Here are five teams and five players to watch when the NCAA Divison II women's basketball tournament begins on March 10.
Five teams to watch
1. Ashland, 31-0 overall, 20-0 Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. All eyes will be on the Eagles, the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region, for two obvious reasons. They are the only undefeated team in Division II and they are ranked No. 1 in the WBCA top 25. Over the last two seasons, the Eagles are 62-2. Last year their season ended in the Midwest Regional semifinals. Ashland is again the top seed in the Midwest. Interesting note: Senior guard Kelsey Peare became the first player in Ashland history to record 850-plus points, 300-plus rebounds and 350-plus assists.
2. Alaska Anchorage, 29-1 overall, 20-0 Great Northwest Conference. A year ago, the Seawolves came six points shy of winning a national championship, losing 78-73 to Lubbock Christian in the title game. The Seawolves, the No. 1 seed in the West Region, are undefeated against Division II competition and are currently riding a school-record 25-game winning streak. They are 67-4 in the last two seasons. Interesting fact: The Seawolves have won five of the seven GNAC Tournament titles.
3. California Baptist, 31-2 overall, 20-0 PacWest. The Lancers, the No. 2 seed in the West Region, head into the West Regional riding a school-record 28-game winning streak, shattering last year’s mark of 21 consecutive wins. Coach Jarrod Olson said after winning the PacWest Tournament: “I never put a lot of thought into the hardware; it is more about the journey getting there. It is a lot of fun along the way. A lot of interesting things happen.” Interesting fact: California Baptist reached the championship game of the PacWest Tournament three previous years and lost. The fourth time was the charm for the Lancers.
4. Emporia State, 27-4 overall, 15-4 Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association. The Hornets, the No. 1 seed in the Central Region, has reached the championship game of the MIAA Tournament seven straight seasons and won their fifth straight tournament title, which earned them the No. 1 seed in the Central Region. Emporia State enters the Division II tournament on a seven-game winning streak. Interesting fact: Because one of the Kansas High School state basketball tournaments is played at Emporia State home arena the same weekend as regional, the Hornets will not be able to host. This also happened last year.
5. Colorado State Pueblo, 27-3 overall, 20-2 Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. The Thunderwolves, the No. 1 seed in the South Central, lost in the semifinals of the RMAC Tournament to Regis. They have been in the top 10 most of the season and they went into the conference tournament ranked No. 1 in the South Central Region. Interesting fact: Last year CSU-Pueblo set a school record with 26 wins and broke that mark this season.
Five players to watch
1. Jen Gemma, Bentley, 6-0, senior, forward. Earlier this season, Gemma recorded her 2,000th point and 1,000th rebound in the same game. Gemma also became the school’s all-time leading scorer, breaking Lauren Battista’s mark established in 2014. Gemma now has scored over 2,120 points. Gemma has been voted NE-10 player of the year the last two seasons. She is averaging 18.6 points and 8.7 rebounds per game.
2. Cassidy Mihalko, California Baptist, 5-10, senior guard. Mihalko was selected PacWest player of the year. Mihalko is averaging 20 points, 7.7 rebounds and 2.2 steals. She is shooting 56 percent from the field, which led the PacWest.
3. Kelly Moten, Emporia State, 5-9, senior, guard. Moten was voted MIAA player of the year. She ranked second in conference in scoring with an 18.6 average. She also averaged 4.6 assists and 2.1 steals per game. She has scored over 1,850 points in her career.
4. Autummn Williams, Alaska Anchorage, 5-10, senior, forward. Williams was selected GNAC newcomer of the year and made first time all-conference. She averaged 21 points, 3.1 assists and 2.6 steals.
5. Taylor Peacocke, Western Washington, 5-9, senior, guard. Peacocke is leading Division II in scoring, averaging 23.4 points per game. She was selected GNAC player of the year. She led the GNAC with 20 games with at least 20 points.
Three regions to watch
1. West Region: If Alaska Anchorage and California Baptist meets in the regional championship game, it will have the feel of an overall championship game. Both teams are extremely hot, respectively on school-record winning streaks. But neither team can afford to look ahead because Western Washington is having a very good season with one of the top players in conference in Peacocke.
2. Midwest Region: A year ago, this was one of the most unpredictable region. Drury won at No. 1 seed Ashland in the semifinals and then Grand Valley State, with nine losses, beat Drury and reached the Elite Eight by beating Drury in overtime. Grand Valley finally lost to Alaska Anchorage in the semifinals. Drury looks tough again. The Panthers, the No. 2 seed, are 28-3 and have won their last eight games, including three in the Great Lakes Valley Conference Tournament. Grand Valley is the fifth seed and will be another difficult out. Grand Valley played an extremely competitive game against Ashland in the championship game of the GLIAC.
3. East Region: This region appears to be wide open. Queens (N.Y.), the No. 2 seed, had its 16-game winning streak snapped in the semifinals of the East Coast Conference Tournament. Bentley, which won the Division II title in the 2013-14, saw its 14-game winning streak come to an end in the championship game of the Northeast-10 Tournament, falling to Adelphi. Adelphi, the No. 1 seed, lost its regular-season finale and quickly bounced back by winning three games in the conference tournament. Bentley is the No. 3 seed.