NEW ORLEANS – The Troy Trojans have been selected as the preseason favorite to win the 2016-17 Sun Belt Conference women’s basketball title in a vote of the league’s head coaches, the conference office announced on Tuesday.
The league also announced its Preseason All-Conference first, second and third teams on Tuesday.
The Trojans received three of the 12 first-place votes and tallied 125 points. Little Rock was picked to finish second and received five first-place votes and tallied 121 points. Troy finished second in the league a season ago and claimed the Sun Belt Conference Tournament title last season, finishing with a 20-13 record to earn its second-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament.
UT Arlington was picked third as the Mavericks received 118 points and three first-place votes from the coaches.
UTA’s Rebekah VanDijk, a junior, was tabbed as the league’s Preseason Player of the Year. VanDijk, a second-team All-Conference selection in each of the previous two seasons, averaged 12.2 points per game and 8.9 rebounds per game to lead the Mavericks in last year. During league play those averages went up to 14.2 and 9.7 per game, respectively.
The junior pre-law major has started all but one game for UTA and last season became just the fifth player in UTA women’s basketball history to record over 100 blocks in a career. She has totaled 25 career double-doubles in her two seasons at UTA.
VanDijk’s teammate, Cierra Johnson, was named to the Preseason All-Conference Second Team.
VanDijk, Little Rock’s Kaitlyn Pratt, Georgia Southern’s Angel McGowan, South Alabama’s Marquite Daniels and Troy’s Caitlyn Ramirez round out the First Team.
Little Rock’s Kaitlyn Pratt was named to the First Team. Pratt returns to the Trojans for her senior year in 2016-17 hoping to build on her impressive junior season. As a junior, she started 26 of 33 games and averaged 9.5 points and 6.7 rebounds per game – both career highs. Pratt’s teammate, Sharde’ Collins, was named to the Preseason All-Conference Second Team.
Angel McGowan was a 2015-16 All-Conference Second Team honoree and became the 22nd Eagle to hit the 1,000-point mark for her career, having scored her 1,000th career point in the Eagles’ final game last season. As a junior last season, she started 26 of the 28 games she appeared in – including all 20 of the Eagles’ Sun Belt Conference games – while averaging 31.7 minutes per game and 32.3 minutes per conference contest. McGowan’s teammate, Patrice Butler, was named to the Preseason All-SBC Third Team
Marquita Daniels enters her junior season as one of the top returning student-athletes in the Sun Belt. She earned All-Sun Belt Third Team honors during the ’15-16 campaign after she led the team and ranked 17th in the Sun Belt in scoring with 11.3 points per game. Her 61 steals were third-most in a season by a sophomore in program history. Daniels grabbed 3.5 rebounds per contest and was third on the team in assists (53). Daniel’s teammate, Chyna Ellis, was named to the Preseason Second Team.
Troy returns three of its five starters from a season ago including Caitlyn Ramirez who averaged 11.9 points per game and 7.0 rebounds per game. Ramirez earned Third Team All-Conference laurels following the 2015-16 season and started 32 of 33 contests. She shot 50.7 percent (150-296) on the season to rank seventh in the Sun Belt and 34.2 percent (25-of-73) from deep to make her the only student-athlete in the Sun Belt to shoot over 50 percent overall and over 34 percent from 3-point range.
ArJae’ Saunders was Troy’s other preseason selection, landing on the Preseason Third Team.
The 2016-17 season begins on Nov. 11. This season’s conference schedule will feature an 18-game slate amongst the league’s 12 teams that leads to the conference championship beginning March 7 at Lakefront Arena in New Orleans. All 12 teams qualify for the tournament in March, with the winner of the championship earning the league’s automatic bid to the 2017 NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship. The championship game of the tournament is scheduled for Sunday, March 12.
2016-17 Conference Women’s Basketball Coaches’ Preseason Poll
first-place votes in parentheses
1. Troy (3) – 125 pts
2. Little Rock (5) – 121 pts
3. UT Arlington (3) – 118 pts
4. South Alabama – 109 pts
5. UL Lafayette – 101 pts
6. Texas State – 81 pts
7. Arkansas State – 80 pts
8. Appalachian State (1) – 64 pts
9. Georgia State – 52 pts
10. Georgia Southern – 39 pts
11. Coastal Carolina – 26 pts
12. UL Monroe – 20 pts
Preseason All-Conference First Team
Kaitlyn Pratt (Little Rock, Senior, Forward, Social Work)
Angel McGowan (Georgia Southern, Senior, Guard, Exercise Science)
Marquita Daniels (South Alabama, Junior, Guard, Criminal Justice)
Rebekah VanDijk (UT Arlington, Junior, Center, Pre-Law)
Caitlyn Ramirez (Troy, Senior, Forward, Psychology)
Preseason All-Conference Second Team
Madi Story (Appalachian State, Junior, Guard, Exercise Science)
Sharde’ Collins (Little Rock, Senior, Guard, Sociology)
Makeba Ponder (Georgia State, Junior, Guard, Sociology)
Chyna Ellis (South Alabama, Junior, Center, Allied Health)
Cierra Johnson (UT Arlington, Junior, Guard, Child Psychology)
Preseason All-Conference Third Team
Patrice Butler (Georgia Southern, Senior, Center, Exercise Science)
Simone Fields (UL Lafayette, Junior, Forward, Computer Science)
Erin Peoples (Texas State, Senior, Guard, Psychology)
Kaitlin Walla (Texas State, Junior, Guard, Biochemistry)
ArJae’ Saunders (Troy, Senior, Guard, Sport Management)
Preseason Player of the Year
Rebekah VanDijk (UT Arlington, Junior, Center, Pre-Law)