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Wayne Cavadi | | December 30, 2015

DII women's basketball provides plenty of action right from the start

Fort Hays earned a No. 1-ranking this season for the first time in program history.

2015 may be remembered as the year California took DII Women’s basketball by storm. California University (Pa.) would defeat California Baptist out of Riverside, CA for the National Championship 86-69. As 2015 draws to a close, both teams have started off well, but others are looking to leave their mark.

Women’s basketball has been on hiatus since Dec. 19th for its winter break but basketball is set to resume. Many of the top teams in the nation face big tests that could determine how things shape out on the year.

MIAA teams among nation's best

The most recent USA Today Coaches Poll boasts a few MIAA teams in its ranks. Fort Hays is No. 1 and hot on their tails is the No. 3 Emporia State. Not far behind them are the red hot and still undefeated Missouri Western State at No. 16. Pittsburgh State is also one of the strongest teams in the conference, and they were able to earn 17 votes keeping them right on the cusp of the nation’s Top 25.

Fort Hays — who is currently No. 1 for the first time in program history — ended 2015 with their first and only loss of the season to date. They look to get back on track with two home games to open 2016. It will be no easy task as they kick off the new year against 9-2 Pittsburgh State. Both teams are looking to get back to the national tournament this season.

Emporia State — who opened the 2015-2016 season as the No. 1 team in the land — closed out 2015 with a big win over Pittsburgh State in a rematch of last year’s national championship second round game. They open 2016 with two games on their home court as well, but January 16th is a game that should be both important and exciting. Missouri Western State comes to Kansas for a game that should have major MIAA implications.

Speaking of which, Missouri Western — sitting at 11-0 — actually have one out of conference game left in 2015 on New Year’s Eve. They then open 2016 with three straight home games. Their remarkable run has been led by LaQuinta Jefferson, who recently picked up her third MIAA Player of the Week Award in the past four weeks. The senior guard has become a player to watch on the national level, as she is averaging 23.8 points a game (third in the nation) to go along with 5.4 rebounds and 2.3 assists a game.

West Texas A&M readies for LSC play 

There is little surprise that West Texas A & M is at the top of the national rankings, currently sitting at No. 2 in the country. Last season’s No. 1 seed in the South Central Region is off to a 10-0 start this year. They headed into break with consecutive victories in the Puerto Rico Tournament.

The Lady Buffs rose victorious in Puerto Rico despite scoring just 63 and 67 points on an uncharacteristic .393 shooting percentage. They did it the way they have all season: out rebounding their opponents and stifling them with solid defense. The Lady Buffs are third in the nation in scoring defense at an impressive 50.5 points allowed per game.

West Texas A & M’s last game of the year will be the first in Lone Star Conference play. They open conference play against their rival Cameron Thursday. Junior guard Sasha Watson -- pegged the preseason LSC Player of the Year -- has led a balanced scoring attack that has nine players averaging at least five points. Watson is averaging 10.5 points, 3.8 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 2.4 steals per game.

The Lady Buffs face off against Texan Woman’s (10-2) on their home court on January 9th in a battle of the two teams projected to finish first and second in the Lone Star Conference.

GLVC opens 2016 with a bang as division leaders clash 

The GLVC is well represented in the nations Top 25. Drury (10-1 overall; 3-0 in GLVC) sits at No. 4 while Lewis (10-1; 2-0) sits at No. 7. Quincy who is 10-1 on the season also cracked the top 25 holding at No. 23.

Drury — the preseason favorites to take the GLVC West Division — heads to Illinois to face Lewis — the preseason GLVC East Division favorite — on January 7th. While Lewis will have two games to warm up — including one more in 2015 and then a tough 2016 opener against an always dangerous UW-Parkside — it will be Drury’s first game of the new year. And quite the test it will be.

Drury and Lewis are nearly identical in scoring offense sitting at No. 1 (Drury with 78.8) and No. 2 (Lewis at 78.7) in the GLVC. The Flyers, however, took a huge blow when leading scorer and the DII Preseason Player of the Year Jamie Johnson went down after just six games with an ACL injury. Senior forward Mariyah Brawner-Henley has stepped up, leading a balanced attack for Lewis averaging a double-double so far on the season (17.6 points and 10.7 rebounds a night). Freshman forward Jessica Kelliher is adding 17.2 points and 6.5 rebounds a game as well.

