

Arkansas-Monticello (11-16)

22

T7.

East Central (8-19)

22

9.

Southern Arkansas (2-24)

9

 

Eric Moyer is the Assistant Commissioner for Communications for the Great American Conference.