CBT's NAIA Women's Update: Picture Clarifying
Six weeks short of the NAIA Women’s Basketball National Championship opening round, the national forecast is starting to get a bit clearer. Since the pre-season poll, some rankings have shifted dramatically, but the Top 5 is pretty much still populated by the expected powers … even if they’re in different order.
While the NCAA polls can be shifted fairly dramatically by one vote from a random writer, NAIA polls are based on a panel of head coaches from each conference, independents and unaffiliated groups. Determining the Top 25 is a system of points — 30 of which will land a team at the number one spot, 29 points at second and down from there.
The current rankings are the fifth set since the preseason poll in October. The NAIA Tournament opens on March 11 and 12 on campus sites and play will continue until the champ is crowned March 22 in Sioux City, Iowa.
1. Thomas More (Crestview Hills, Kentucky — Mid-South Conference): The Saints went on an 18-win streak overall to reclaim their top spot for the second year in a row after rejoining the NAIA. Upon re-entry, they took the NAIA championship last season and are pacing themselves to defend that title. The Saints are powered by a balanced scoring attack, with juniors Emily Simon (11.6 points per game) and Summer Secrist (10.3 ppg) scoring double figures and sophomores Kelly Brenner (9.2 ppg) and Alex Smith (8.5 ppg) not far behind.
2. Southeastern (Lakeland, Fla. — Sun Conference): Fire moves rapidly from No. 5 to 2 after a 16-game winning streak and making history by securing head Coach Tim Hays’ 100th consecutive Sun Conference win and he’s also now the school’s all-time winningest coach. Angela Perry is leading with 19.5 ppg and 6.4 rpg. Marta Aranda is backing her with 11.1 ppg and tied with Tahanee Bennell with 4.0 assists per game.
3. The Masters (Santa Clarita, Calif. — Golden State Athletic Conference) - Starting off the preseason polls as the dark horse, the Mustangs dramatically flew to the No. 3 spot from No. 24 in the preseason polls. The Mustangs had been undefeated at 22-0 under first-time head coach Lisa Zamorez, who joined TMU in April 2021. Brazilian big Stephanie Soares — dominant at 6-foot-6 — is leading her team with nearly 21 points and 12 boards a game. Ella Brubaker adds 15.9 ppg and 2.4 rpg. TMU will host the GSAC women’s basketball tournament this year.
4. Campbellsville (Campbellsville, Ky. — Mid-South) — The Tigers have bounced between the third and first spots since preseason, but after a 15-0 start, they’re now 18-3, still averaging 78.1 points per game. Leading scorers Ashlee McGeorge and Courtney Pritchett are both averaging a little over 10 ppg to help the Tigers stay within the Top 5, though their most recent loss — to Pikeville, a tight 70-69 setback — could send them falling.
5. Westmont (Montecito, Calif — GSAC): Holding steady at the No. 5 spot for the past two polls, the Warriors have slipped from their original top spot thanks largely to multiple injuries and illnesses. Standouts Iyree Jarrett with 17.1 ppg and Stefanie Berberabe with 16.5 ppg have received a recent boost from up-and-coming sophomore Destiny Okonkwo’s back-to-back double doubles. From above, take note that Master’s “had been” undefeated … until a January 29 thumping by Westmont, which should signal a power shift in the GSAC.
No. 6 Marian moved up a spot with a 19-2 record with Imani Guy averaging 17.1 ppg and Ella Collier adding 15.0 ppg as well. No. 11 Indiana Wesleyan stayed put with an overall 18-3 record. Lilli Frasure is leading the way with 15.3 ppg, backed by Kelli Damman and Jordan Reid.
Carroll College swapped spots with Marian, taking No. 7 spot with a record of 19-5. The Saints feature Danielle Wagner averaging 13.4 ppg and 5.5 rebounds with teammate Christine Denny scoring 12.4 ppg and grabbing 6.4 rebounds. University of Providence moved up to No. 16 from 22 and is now 21-4 after a loss to Carroll. They are being led by Emilee Maldonado scoring 16.8 ppg and Parker Esary bringing 15.4 ppg and 7.2 rebounds. The Rocky Mountain College Battlin’ Bears have slipped three spots to No. 18. N’dea Flye is averaging 20.4 ppg to help them keep its record of 20-3 this season.
Great Plains Athletic Conference (GPAC)
Three of 12 GPAC teams are in the poll, with Morningside at No. 8 with a 12-game winning streak to help their 20-3 record. Sierra Mitchell (16.3 ppg), Sophia Peppers (15.2 ppg) and Taylor Rodenburgh (12.6 ppg) have powered the Mustangs to the top of the conference. Northwestern’s Red Raiders fought their way up to No. 13 with the help of Molly Schany’s 15 ppg and 6.5 rebounds. They’re currently 19-5 under first-time head coach Kristin Rotert, but should fall after consecutive losses. Concordia slipped four spots to No. 23 and will likely slip further, having now lost four in a row.
Sooner Athletic Conference (SAC)
Wayland Baptist dropped to No. 12, but with a 22-3 overall record and a three-game win streak, should be ready to climb again. Kaylee Edgemon (18.9 ppg ) and Jenna Cooper (18.3 ppg) are an elite scoring combo. Mid-America Christian checks in at No. 21 after not having been ranked this season, reeling off 12 wins in a row, including an 83-74 win against Wayland Baptist.
Heart of America Conference (HOA)
Emma Kelchen leads a balanced Clarke Pride, which has jumped nine spots from the preseason with a 21-2 record. She is one of five Clarke players averaging double-figure scoring. Central Methodist fell to No. 15 even though Arleighshya McElroy is averaging 21.5 ppg and Daryna Bachkarova is adding 16.8 ppg.
Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference (KCAC)
Sterling’s Lady Warriors jumped a spot to No. 9 at 23-1 and riding a 15-game win streak. The high-scoring crew has broken 100 points twice this year, including 107 against York on January 5.
Appalachian Athletic Conference (AAC)
First-season coach Bryon Lawhon has taken Bryan on an impressive 21-0 run that moved them to the No. 14 spot. Freshman Gracee Dishman is having a big season, scoring 21.6 ppg.
Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference (WHAC)
Indiana Tech’s Warriors stayed at No. 17, sitting at 22-2 with leading scorers Emma Tuominen averaging 14.4 ppg and 8 rebounds and Kyra Whitaker chipping in 13.0 ppg.
River States Conference (RSC)
Rio Grande’s Hailey Jordan is averaging 18.5 ppg, pushing the Red Raiders with their 20-1 record. They dropped back one spot — to No. 19 — behind Rocky Mountain College.
Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference (CCAC)
St. Xavier’s first-year coach Travis Brewster has led the Cougars to a 14-5 season, good for No, 20, riding a seven-game win streak into February.
Cascade Collegiate Conference (CCC)
Lewis-Clark State’s Callie Stevens and Maddie Holm have been instrumental in bringing the Warriors from unranked to No. 22. Stevens has averaged 17.5 ppg and Holm 12.8 ppg with 11.1 rebounds.
North Star Athletic Association (NSAA)
The Dakota State Trojans slip three spots to No. 24 with a record of 16-7. Jessi Giles is standing out with 18.3 ppg for a team that has busted the 100-point mark five times this season, most recently 114-point outburst against Waldorf.
Gulf Coast Athletic Conference (GCAC)
Rust made its first appearance in the rankings at No. 25, with a record of 17-2 and leading scorer Shay Johnson averaging 10.9 ppg.
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