First year head coach Kristen Gillespie has her Flyers competing well without their star player, but this will be their biggest test yet.

Winona State doing it on both ends of the court

The Winona State Warriors enter 2016 in the top ten of quite a few things. Sitting at 12-0, they are the No. 9 team in the nation. They have the No. 10 scoring offense (80.2 points a night) to go along with the No. 7 scoring defense (51.8 points allowed a night) for the second best scoring margin in the nation.

They also open 2016 with an incredibly tough run.

The Warriors go on a three game run to start the new year that will test their moxie and could be a strong indicator of what is to come in 2016. They open 2016 against Northern State (4-2 in the NSIC), followed by MSU Moorehead (4-2 in NISC) who are both tied for second place in the NSIC North Division. WSU then heads to Sioux Falls for a huge NSIC South Division matchup. Sioux Falls currently sit at 5-1 in the NSIC, half a game back from the perfect 6-0 Warriors.

Sioux Falls one defeat thus far was a 91-52 loss at the hands of Winona State. This becomes a must win for them, and a Warrior victory could further separate them in their run to a regular season title.

Cal Baptist looking to get back on top in a touch PacWest 

Last season’s runners up come out of winter break on January 5th. They play five games at home before heading to Hawaii. Their January 7th match with the surprising Chaminade — projected to finish 12th in the PacWest Conference yet currently sit at 3-1 and in third place in the PacWest — is an interesting game to keep an eye on. The No. 6 ranked Lancers then have back-to-back showdowns at the end of January with two currently undefeated PacWest teams.

The Lancers have two preseason All-PacWest team players who are leading the charge. Cassidy Mihalko is second in the conference in scoring with 19.3 points, while junior guard Kamille Diaz — the reigning Player of the Week — ended 2015 by joining the 1,000-point Club.

Preseason Player of the Year Kelly Hardeman currently has her Azusa Pacific Cougars at No. 25 in the nation. With their record at 3-0 in the conference, all eyes will be on January 16th, when they have a rematch with Cal Baptist after defeating them 74-63 in December.

Reigning champs battling in PSAC

Cal Pa ended 2015 on a sour note as they saw their seven game winning streak come to an end at IUP heading into the winter break. They come out of the break against East Stroudsburg before a big matchup against the preseason East Division favorite West Chester. They also have a big matchup January 13th against Gannon, who currently hold a half game lead on the Vulcans in the PSAC West. Gannon and Cal do not meet again until February in a game which could ultimately decide the division.

Miki Glenn, last seasons MVP of the PSAC tournament, is currently leading the conference in scoring (19.6 points per game). The Vulcans have gotten a much needed boost from sophomore forward Shatara Parsons. Since joining the starting lineup at the beginning of December, averaging a double-double (12.8, 11.6) over that five game span.

Glenville State making some noise in the MEC

Though they aren’t nationally ranked, the Glenville State Pioneers are certainly a team to keep an eye on as 2016 opens. The Pioneers are the top scoring team in DII thus far in 2015-2016. They open the new year averaging 96.3 points a night, while their defense is allowing 78.1 points a night.

The Pioneers have scored below 90 points just once this season (an 89-76 victory over Fairmont State in November) and have already broken the century mark twice this season. They won’t have to wait very long for their first big tests of the new year. They face of against West Liberty and Wheeling Jesuit on January 10th and and 12th.

The West Liberty Hilltoppers — ranked No. 19 in the country — have already had a few big wins this season, highlighted by an 88-65 victory of the defending champs in the WLU Conference Challenge. They are powered by the MEC’s leading scorer senior guard Liz Flowers (19.4 points a game) and senior forward Kierra Simpson — tied for first in the MEC with 11.1 rebounds a night — who is averaging a double-double on the season.

While Glenville State’s high-octane offense will certainly be a challenge for WLU, the big matchup of the new year will be when the Hilltoppers travel to Wheeling January 21st for a showdown with WJU in a game that could provide some clarity towards the MEC regular season championship.

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