Loyola’s women’s basketball team likely will go as far as center/forward Meghan Temple takes them this season.
That could be far. The Wolfpack is No. 13 in the NAIA top 25 preseason poll released Tuesday.
Temple, a 6-foot-2 junior from Houston, was All-Southern States Athletic Conference last season, averaging 11.1 points and 9.3 rebounds. The Wolfpack (27-4, 15-3 last season) won the SSAC tournament championship for the first time after finishing second in the regular-season standings.
“Meghan’s a super talent,” said coach Kelli Kennedy, who is entering her eighth season. “We had a lot of success at the end of the season, and she was one of the big reasons we did that. She can score, she can defend, she can rebound. This season, she’s going to get a lot more touches.”
Loyola, which tips off Friday against St. Thomas Houston, is picked to again finish second in the conference.
Although Temple is the only starter back, there are eight returnees. Guard Briana Oglesby, a junior from Baton Rouge’s University Lab School, averaged 9.2 points per game last season, shooting 48.5 percent on 3-point attempts. Junior post player Caroline Gonzalez, 6-2, provides size, rebounding and defense.
Freshmen Meghan Worry (5-11), Kayla Noto (5-10) and Kayla Mack (5-9) give Kennedy unaccustomed length at guard, with Nyree Grant, 6-1, providing depth in the post.
“(The freshmen) are all going to play,” Kennedy said. “We’re probably the deepest we’ve ever been.”
Coach Bo Browder, who has led the Gold Nuggets to seven Gulf Coast Athletic Conference regular-season titles and seven tournament crowns, said this year’s team could be among the best he’s had.
“We can match up against any kind of team this year — teams with size, teams with quickness,” said Browder, whose team is No. 21 in the NAIA preseason poll. “If we play outstanding defense every (game), we could be in the top 10 in the country.”
The GCAC coaches picked Xavier to win the conference championship. The Nuggets, who finished second to Southern-New Orleans in the regular season and the conference tournament last season, return 10 players, including six seniors and four starters.
Xavier tips off its season Saturday at Webber International in Babson Park, Florida.
Senior point guard Whitney Gathright was All-GCAC the past two seasons. Senior forward Donyeah Mayfield, who led the team in rebounding (7.6), “can post you up, shoot the 3 and take you off the dribble,” Browder said.
Seniors guards Alesha Smith and Trana Hopkins will be counted on to score when Gathright and Mayfield are double-teammed. Hopkins made last season’s All-GCAC tournament team.
Browder said Kelsee Singleton, a 6-2 junior center who played at Karr High School, appears poised for a breakout season.
SUNO had eight seniors last season, so Roshaun Ambrose enters her first season as head coach with eight transfer players and three freshmen.
“We were a team of quick big guards last season,” she said. “This season, we’ve got some size and will be able to mix it up a bit.”
SUNO was picked to finish second in the GCAC.
Heading the transfers are 5-8 point guard Ronika Ransford, a former McDonald’s All-American who played at Georgia as a freshman; Jessica Wilson, 6-1, who played at Mississippi Valley and was highly rated by ESPN as a high school senior in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, shooting guard Micah Brooks (Shaw University) and 5-10 small forward Octavia Allen.
The Bleu Devils (16-13, 8-6 GCAC) look to push the pace this season, third-year coach Norbert Rome said.
Senior guard/forward Alena Evans, who was first-team all-conference last season, returns along with senior shooting guard Rashida Ademoske. Rome said Ademoske will benefit most from the faster pace. She averaged just 4.7 points last season after scoring 15.6 points per game at Fisk University before transferring.
Dillard, which finished third last season, was picked to finish in that spot again.