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2016 Conf Previews: Summit, Sun Belt, WAC

Article Written by Will Parchman
Published: August 10, 2016

Summit Conference

2015 Conference Honors:
Conference Tournament Champion: South Dakota State
Offensive Player of the Year: Lauren Miller, North Dakota State
Defensive Player of the Year: Kaily Cox, Oral Roberts
Goalkeeper of the Year: Sierra Bonham, North Dakota State
Freshman of the Year: Britney Monteon, North Dakota State
Coach of the Year: Mark Cook, North Dakota State

Teams (2015 overall, conference records)
North Dakota State (13-6-1, 7-0-1)
Oral Roberts (10-8-2, 6-2-0)
South Dakota State (12-6-3, 5-1-2)
South Dakota (8-12-0, 5-3-0)
Denver (4-12-1, 4-4-0)
IPFW(w) (4-13-2, 2-5-1)
Omaha (5-11-2, 2-6-0)
IUPUI (6-9-3, 1-5-2)
Western Illinois (2-15-0, 1-7-0)

South Dakota State’s 2015 regular season didn’t exactly go to plan. The Jackrabbits finished third on points in the regular season behind an absolutely loaded North Dakota State and a surprisingly stout Oral Roberts and entered the conference tourney as the three seed despite being the defending champs. None of that mattered, as the Jackrabbits rode a huge tournament from Diana Potterveld. The good news is that SDSU is typically talented in 2016. The bad? Whatever they do, they’ll have to do without the graduated Potterveld.

Much of the creative impetus and perhaps more of the scoring load will fall to senior leader Madison Yueill and her quality backing defense. But once again, their old nemesis North Dakota State stands in the way of their ascension. Lauren Miller is putting together one of the most prolific careers in Summit League history after scoring 16 goals last year, and the return of 2015 freshman of the year Britney Monteon means this is the most dangerous attacking team in the league. The fight for the title should come down to NDSU vs. SDSU, and the Bison certainly look like the favorites, at least on paper.

Oral Roberts was mighty impressive last year and should be back in the mixer this year. Their iron defense last year was build around 2015 DPOY Kaily Cox, who’s now gone, so there could be even more onus on players like Brittney Lawrence to pick up the scoring slack. South Dakota and Denver both had laudable conference seasons in 2015 after disappointing non-conference slates and should launch themselves back into the discussion. Look out for promising freshmen Cristiana Behnken (Denver) and Sammie Villwock (South Dakota) to take strides after mighty impressive debut years.

The bottom third of the standings from 2015 are still in building mode, but IUPUI in particular has some promising youth coming through the pipeline in players like Jessica Flores and Braegan Lyon and should make a step forward in 2016.

Sun Belt Conference

2015 Conference Honors:
Conference Tournament Champion: South Alabama
Offensive Player of the Year: Lynsey Curry, Texas State
Defensive Player of the Year: Steffi Hardy, South Alabama
Freshman of the Year: Jemma Purfield, South Alabama
Coach of the Year: Graham Winkworth, South Alabama

Teams (2015 overall, conference record)
South Alabama (18-3-2, 9-0-0)
Troy University (14-4-2, 6-2-1)
Texas State (12-6-0, 6-3-0)
Appalachian State (10-6-4, 5-3-1)
Little Rock (8-7-5, 3-2-4)
Georgia State (11-6-4, 4-4-1)
Georgia Southern (6-11-2, 3-5-1)
Louisiana Lafayette (8-10-2, 2-6-1)
Arkansas State (3-14-1, 1-7-1)
ULM (7-12-1, 1-8-0)
Coastal Carolina (12-7-1, 7-2-1) - From Big South Conference

Something special is brewing in Mobile, Alabama. South Alabama has been a roaring lion under coach Graham Winkworth, winning each of the last three Sun Belt titles and establishing themselves as a regional dynasty in the process. But they went a step further in 2015 by smashing LSU 4-0 in the first round of the NCAA tourney to advance for the first time ever. Perhaps the crazier thing is that South Alabama was actually pretty young last year and returns a raft of quality. The loss of defender Nini Rabsatt-Smith will sting, but there are more behind her ready to step in.

