After winning last season’s Southland Conference championship with a 14-2 league record on the way to a 24-7 overall mark and undergoing a coaching change in the offseason, Central Arkansas has been selected second and third in the Southland Conference women’s basketball preseason polls.
Under the direction of new head coach Sandra Rushing, the Sugar Bears — who return seven lettermen from last year’s championship team including a group of five seniors that features Megan Herbert, the two-time Southland Player of the Year — were picked second by the league’s sports information directors (with one first-place vote). In the coaches poll they were selected third and did not garner a first-place vote.
"It’s not where you’re picked that means anything — it’s where you actually finish." said Rushing, who enters her 24th season as a collegiate head coach. "I appreciate that we’re picked to be in the mix somewhere, with the changes here and me being a rookie coach in this league, but preseason polls are something I’ve never put high on my list."
McNeese State, which has won the previous two Southland Conference tournaments, was picked to win the league in both polls, getting seven first-place votes by the coaches and six from the SIDs. Southland newcomer Oral Roberts received two first-place votes from the SIDs and ranked third in the poll; it was just behind the Sugar Bears again in the coaches’ poll at fourth.
Stephen F. Austin was picked second by the coaches and fourth by the SIDs, while Sam Houston State, Lamar and Nicholls State held the 5th-7th positions. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and Southeastern Louisiana swapped the eighth and ninth spots in the two polls, while Northwestern State was picked 10th in each.
"I know this is a very competitive conference with a lot of really good players and coaches," Rushing said. "Me being new to the league, I still have a lot to learn about the entire conference but I have had the opportunity to look at film on other schools, see the stats, and I know that you can’t take any team lightly. You have to prepare for every single game. If you take somebody lightly, you’re going to get beat."
Herbert was named to the preseason all-conference first team for the third time, joined by four other seniors in guard Britni Martin and forward Sequeena Thomas from Sam Houston State, guard Kalis Loyd from Lamar and guard Ashlyn Baggett from McNeese.
Herbert enters her final season as the nation’s active career leader with 66 double-doubles (tied for 13th all time among Division I players) and is on pace to become just the fifth player in Southland Conference history to eclipse both the 2,000-point and 1,000-rebound marks. Having already reached 1,100 rebounds (eighth-most in Southland history and 289 shy of second-most), she has 1,736 points and needs 264 to become the seventh player in Southland history to reach the 2,000 milestone.
The Nicholls duo of guard KK Babin and forward Alisha Allen were named to the second team along with Caitlyn Baggett from McNeese and Porsha Roberts from SFA. The final spot on the second team went to ORU senior guard Kevi Luper, who owns three Summit League Player of the Year Awards and is that league’s career scoring leader. Last season, Luper averaged 23.8 points and 3.8 steals per game. The Golden Eagles enter their first year in the Southland after departing the Summit following last season.
The league will feature new head coaches at four schools, with Northwestern State, Oral Roberts and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi all breaking in new coaches along with the Sugar Bears.
The Lady Demons are led by the husband-wife tandem of Scott and Brooke Stoehr, named co-head coaches in the offseason after the resignation of Jennifer Graf. The Golden Eagles will be headed up by longtime assistant Misti Cussen, who spent 16 seasons as the top assistant for ORU under former head coach Jerry Finkbeiner, who took the head coaching position at Utah State.
A&M-Corpus Christi enters its first season under Royce Chadwick, who left Marshall (where he was succeeded by former Sugar Bear head coach Matt Daniel) after 11 years and a 161-169 record to return to the Southland Conference. Chadwick was previously the head coach at Stephen F. Austin from 1994-2001.
"There is some unknown there with so many new coaches in the league," Rushing said. "I’m sure people are wondering the same about UCA. What are we going to be? What’s going to happen? We don’t know the answer to that yet, but I do know that I want us to be consistent with our effort and play hard every time we step on the floor. Play as a unit and let’s support each other and things will fall in place for us."