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Who will challenge Gonzaga for the top spot in the WCC?

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BYU and Pacific appear to be worthy challengers for Gonzaga’s place at the top of the conference.

NCAA Womens Basketball: West Coast Conference Tournament-BYU vs Pepperdine Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Now that you’ve been introduced to the five programs voted by WCC coaches to be ranked in the bottom half of the conference, let’s take a look at what the coaches think the top half will look like this year.

5. Santa Clara Broncos

Santa Clara finished 7th in the regular season standings last season, but is expected to improve thanks to a second season with senior guard Tia Hay in the fold. Hay, a native Australian, joined the Broncos last season as a junior college transfer, and was named to the All-WCC Preseason Team after finishing last year sixth in the league in scoring (15.5 ppg) and fifth in assists (4.2 apg). Hay proved she can be a prolific scorer, dropping 30 points on LMU and scoring at least 20 points ten times last season. Along with Hay, Head Coach Bill Carr will lean on Lindsey Allen, and Ashlyn Herlihy to take a big step forward and push the team’s ambition. VanAllen earned All-WCC Freshman Team honors last season and should complement Hay well in the Santa Clara backcourt, while junior forward Ashlyn Herlihy should build on a strong sophomore campaign that saw her lead the team in rebounds (7.4 rpg) and average double-figure scoring (10.9 ppg).

4. Saint Mary’s Gaels

As you might remember, Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga played an incredibly exciting double overtime semifinal match in last year’s WCC Tournament that saw Gonzaga narrowly advance. Saint Mary’s ended up with a berth in the Women’s NIT and advanced to the second round where it fell to Pepperdine. You can bet that the memory of coming so close to the WCC Final will fuel the Gaels to push hard for a berth in the conference championship this year, but they’ll have to do so without three of their top four scorers from last year. Sam Simons is the only returnee who averaged in double-figures last year. The sophomore forward can be expected to have a big year ahead already earning a spot on the All-WCC Preseason Team following a strong debut campaign where she ranked fifth in the WCC in three-point shooting percentage (40.5%).

3. Pacific Tigers

Pacific has slowly climbed the WCC standings over the last few seasons after joining the WCC in 2013 and appointing head coach Bradley Davis to take over the program in 2015. The efforts have been recognized by Davis’ fellow coaches with Pacific’s spot at third in the preseason poll after it finished last season with a 19-13 record, the first year in which Pacific finished with a winning record under Davis. The Tigers could break the 20-win threshold this season with a pair of juniors in Valerie Higgins and Brooklyn McDavid primed for big years. Last year, the pair were Pacific’s top two scorers and rebounders last season, and Higgins led the WCC in double-doubles. Pacific returns four starters from last year’s team and welcomes Retta Kakala to the lineup after she sat out last season due to the NCAA’s transfer rules. Kakala was a McDonald’s All-American in high school. With its arrow looking up, Pacific received an invitation to the Preseason WNIT Tournament where a strong showing could portend its legitimacy as a contender for the WCC title alongside BYU and Gonzaga.

2. BYU Cougars

BYU had Gonzaga’s number last year, defeating the Zags three times including the WCC Championship. The Cougars will be just as difficult this season, as it landed three athletes on the All-WCC Preseason Team, the most of any school in the conference. Senior guard Brenna Chase Dollinger was joined by juniors Sara Hamson and Paisley Johnson for those honors, and the three of them will spearhead BYU’s efforts to claim the regular season and postseason title in the WCC. The Cougars advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament where it lost to Stanford, and will be looking to make it to the second weekend this year with such a talented and experienced nucleus.

1. Gonzaga Bulldogs

This team lost serious talent and leadership from a squad that had a 16-2 regular season record in the WCC last year. Despite that, the WCC’s coaches clearly believe that Lisa Fortier still has plenty of firepower on the roster, and we’d have to agree. Looking forward to what the year has in store for this group.