Bluejays Picked as Favorite in Valley Women's Hoops
Monday, October 29, 2012

ST. LOUIS – Creighton, which returns its top five scorers from last year's Missouri Valley Tournament championship squad, has been tabbed as the preseason favorite in the MVC's women’s basketball race in the annual survey of the league’s coaches, sports information directors and media members.

The Bluejays are coming off a 20-13 season, their fourth 20-win season in the last five years, and received 26 of 40 first-place votes and 382 total points, out-distancing Wichita State (347). Illinois State (323), UNI (272) and Missouri State (265) follow the Bluejays in a tightly-packed group behind the preseason favorite.

School (First-Place Votes)    Points
 1. Creighton (26)    382
 2. Wichita State (12)    347
 3. Illinois State (2)    323
 4. UNI    272
 5. Missouri State     265
 6. Bradley    144
 7. Indiana State    135
 8. Southern Illinois    123 
 9. Drake    121
10. Evansville    119 

Creighton is led by junior guard Carli Tritz, one of four returning starters for the Bluejays. Tritz, the reigning Missouri Valley Conference Tournament MVP, ranked in the league’s top-six in scoring, assists, steals and assist/turnover ratio last season. Tritz will be joined by junior Sarah Nelson (12.4 ppg, 7.6 rpg) and senior Ally Jensen (8.4 ppg, 3.5 rpg), an inside-outside combination to anchor the team with leadership. Creighton’s balance and experience should once again lead to a promising season for the Bluejays.      

Tritz was also tabbed the Preseason Player of the Year, headlining the Valley's preseason all-conference team, which includes Jessica Diamond of Wichita State, Jacqui Kalin of UNI, Jamie Russell of Illinois State and Christiana Shorter of Missouri State.                               

Player, School   Pos.    Yr. Hometown (High School/Previous School)
Jessica Diamond, Wichita State G  Sr. Houston, Texas (Chester W. Nimitz)
Jacqui Kalin, UNI  G   Sr. Sioux City, Iowa (North)
Jamie Russell, Illinois State G  Sr. Rock Falls, Ill. (Rock Falls/Wisconsin)
Christiana Shorter, Missouri State  F  Sr. Tulsa, Okla. (Booker T. Washington) 
*Carli Tritz, Creighton G  Jr. Sioux City, Iowa (Bishop Heelan)
*Preseason Player of the Year

Wichita State (2nd, 347 points, 12 first-place votes) brings back three starters from a 2011-12 team that matched a school record with 20 victories, advancing to the WNIT for the second consecutive season.  The Shockers return four of their top-five scorers and the offense will be fueled by senior guard Jessica Diamond, who earned first team all-MVC honors after averaging 13.3 points, 2.5 assists and sinking 33 three-pointers. Seniors Chynna Turner (8.7 ppg, 5.7 rpg) and Jazimen Gordon (8.7 ppg, 5.4 rpg) bring intensity and experience to the Shockers frontcourt, and will be balanced by the outside play of Diamond and sophomore Alex Harden (5.7 ppg, 3.8 rpg).  The Shockers’ intensity and experience should make them a team to look out for in 2012-13.

Illinois State (3rd, 323 points, 2 first-place votes) bring backs four players that shared starting duties, including the reigning MVC Newcomer of the Year, Jamie Russell.  Russell, also a first team all-MVC performer a season ago, will lead the charge for the Redbirds after averaging just over 13 points per game, including 20 double-digit scoring performances. Seniors Candace Sykes (11.6 ppg, 8.0 rpg) and Alexis Jenkins (5.7 ppg, 2.8 rpg) add depth and experience to the Redbird backcourt, while Maddie Oliver and Megan Grace will pose an effective one-two punch on the inside. Illinois State, a team that has earned a postseason berth in six consecutive seasons (which ties a program record), will surely be a force to be reckoned with once again in 2012-13.

UNI (4th, 272 points) enters the 2012-13 season looking to make its fourth-straight postseason appearance after coming off a third consecutive season with 17-plus wins. The Panthers notched their first-ever postseason victory in 2011-12 after a three-game winning streak ending in the WBI Championship game. The Panthers will re-gain the services 2011 Jackie Stiles MVC Player of the Year, Jacqui Kalin (15.3 ppg, 3.1 apg, 65 three pointers in 2010-11), who returns from a season-ending ACL injury last year. UNI also welcomes back two starters in seniors Amber Kirschbaum (9.2 ppg, 7.1 rpg) and Mercedees Morgan (7.0 ppg, 63 assists) that will look to replace the services of three senior starters in Katelin Oney, K.K. Armstrong and Rachel Madrigal. 