Indeed, South Alabama returns a whopping six players who were on the All-Sun Belt first or second teams from 2015, including game-changing forward Charde Hannah. It’ll take a cataclysm for somebody to catch the Jaguars this year. In fact, it wouldn’t be that much of a surprise if they went perfect in conference for a second consecutive year. The movement of a 12-win Coastal Carolina team will provide ample competition, as they return almost every major contributor from last season, including breakout star Danielle Famili, forward Amber Adams and Kayla Christian, the best freshman in the Big South last season

Who takes second? Texas State has made some encouraging strides in the past few years, and they have enough back to build confidence. But losing last year’s Offensive POTY Lynsey Curry will hurt production up top and could stall their push to hit No. 2. Troy has been meticulously built from the back and should again feature one of the league’s best defenses behind impressive keeper Mikki Lewis, but the Trojans lost a large and accomplished senior class and could take a step back in 2016.

Louisiana Monroe should be an interesting program to monitor in the coming years after hiring coach Keyton Wheelock to take over the program this year. ULM finished in the league basement in 2015 and won a single conference match, and Wheelock comes over after three massively productive years at South Alabama. ULM just added the league’s top assistant, so they should be improved in the coming years, making the league even deeper.

WAC

2015 Conference Honors:
Conference Tournament Champion: Utah Valley
Offensive Player of the Year: Julia Moravec, Seattle
Defensive Player of the Year: Jessica Duffin, Utah Valley
Freshman of the Year: Aminah Settles, CSU Bakersfield
Coach of the Year: Brent Anderson, Utah Valley

Teams (2015 overall, conference record)
Seattle (14-3-3, 8-0-2)
Utah Valley (14-7-1, 7-2-1)
UMKC (14-6-1, 7-2-1)
Grand Canyon (7-9-3, 4-4-2)
New Mexico State (5-15-0, 4-6-0)
CSU Bakersfield (6-12-3, 3-5-2)
University of Texas Rio Grande Valley(w) (5-12-3, 3-7-0)
Chicago State (0-19-0, 0-10-0)

The WAC was essentially a three-horse race at the top in 2015, with Seattle, Utah Valley and UMKC duking it out for the right to be the league’s rep at the NCAA tourney. Utah Valley earned that right by knocking off both in the league tourney a combined 4-0, firmly asserting itself as the league’s best despite finishing second behind unbeaten Seattle in the regular season. What happens this season is anyone’s guess considering the amount of new faces.

All three teams lost somebody significant this offseason, but Seattle looks the hardest hit. Conference Offensive POTY Julia Moravec is gone along with all-league defenders Kelly Beck and Kiana Kraft as well as all-league keeper Brianna Smallidge. A lot will fall on sophomore Karli White’s shoulders after a breakout campaign in 2015, but it’s hard to not see Seattle falling back in this three-horse race. UMKC has an impressive youth movement flowing with players like Alexis Howard, while Utah Valley is probably best poised to repeat. The loss of Kali Stubbs and Jessica Duffin won’t help, but the quality in the pipeline behind players like Taylor Kirk and Sarah Callister is very real.

If there’s a dark horse in this league poised to make a splash after a building year in 2015, it’s CSU Bakersfield. After winning just six games last year and finishing sixth in the league, Bakersfield made a conference tournament semifinal run to close the year with an exceedingly young roster. Key contributors like Maja Green, Madi Gaimmona, Sabrina Delgado and least year’s Freshman POTY Aminah Settles are all back in 2016, and none are seniors. The window is wide open to do some damage for the next few years.

Grand Canyon and NM State both had respectable years last season and both should be difficult road trips for every team in the conference again in 2016. Grand Canyon midfield maestro McKenzie Cook was a breakout star as a freshman, while NM State built a steady team-first approach that worked in spurts last year. Both, along with expected improvement from Rio Grande and Chicago State sides, illustrate the league’s outsize depth in 2016.

 
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