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WoSo conf. previews: Sun Belt, WAC, Summit

Article Written by Will Parchman
Published: August 10, 2015

Summit League

2014 Offensive Player of the Year: Diana Potterveld, South Dakota State
Defensive Player of the Year: Hannah Wampler, Nebraska-Omaha
Goalkeeper of the Year: Sierra Bonham, North Dakota State
Freshman of the Year: Krissy Kirkhoff, IUPUI
Coach of the Year: Lang Wedemeyer, South Dakota State

Teams (2014 overall, conference record)

South Dakota State (10-8-2, 5-2-1)
Denver (10-8-2, 5-3-0)
IUPUI (7-10-3, 5-3-0)
North Dakota State (8-8-2, 4-2-2)
Western Illinois (5-12-1, 4-3-1)
Nebraska-Omaha (5-12-2, 3-3-2)
Oral Roberts (4-10-3, 3-5-0)
South Dakota (9-8-2, 2-4-2)
IPFW(w) (2-14-2, 0-6-2)

The Summit League was overwhelmingly young last year across the board. Only three of the league’s 22 players named to first and second all-conference teams were seniors, leaving this conference looking a lot like it did last year. South Dakota State has won a whopping four regular season titles since 2008 under Lang Wedemeyer, and if they’re stopped en route to a fifth in 2015, it’ll be a surprise. The return of Potterveld is a massive boost after she snapped the program record for assists in a season with 11 last year. All-conference first teamers Delaney Ratcliffe, Tori Poole and Alyssa Brazil are also back. This team looks like a buzzsaw on paper.

North Dakota State could well be the big mover this year. Bonham is the best keeper in the league, and junior forward Lauren Miller has the goal-scoring ability to carry the load this year. IUPUI was perhaps the league’s surprise last season with such an overwhelmingly young roster, but the rookies slung the team on its shoulders and carried it to a respectable third-place finish in the league. Returning ROY Kirkhoff is flanked by a very good sophomore class that should make the team a difficult out for another three years.

Western Illinois might fall off a bit after losing two key cogs in Sarah Hall and Tiara Herron, which could open the door for a surging Omaha program. Wampler is the best defender in the league, and as a senior she’ll provide vital strength to a side that will almost certainly be in contention in 2015.

Sun Belt

2014 Offensive Player of the Year: Charde Hannah, South Alabama
Defensive Player of the Year: Nini Rabsatt-Smith, South Alabama
Freshman of the Year: Charde Hannah, South Alabama
Coach of the Year: Graham Winkworth, South Alabama

Teams (2014 overall, conference record)

South Alabama (19-3-1, 8-0-1)
Troy University (16-6-0, 6-3-0)
Georgia Southern (11-6-2, 5-3-1)
Texas State (11-7-2, 5-3-1)
Appalachian State (8-11-0, 5-4-0)
Georgia State (6-10-4, 4-4-1)
Louisiana Lafayette (9-8-2, 4-4-1)
Little Rock (11-7-1, 2-6-1)
ULM (8-10-1, 2-7-0)
Arkansas State (4-14-0, 1-8-0)

The question remains much the same as it was last year in the Sun Belt: can anyone catch South Alabama? The Jaguars were unstoppable in the league last year, running through the regular season without a loss and then dropping Troy in the conference finals to earn a date with eventual champion Florida State in the first round of the dance.

The bad news for the rest of the conference is South Alabama looks loaded again for 2015. Of course there’s Hannah, the conference’s most dangerous attacking player who racked up a league-leading 20 goals last season as just a freshman. She’ll only get better. The crazy thing about the Jaguars is they landed three more freshmen on the first team all-conference list last year: Rio Hardy, Sophie Haywood and Steffi Hardy. Now that Nini Rabsatt-Smith is a senior, this team could be even better than it was last year.

Who can slow them down? Troy came close last year, and the return of a few encouraging pieces, like Alissa Jones and Chelsey Williams, is good news. Five other teams chalked up at least four conference wins last year, which should make the league’s midsection as jumbled as ever. Look out for Georgia Southern, which has a quality duo in Nora El-Shami and Melinda Lukas to count on in 2015. Texas State could also take a step forward this year behind the scoring prowess of senior Lynsey Curry.

WAC

2014 Offensive Player of the Year: Stephanie Verdoia, Seattle
Defensive Player of the Year: Lexi Robinson, Utah Valley
Freshman of the Year: Blakely Fraasch, Grand Canyon
Coach of the Year: Stevie Gill, Grand Canyon

Teams (2014 overall, conference record)

Seattle (15-4-3, 8-1-1)
UMKC (13-5-3, 8-1-1)
Utah Valley (13-7-2, 7-3-0)
Grand Canyon (8-9-1, 7-3-0)
New Mexico State (5-17-0, 3-7-0)
CSU Bakersfield (4-16-1, 3-7-0)
University of Texas Rio Grande Valley(w) (8-9-4, 2-7-1)
Chicago State (1-17-1, 0-9-1)

Few teams anywhere in the nation will miss a single player as much as Seattle will miss Verdoia. The midfielder led the WAC in every offensive category in the regular season last year, which included 22 goals and 13 assists. But Verdoia is with the NWSL’s Boston Breakers after going in the fourth round of the draft this offseason, and the shadow she leaves behind looms large. The cupboard isn’t entirely bare for the team that shocked Washington State in the first round of the tourney last year, but the loss of Verdoia and forward Taylor Ritzman should open this league wide in 2015.

Grand Canyon was perhaps the league’s surprise last year, and with a talented junior class they could challenge for higher places in the standings this year. Forward Maria Monterroso, midfielder Taylor Layton, defender Jessica Valadez and sophomore keeper Fraasch form a quality spine that should allow them to compete for a title.

Utah Valley and UMKC both have some key pieces to replace this season alongside Seattle, but the return of a couple rising stars should bolster their chances to supplant a Seattle team that wasn’t challenged as the season progressed. UMKC’s Emily Herndon showed bright flashes last season, as did keeper Nina Tzianos. The question is whether anyone can wrest the title from Seattle after two years of dominance under the yoke of Verdoia and company.

 
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