Summit League releases Women’s Preseason Basketball Rankings

David Koier, Courier Staff

The Summit League released its preseason poll for the 2020-2021 women’s basketball season earlier this week. South Dakota and senior center Hannah Sjerven were named The Summit League Preseason Favorite and Preseason Player of the Year, respectively, for the 2020-21 season. Per the official Summit League site, “The league’s nine head coaches and sports information directors along with two media members from each school’s coverage area voted on the awards.”

South Dakota finished as both regular season and tournament champions to end the 2019-2020 campaign. The Coyotes were the first team in Summit League history to go undefeated en route to a league regular season title and capture the league tournament crown. South Dakota received 25 of 36 first place votes, leading the voting with 587 points. The South Dakota State Jackrabbits (second in The Summit League, going 13-3 in 2019-2020) finished second in the voting with the remaining 11 first place votes and 566 points.

The Preseason All-Summit League First Team was highlighted by Sjerven who finished the 2019-2020 campaign averaging 12.2 points per game and 7.3 rebounds per game, earning her Player of the Year and All-Tournament honors. Rounding out the rest of the First Team honorees were South Dakota’s Chloe Lamb, Oral Roberts guard Keni Jo Lippe, Omaha forward Mariah Murdie and South Dakota State forwards Paiton Burckhard and Myah Selland.

While not represented on First Team, the Western Illinois Leathernecks, who finished third in voting in the preseason poll, saw junior center Evan Zars earn Preseason All-Summit League Second Team honors. Zars finished third in the league in rebounds per game with 9.2 while also scoring 9.1 points per game on her way to Summit League Newcomer of the Year honors for the 2019-2020 season.

Western finished last season tied for third in The Summit with a 9-7 conference record after dropping their last two games of the regular season to Oral Roberts and Denver – the two teams whom Western tied with in the standings. With the fifth seed in The Summit League tournament, Western saw an early exit as they lost to Oral Roberts in 74-66 in the first round.

Despite losing some top-tier talent in Olivia Kaufmann (16.9 points per game, third in the Summit) and Annabel Graettinger (13.1 points per game, missed the second half of the season due to injury), the Leathernecks are returning some all-star talent.

Sophomore Carla Flores returns after stepping up big last season. Starting off the season coming off the bench, Flores was transitioned into a starting role after Graettinger was sidelined due to injury. She finished conference play averaging 8.1 points per game (fourth on the team) and 30 assists (t-second). Accompanying Flores and Zars this season is returning starter junior Danni Nichols. The junior guard proved to be a dual threat with Kaufmann in her sophomore season, averaging 14.4 points per game and 5.2 rebounds per game. Nichols also led Western Illinois in conference play shooting 52 percent from the field and 34.9 percent from three point range.

Last season, the Leathernecks had a very young squad. Out of their five starters, those who started 14 or more of the 16 conference games, two were sophomores and one (Flores) was a redshirt freshman. Four of the five starters are returning for the 2020-2021 season. The Leathernecks proved last season that even with the lack of experience in Summit League play, JD Gravina’s young squad could hold their own in the competitive Summit. This season, after only graduating two, Western looks to take their experienced returning players to hopefully not only confirm their preseason rank of third, but potentially shock The Summit voters and give powerhouse South Dakota a run for their money.