Great American Conference
Eric Moyer, Associate Commissioner for Communications
RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. – Following a magical season that featured a Great American Conference regular-season title, a GAC Tournament championship, an NCAA Central Region crown and a trip to the NCAA Elite 8, Harding will enter the 2017-18 women’s basketball season as the preseason favorite, following a vote of the league’s head coaches, the conference office announced on Wednesday.
The Lady Bisons, who went 31-4 a season ago, picked up the first-place vote from each of the other 11 coaches. They return the core of their frontcourt in Caroline Hogue, the GAC Newcomer of the Year; Sydney Layrock, a two-time First-Team All-GAC selection and Sydney Jones, last season’s Tournament MVP. Hogue averaged 13.7 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2.1 blocks. Layrock added 11.3 points and 5.6 rebounds. Jones scored a career-high 30 points in the GAC title game against Arkansas Tech and followed up by averaging 15.2 points and 9.8 rebounds and shooting 67.9 percent from the field.
Southwestern Oklahoma State took second in the poll. The Lady Bulldogs won 20 games for the fourth time in six seasons. They return a pair of junior standouts in Hailey Tucker and Hayden Priddy. Both landed on the All-GAC First Team last year and Tucker garnered GAC Player of the Year, First-Team All-Region and Honorable Mention honors. She led the conference in scoring in rebounding; Priddy ranked third in scoring and assists.
Arkansas Tech placed third in the balloting. The Golden Suns advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the second-straight year. They must replace four of their top five scorers, but they will bring back Cheyenne North, who averaged 11.0 points and 7.7 rebounds.
Southeastern Oklahoma State finished fourth. The Savage Storm went 17-10 last season and started the same five players in all 27 games. They return three of those starters for 2017-18, led by Katie Webb, who paced the squad in scoring and rebounding. Emem David also averaged 7.3 rebounds per game as the Savage Storm became the only GAC team with multiple players to average at least 7.0 rebounds per game.
Ouachita came in fifth, followed closely by East Central. Ouachita brings back four players that averaged at least 9.0 points per game, headed up by Madison Brittain and Chasidee Owens, who both averaged in double digits in scoring. East Central, who advanced to the semifinals of last year’s GAC Championships, bring back its leading scorer, Devon Branch, who ranked fifth in the league in scoring and led the conference in 3-point field goals made with 81.
The coaches voted Southern Nazarene seventh, Henderson State eighth and Oklahoma Baptist ninth. Adrienne Berry led the Crimson Storm to the GAC Championships for the first time by scoring 13.8 points per game. The Reddies return their entire roster, saved for the 70 minutes played by Erika Emmons. Pink Jones garnered the GAC Freshman of the Year award after leading the team in points, assists and steals.
The Lady Bison, eligible for the GAC and NCAA postseason for the first time in program history, bring back its top two scorers – Katy Custer and Tasha Edge – who both ranked in the top six in the GAC. Edge also ranked third in the league in rebounding.
Northwestern Oklahoma State, Arkansas-Monticello and Southern Arkansas rounded out the poll. The Lady Muleriders return their leading scorer in Kimberly Crown.
The season opens on Friday, Nov. 10 with nine schools competing in region crossover tournaments. The 2018 GAC Championships takes place from March 1-4 in Bartlesville, Oklahoma.