Missouri State (5th, 265 points), fresh off its ninth regular-season MVC title, will look to outfit another talented squad after posting a 24-9 record in 2011-12, tying the ninth-highest win total in school history, and advancing to its third-straight WNIT under Nyla Milleson. The Lady Bears return three starters, including two of their top-four scorers, and will be led by three-time all-MVC selection Christiana Shorter, who ranked in the league’s top-20 in six statistical categories last season. Shorter will be joined by junior Karly Buer (9.3 ppg, 85 assists) and senior Whitney Edie (5.5 ppg, 4.2 rpg) as the Lady Bears top returners. 

Bradley (6th, 144 points) returns four players with starting experience from last year’s squad, including three of its top four scorers, and will be under the direction of first year head coach Michael Brooks. Headlining the returning group is senior guard Katie Yohn, a two-time honorable mention all-MVC selection, after averaging 11.2 points per game in 2011-12. The guard-heavy Braves return 60-percent of the team’s scoring and better than 90-percent of the team’s three-point scoring battalion, including Yohn, juniors Catie O’Leary and Kelsey Budd and sophomore Shronda Butts. Bradley will look to fill the void of Leah Kassing and MacKenzie Westcott as forces in the paint as juniors Kelly Frings and Alyson Spinas-Valainis step into more aggressive roles.

Indiana State (7th, 135 points) returns two starters from a 2011-12 team that finished 15-16.  The Sycamores will look to replace a trio of 1,000-point scorers lost to graduation, in Shannon Thomas, Brittany Schoen and Deja Mattox. Indiana State will be led by its lone senior, Taylor Whitley, who returns from missing most of last season with a knee injury. Junior guard Anna Munn (10.0 ppg, 72 assists) and sophomore Natasha Zurek will add depth to the guard-heavy Sycamore roster, while sophomore Racheal Mahan and Andre Rademacher return as the top post players for Indiana State.

Southern Illinois (8th, 123 points) welcomes back four starters and six letterwinners, comprising a roster that includes just two upperclassmen. The Salukis will be led by sophomore guard Cartaesha Macklin, the reigning MVC Freshman of the Year, who finished the 2011-12 season as the third-leading scorer nationally among all freshmen (16.5 ppg). Macklin, one of the league’s most exciting players, will be joined by fellow sophomore Alexus Patterson (6.6 ppg, 7.3 rpg), as one of the Valley’s most effective inside-outside punches.

Drake (9th, 121 points) Drake enters the 2012-13 campaign with a talented, but young group, and will be under the direction of first year head coach Jennie Baranczyk. The Bulldogs’ roster includes nine first or second year players and just one senior, Stephanie Running. Sophomore Kyndal Clark, the team’s second leading scorer last season, will be joined by sophomore Carly Grenfell as the top shooters for the Bulldogs in 2012-13. Drake has a huge hole to fill with the graduation of 2012 Jackie Stiles Player of the Year, Rachael Hackbarth, who led all of NCAA Division I with 26 double-doubles last season. Running, junior Morgan Reid (5.9 ppg, 5.1 rpg) and sophomore Liza Heap will lead a young group of post players for the Bulldogs.

Evansville (10th, 119 points) returns three starters from last season’s squad, including four of its top five scorers, and also welcomes back senior Chelsea Falkenstein, who missed most of last season with an injury. Leading the Purple Aces’ returning cast is a strong core of upperclassmen, including seniors Falkenstein, Samantha Heck (13.3 ppg, 7.2 rpg), Meagan Collins (9.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg) and Taylor Ware (6.3 ppg, 3.4 rpg) and junior Katie Ellerson.

Preseason voters have correctly selected the conference’s regular-season champion 17 times in 29 seasons, but since the poll was expanded to include sports information directors and media in 1994-95, pollsters have accurately predicted 12 of the 18 champions.  Preseason favorites have played in 21 postseasons, including 14 NCAA Tournaments with one Sweet 16 and one Final Four appearance.