Oct. 28—RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. — The Great American Conference released its 2023-24 women's basketball preseason coaches poll and East Central University was picked to finish 10th.
Southern Nazarene received seven first-place votes from the league's head coaches to edge out Harding as the preseason favorite.
"We are looking forward to the start of our season," ECU women's basketball head coach Heather Hurt said. "Our group of girls give tremendous effort daily and we are excited to see what we can do this season."
Last season, the Tigers posted an 11-16 overall record and an 8-14 mark in conference action after Hurt took charge of the program mid-season. Under her leadership, the Tigers worked hard to claim the No. 7 seed at the GAC Championships and had three players receive All-GAC recognition.
ECU returns six athletes from last year's squad while welcoming seven new faces that will make up the 2023-24 roster.
Some key returners include Mackenzie Crusoe, Kate Ogle, and Kennedy Cummings.
Crusoe earned All-GAC Second Team honors for the third consecutive season, leading the Tigers with 6.3 rebounds, 13.4 points, and 33.9 minutes per game while adding 81 assists, 35 steals, and 10 blocks. She is only 56 points away from becoming the 15th member of the ECU 1,000-point club.
Fifth-year forward Ogle enters her third year with the Tigers as a seasoned player. After battling back from an injury, Ogle finished the 2022-23 season leading the team with a .795 free-throw percentage and 23 total blocks in the 25 games she played.
Cummings saw action in all 27 games last year and contributed greatly to the team with her hustle. She averaged 24.2 minutes per game while having the second-highest stats on the team in total rebounds (101) and assists (59).
The East Central University women's basketball team will open the new season on Tuesday, Nov. 14 at the Kerr Activities Center with a non-conference matchup against Ecclesia College at 5:30 pm.
The rest of the GAC
Southern Naz won the GAC regular-season championship for the first time in program history and followed up with their second tournament title. They defeated the Lady Bisons in the final of the GAC Championships.
They return Defensive Player of the Year and Tournament MVP Hannah Giddey. She led the nation in blocks per game while adding 12.3 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game. She shot a league-leading 57.1 percent from the floor. Georgia Adams, a Second-Team All-GAC honoree, comes back after leading the team in scoring at 14.5 points per game.
Harding returns a pair of All-GAC selections in Sage Hawley and Rory Geer. Hawley captured the Player of the Year accolade after ranking in the top 10 nationally in rebounding and blocks. Her 19.5 points ranked second in the league and 17th nationally. Geer added 10.4 points and 7.4 rebounds per game in her first season with the Lady Bisons
Oklahoma Baptist placed third in the poll, two points clear of Arkansas Tech. The Bison registered their winningest season in their eight Division II years, 17-13, and claimed their first win at the GAC Championships when they defeated the Golden Suns in the quarterfinals. Jaedyn Getman — a former Stratford High School star — won Freshman of the Year after averaging 13.1 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. Madison Chambers earned All-GAC honors after averaging 12.7 points per game, an increase of almost 10 points per game from 2021-22.
The Golden Suns' Alex Hill averaged 10.2 points per game to pace all Tech returners.
Henderson State checks in in fifth place, followed by Ouachita Baptist. The Tigers upset the Reddies in the quarterfinals of the GAC Championships and reached the semifinals for the first time since 2012. Henderson State's Ashley Farrar made the All-GAC First Team after averaging 19.3 points per game to rank third in the league. She added 5.6 rebounds and shot 36.6 percent from the 3-point arc.
The Tigers' Laney Mears received All-GAC honors after she led the league in 3-point field goals and free-throw percentage. Her 13.8 points per game ranked 10th in the conference.
Northwestern Oklahoma State took seventh while Southeastern Oklahoma State claimed eighth. The Rangers' Faith Simpson scored the Newcomer of the Year award after averaging 18.2 points per game on 49.0 percent shooting while grabbing 8.0 rebounds per game and adding 2.3 steals per game. She ranked in the top 10 in all four categories. Carly Craig was placed on the Honorable Mention All-GAC team after adding 12.5 points per game and shooting 44.5 percent from the 3-point arc.
The Savage Storm's Caitlin Kobiske ranked fifth in the conference in both scoring, 17.3 points per game, and field-goal percentage, 50.8 percent. She added 6.3 rebounds per game.
Southern Arkansas edged out East Central by two points for ninth. The Muleriders and Tigers tied for seventh last season. SAU led the conference and ranked eighth in the nation in scoring, averaging 79.1 points per game. Diamond Morris has averaged double figures each of her four prior seasons and enters the season needing 15 steals to reach 200 for her career.
Southwestern Oklahoma State and Arkansas-Monticello rounded out the poll. Both the Lady Bulldogs and Blossoms return their leading scorers from a season ago. Averi Zinn led SWOSU by scoring 14.0 points per game while UAM's Bailey Harris netted 13.5 per contest.
The regular season opens on Friday, November 10 with nine schools competing in various Central Region challenges.
The 2024 GAC Championships take place from Thursday, March 7 through Sunday, March 10 at FireLake Arena in Shawnee.
Note: Eric Moyer, GAC Associate Commissioner for Communications, contributed to this report.