The Northern Sun expands to 16 teams with the addition of Minot State and Sioux Falls. At the same time, recently successful women's programs such as Northern, Wayne State and Winona State will be coping with significant losses to graduation. It should make for an interesting year. In a nutshell,
• Bemidji State, Mary and UMD all look solid in the North
• Augustana could run away with the South, unless Concordia or Mankato matures quickly. Each has some good-looking talent but not enough of it and it's young.
Overall, hail Mary! Augustana is the only NSIC team rated in the pre-season D2 Top 25, but I like Mary overall ahead of Augustana.
1. Mary. One of the newer members of the NSIC themselves, they' accumulated great inside talent in 6-2 senior forward Linda Murray, 6-1 junior forward Kaitleen Haag and 5-11 senior forward Shauna Knife, who among them will score more than 30 points, and grab almost 20 boards, and block about 4 shots per game.They'll shoot over 45 percent from the floor. Meanwhile guards Alli Collins, 5-9 and Laura Peterson, a 5-10, will held heir own.
2. Minnesota-Duluth. The secret weapon is probably the 2nd best player in the conference, Katrina Newman, the 5-11 junior forward-guard-do everything from Barnum. She is #2 returning scorer in the conference at 14 ppg with 8 boards and 44% shooting. 5-8 senior guard Courtney Doucette is Plan B at 13 ppg plus 3 assists. The supporting cast isn't quite what coach Annette Wiles is used to, but the top 2 can carry this team a long, long way.
3. Bemidji State. Improving rapidly under coach Mike Curfman, the Beavers bring back 6-2 junior post Kate Warmack and guards Morgan Lee and Shannon Thompson. Lee, a 5-7 junior, scored 13 ppg while the 5-7 senior Thompson contributes 3 assists and 2 steals. Warmack and senior Emily Kaus will give Bemidji a size advantage against many opponents.
4. Minnesota-Crookston. Senior guard Brittani Wiese will be another of the NSIC's top players. She scored 15 ppg with 2 assists and 39 percent shooting on 3-pointers. Senior center Laurie Tyson and sophomore guard Ashley Martell will help.
5. Moorhead State. Junior center Morgan Zabel, junior forward Megan Strese and senior guard Marissa Yernatich lead the way.
6. St. Cloud State. Sophomore forward Jessica Benson is a rising star, scoring 10 points with 6 rebounds a a freshman. Guards Nicole Anderson and Amanda Wagner, both seniors, and Rachel Moen, a junior, try to create chaos and turnovers in the backcourt.
7. Northern State. Junior Alison Kusler will lead the way, having scored 11 ppg as a sophomore while shooting 38 percent from 3-point territory.
8. Minot State. One of the conference's 2 new members.
1. Augustana. Top 10 rated nationally, mostly due to 6-0 senior forward Alex Feeney who is the leading returning corer with 16 ppg, and among the top 10 in boards with 7, shooting (44% from the field, 85% from the line, and 40% on 3-pointers), and blocks with 2. A deep but largely unproven roster backs Feeney up and at least 2 or 3 from among Lydia Nelson, Shaunteva Ashley, Emily Schulte, Emily Bose and Andrea Whiting seems likely to emerge.
2. Concordia-St. Paul. Not as deep as the North. CSP is rebuilding but that might be good enough for 2nd in the South. Annika Whiting leads the way, she scored 11 points with 6 boards and 43% shooting as a frosh. Guards Carissa Wolyniec and Rachel Hansen add more than 20 points between them, and Hansen adds 3 assists and 2 steals.
3. Mankato State. Ditto. Rebuilding but fast enough in the South. Guard Aubrey Davis and forward Jamie Bresnahan are a long-term nucleus but just sophomores and it's not clear where additional production will come from.
4. Wayne State loses conference MVP Ashley Arlen, but the cupboard is far from bare. But nobody looks like a go-to like Arlen; Ellen Hanson is the top returning scorer at just 6 ppg. Could finish anywhere from #2 to #7.
5. Winona State. Ditto Wayne. Guard Katie Wolff is the conference's top returning point guard with 4 assists and about 2 assists per turnover. But who along with Wolff is gonna put the ball in the hole.
6. Upper Iowa. Perennial doormat now has sophomore Whitney Kieffer leading the way. She scored 16 ppg with 7 boards and 2 steals last year. It's not clear if the supporting cast is up to it, however.
7. Southwest MN State. Looks to be in trouble. Bree Holleman is one of the league's best guards, but there doesn't appear to be any help.
Not sure what the format is, but let's say the semi-finalists are seeded 1) Mary, 2) Augustana, 3) UMD, 4) Concordia, 5) Bemidji, 6) Mankato, 7) UMC, 8) Wayne.
Mary defeats Wayne, Augie defeats UMC, UMD defeats Mankato, and we'll pick one upset Bemidji over Concordia. In the semi's it's Mary over Bemidji, and UMD surprises Augie. In the final, Mary over UMD.
Alex Feeney, Augustana, F, Player of the Year
Katrina Newman, UMD, F-G
Brittani Wiese, UMC, G
Linda Murray, Mary, F
Annika Whiting, Concordia-St. Paul, F
Coach of the Year
1. Mike Curfman, Bemidji State
2. Mike Roysland, UMC
3. Annette Wiles, UMD
Courtney Doucette, UMD, G
Rachel Hansen, Concordia-St. Paul, G
Whitney Kieffer, Upper Iowa, F
Kate Warmack, Bemidji State, C
Aubrey Davis, Mankato State, G
Shauna Knife, Mary, F
Katie Wolff, Winona State, G
Alison Kusler, Northern, G
Megan Strese, Moorhead State, F
Jamie Bresnahan, Mankato State, F
Jessica Benson, St. Cloud State, F
Bree Holleman, Southwest State, G
Liz Collin, Mary, G
Lydia Nelson, Augustana, F
Morgan Lee, Bemidji State, G