The Gonzaga Women have once again been selected by the coaches to win the West Coast Conference. They ran through the WCC last year to the tune of a 17-1 record, the most wins by any team in WCC history. Earlier this week, we broke down some of the bottom-tier teams. Today, we will focus on the upper echelon of the conference and who might be able to dethrone the Zags.
1. Gonzaga Bulldogs
Last Season: 27-6 (17-1), WCC Champs, NCAA Tournament 1st round (L vs Stanford)
Overview: If you haven’t read any of the player previews or FanFest recaps, here is the Cliff Notes version of this year’s team. They lost their best player, Jill Barta, and their best three-point shooter, Emma Stach. They return everyone else, including three dynamic seniors in Laura Stockton, Chandler Smith, and Zykera Rice. Because of their team speed and quickness, they want to push the tempo and dictate pace much more this season. The Wirth twins, a pair of sophomore forwards, will look to improve on their solid freshmen campaigns. The team is looking for someone to step up and become a reliable guard behind Stockton and Jessie Loera. Jill Townsend and Louise Forsyth are the two to watch there. Their biggest glaring weakness is three-point shooting. They shot under 30 percent last season and lost their two best shooters.
Key Player: Chandler Smith (9.4 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 2.7 apg, 1.9 spg last season)
Chandler is the most versatile player on the roster. She does everything for Gonzaga. She will spend most of the time on the wing, but has spent time as a point guard and is very capable leading a fast break. She is a tenacious defender and gets in the passing lanes often. She had 13 games last season with three or more steals. Gonzaga will need her to assert herself more on the offensive end this year. She is a capable three-point shooter and an excellent creator off the bounce. She should bump up from second team to first team All-WCC and could flirt with Player of the Year honors if all goes well.
2. Saint Mary’s Gaels
Last Season: 20-11 (11-5), WNIT 1st round (L vs Colo St)
Overview: Saint Mary’s did what no other WCC team could do last season: beat Gonzaga. The Gaels handed the Zags their only conference last, defeating them 72-56 inside the McCarthey Athletic Center. The Gaels proceeded to finish second in the WCC, but were shockingly ousted in the first round of the tournament by 7th-seeded Pacific. They went on to play in their ninth consecutive WNIT. This season, they will look to improve on that 11-5 conference record, and have all the pieces to make that happen. They lose their leading scorer Stella Beck to graduation, but they return four other starters. Sydney Raggio and Megan McKay were both All-League performers last season and will make up the best front court duo in the WCC this season. With the departure of Beck, Jasmine Forcadilla, who led the team in assists a year ago, will be relied on to score more this season.
Key Player: Megan McKay (15.3 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 60.8% FG last season)
McKay led the conference in field goal percentage last season and finished top 10 in scoring and rebounding. This led to two WCC players of the week and an All-WCC First Team honor at the end of the season. The senior from Australia (obviously) is one of the favorites to win WCC Player of the Year this season and is one of the reasons SMC could challenge Gonzaga to win the league title.
3. Loyola Marymount Lions
Last Season: 19-11 (11-7), T-3 in WCC
Overview: The Lions were the surprise team of last season, finishing tied with BYU for third place in the league. They lost to San Francisco in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament, but return most of last year’s young squad. Six of the eight players who played 14+ minutes return this season, including Gabby Green, a First-Team senior guard. They played Gonzaga tough in both games last season, losing by 10 in Spokane and by six in Southern California. They played 16 games decided by 10 or fewer points last season. That should benefit a team that returns a good majority of their roster, looking to finish second or better for the first time in over a decade.
Key Player: Gabby Green (13.0 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 4.7 apg last season)
Green started her career at Cal before transferring three years ago. At Cal, she led the Pac 12 in steals her sophomore year and ranked in the top 10 in assists. After her redshirt season at LMU, she exploded on the scene last year. She earned Newcomer of the Year honors after a league-best 3.7 steals per game in conference play. She is one of the favorites to win Defensive Player of the Year this season. The 6’2” senior guard is a match-up nightmare and stuffs the stat sheet in every category.
4. BYU Cougars
Last Season: 16-14 (11-7), T-3 in WCC
Overview: The Cougars missed the postseason last year for the first time since 2009. After tying for third in the regular season, they lost in the quarterfinals of the WCC tournament to San Diego and were not selected for any postseason action. This year, they only have five upperclassmen and lose two of their top three scorers. Veteran Head Coach Jeff Judkins typically gets the most out of his players and has them playing good ball by the end of the season, so he gets the benefit of the doubt. They do return Brenna Chase, who was an All-League selection a year ago, and Sara Hamson, who won Defensive Player of the Year last season. The 6’7” Hamson is the younger sister of Jennifer Hamson, who won WCC Player of the Year in 2014 and now plays in the WNBA. Sara Hamson was second in the nation in blocked shots last year with 4.3 a game.
Key Player: Brenna Chase (13.5 ppg, 3.0 apg, 2.4 spg)
Chase was the only underclassman selected to the All-WCC First Team last season. She led the team in three-pointers and steals, and was second in assists. With the departure of Cassie Devashrayee, Chase should be the focal point of the offense and should see an uptick in scoring.
Final Word: Gonzaga probably won’t steamroll the conference like they did a year ago. Saint Mary’s is a really good, experienced team who could give the trouble in the front court. I am guessing Gonzaga will still win the WCC, but only by a game or two. I do like LMU to finish third just based on what they’re returning. BYU is going through somewhat of a roster overhaul and it would not shock me if they finished outside the top four altogether.