The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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October 25, 2012

MSSU 9th, PSU second in women's preseason basketball poll

Just as in previous years, Missouri Southern is picked in the middle of the pack in the MIAA women’s basketball preseason poll.

But with a bigger pack this season, the Lions are tied for ninth place in the coaches poll, their lowest spot ever in the poll.

The Lions are also 13th in the media poll.

“I thought our pick was generous,” Lions coach Maryann Mitts said. “I was pleased, coming off the year we had (8-18, 4-16 MIAA). I think that the coaches poll proves a couple of things. The addition of Jaime Green to our staff and some of the signees that we’ve had ... obviously people know that we’re going to be better. I think they picked us pretty much in the middle of the hunt where they always do.”

Washburn and Pittsburg State, the teams who picked up the postseason hardware last season, are the top two teams in both polls.

The Lady Blues, who won the conference regular season and postseason tournament championships, are first in both polls despite losing their top three scorers. However, they will be led by seven seniors.

“Just out of tradition,” Mitts said, “and you have to leave them where they are until they prove they don’t belong there.”

Washburn received eight first place votes in both polls and finished ahead of Pittsburg State by 11 points in the coaches poll and only three points in the media poll.

The Gorillas return four starters and three more players who saw significant minutes from last year’s team than won the South Central Regional at Washburn and lost in the first round of the Elite Eight. The Gorillas had six No. 1 votes from coaches and eight from the media.

“We lost five talented seniors from last year,” PSU coach Lane Lord said, but we do have 12 players back — two who were redshirts and 10 who played at some point last season.:

Emporia State, which received first-place votes in both polls, newcomer Northeastern State and Fort Hays State complete the top five in the poll.

The Lions and Lincoln were tied for ninth in the coaches poll with 65 points, followed closely by Missouri Western (64) and Lindenwood and Southwest Baptist (62 apiece).

“I thought from top to bottom it was a great poll,” Mitts said. “I thought the people at the top deserved to be there, and then the people who still have to prove themselves in the MIAA are left at the bottom.”

‘Super megaconference’

Among the new schools in the MIAA, Northeastern State and Central Oklahoma have been NCAA Tournament participants on a frequent basis.

“The MIAA just got a lot better,” Mitts said. “When you add a Central Oklahoma and you add a Northeastern State to our league, you have just made our league that much tougher. Those have been some of the top teams in the region. But then when you also add Lindenwood and Kearney, who predominantly has been known as a basketball powerhouse in the past, you know they have the potential. They have the backing. The league is just that much tougher, and we thought it was tough anyway.”

“We’ve always felt our league was the best,” Lord said, “and now it’s even gotten better. We’ve added some great coaches to the league, which is already a tremendous coached league. It’s fun to play different schools, but as far as competition, the league is better.”

NSU and UCO join the league after leaving the Lone Star Conference in 2011 and playing an independent schedule last season.

“We have played three teams in the league,” UCO coach Guy Hardaker said. “What I found out is the league is so big and so physical. What we’ve told our girls is they will have to make an adjustment to the physicality of the league.

“In the Lone Star, you always had five or six teams that were very good, who had a chance to go to the NCAA Tournament. But when you played a bottom tier team, you knew you had a chance to win if you played well. My understanding about this league is 1 through 15, you’re liable to get beat every night. You have to show up every night and play because of the strength of the league from top to bottom.”

The regional landscape also has gotten tougher with the MIAA teams being placed with the Northern Sun Conference instead of the Lone Star.

“The Northern Sun is very similar to us in that women’s basketball is very good up there and they have great attendance,” Central Missouri coach Dave Slifer said. “There are large numbers now, 42 or 43 in our region. We like to think in the middle of the country we have the best women’s basketball, and now we’ve made it tougher. We all have to find ways to eke out as many wins as we can, to give ourselves a shot at getting in the regional tournament.

“Our 15-team, super megaconference ... I’m trying to determine if there is any benefit for student-athletes and coaches whatsoever by having a conference this big. You look at what’s going on in football right now ... it’s a great football league that is fighting to get a couple of teams in the playoffs.

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