Cobbers Selected Second In MIAC Preseason Poll

Cobbers Selected Second In MIAC Preseason Poll

MIAC women's basketball preview courtesy of Matt Higgins and the MIAC office

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) is a particularly strong women's basketball league, but the it was exceptionally competitive - even by its own lofty standards - a year ago. In 2011-12, two-thirds of the conference's 12 teams finished with a winning record overall, and nine teams finished with a double-digit victory total in MIAC play. With the 2012-13 season about to tip off, MIAC fans are expecting more of the same, as the league appears to again have an incredible mix of talent and depth.
The strong year by the conference was championed by an amazing season by St. Thomas. Head Coach Ruth Sinn's team was perfect throughout a daunting conference schedule, going 22-0 in the regular season to capture the title, and it added two more wins in the MIAC Playoffs to grab the postseason crown as well. The Tommies made a splash on the national stage, going all the way to the Division III Final Four, where they finished third. UST racked up a remarkable 31-2 record with 30-straight wins, only losing the season opener, and in the national semifinals.
Gustavus was also a 20-win team and the runner-up in both the regular season and the MIAC playoffs, finishing 20-7 overall and 17-5 in conference play. Concordia, St. Olaf, Saint Mary's and Bethel rounded out the league's six-team Playoff field, with the Cardinals and Cobbers advancing to the semifinals. Augsburg, Macalester and Saint Benedict were just outside the postseason picture with at least 10 MIAC wins each, and Hamline, Carleton and St. Catherine rounded out the standings.
Though the Tommies won the league title by five games, the drama to join UST in the postseason field was intense all the way through the final day of the regular season, with nine teams competing for six Playoff spots. All those contenders appear to have an eye towards the postseason again in 2012-13, and it wouldn't be surprising to see the other three teams also insert themselves into the conversation as the competitive balance is expected to be at an all-time high.
Tommies atop the poll
With last season's championship experience and some extremely talented players back in the mix, it was no surprise to see Sinn's team atop the 2012-13 MIAC Women's Basketball Preseason Coaches' Poll as the favorite to again win the league title for the third year in a row. UST was the unanimous pick, receiving 11 of 12 first-place votes and 121 points in the poll, which does not allow coaches to vote for their own team.
The MIAC coaches tabbed Concordia as the Tommies' top competition for the league title, as the Cobbers received the other first-place vote and 105 total points to finish second in the poll. St. Olaf was also picked to return to the postseason with 96 points to finish third. That's where the league's parity starts to really show, as the next three teams were separated by just 12 points. Gustavus and Saint Mary's tied for the fourth spot with 87 points apiece, and Saint Benedict was predicted to return to the Playoffs by the league coaches with a sixth-place showing and 75 points.
Bethel finished seventh with 54 points, just four points ahead of Augsburg's 49. Hamline finsihed just six points behind the Auggies, coming in ninth with 43 points, and Carleton was another four pouts back in 10th with a total of 39. Macalester (25) and St. Catherine (11) rounded out the final two spots in the preseason predictions.
What's new?
This season, MIAC benches will have two new faces among the 10 familiar ones, as two new head coaches make their conference debuts this week. Mickey Haller stepped down after a successful run at Gustavus, and in to lead the Gusties in 2012-13 and beyond is Laurie Kelly. After nine years as head coach at Division I Northern Arizona, Kelly returns to the MIAC, where she had an All-American career at St. Thomas.
St. Catherine will also have new leadership, as Gary Rufsvold stepped aside from his coaching duties to assume a new role in the Wildcats' athletic department. Sean Pinkerton has been named SCU's interim head coach for the 2012-13 season after serving as the head coach at Morrisville State for three years with some assistant coach and high school credits on his resume' as well.
Who's back?
Though the Tommies graduated some talented seniors off last year's title team, reigning MIAC Coach-of-the-Year Sinn has plenty of firepower back to re-establish her squad as the favorite in the MIAC, and one of the top teams in all of Division III. All-America forward Taylor Young and All-MIAC center Maggie Weiers both return for their junior seasons to give St. Thomas the deepest, most talented frontcourt in the conference. Classmate Kelly Brandenburg emerged in the guard rotation a year ago, and could be poised for a breakout year in the Tommie backcourt.

The coaches tabbed Concordia to finish second because of the Cobbers' returning All-Conference talent. Head Coach Jessica Rahman welcomes back a trio of players who all averaged double-digit scoring figured a year ago, with senior forward Tricia Sorensen (13.6 ppg), senior guard Emily Theising (11.2 ppg) both back after All-MIAC seasons a year ago, and junior center Alexandra Lippert (10.6 ppg) was an All-Conference Honorable Mention selection.
The returning talent at St. Olaf is also staggering, as the Oles welcome back four players with at least 24 starts in their career. Two-time All-MIAC guard Mackenzie Wolter (13.2 ppg) will again be among the league's best  players this season, and Elise Raney (11.0 ppg) and All-Defensive team pick Brittany Webber will help the Oles try to return to the MIAC Playoffs in 2012-13.
Gustavus was the top threat to the Tommies' title hopes a year ago, and Kelly's first Gustie team has a pair of seniors back to lead the way. Abby Rothenbuehler led the MIAC in rebounds and is one of the top post presences in the league, and Kelsey Florian appears ready for a starring role after earning the MIAC Sixth Player-of-the-Year award in 2011-12. Meanwhile, Saint Mary's was one of the MIAC's most pleasant surprises a year ago, and the Cardinals will aim to continue their rise behind All-Conference returners Jessica Thone (13.7 ppg) and Jamie Stefley (12/3 ppg) who return as one of the league's highest-scoring duos.
All-MIAC senior wing Whitney Canton returns to lead Saint Benedict, which also gets forward Morgan Dale back after missing last season with an injury, as well as junior Briann Barrett and her 10.0 pgg. Bethel had to say goodbye to reigning MIAC Player-of-the-Year Taylor Sheley and her 19.3 points per game, but the Royals will try to return to the playoffs between All-Defensive Team guard Kelly Swenson and fellow seniors Alicia Montbriand and Kristi Nye Studanski.
The Auggies were another surprise team a year ago, upping their win total by nine behind first-year Head Coach Bill McKee, and Augsburg will look to take another step forward in 2012-13. The Auggies graduated All-MIAC star Serenae Levine, but bring back Honorable Mention pick Brittany Zins and talented sophomore Abbey Luger. Hamline could also compete for a Playoff spot this season behind a returning All-MIAC Honorable Mention backcourt duo of Kara Poirier and Jordan Sammons, the latter of which was named to the All-MIAC First Year Team as well after averaging 14.3 ppg.
Carleton's Akemi Arzouman will be looking for her third-straight All-MIAC honor as a senior after leading the Knights with 15.1 ppg last year, and she'll be joined by All-First Year Team selection Skylar Tsutsui and her 12.7 ppg. Macalester loses All-MIAC center Holly Schiedermayer, but hopes a seasoned guard trio of Kyanna Jones, Taylor Pike and Emma Leyden helps the Scots take a step forward under the direction of 2010-11 MIAC Coach-of-the-Year Ellen Thompson. In his first season, Pinkerton's St. Catherine team will be led by Sarina Baker, who averaged 16.6 ppg to earn All-First Year honors a season ago, and fellow sophomore Sarah Mong gives the new coach a strong foundation to build upon.
Circle these dates
The 2012-13 season officially tips off Thursday with one MIAC team - Concordia - taking the court in nonconference action, and the year will really begin in earnest this weekend with 14 games outside the conference on the schedule. The 12 teams will begin MIAC play on Nov. 28 and will wrap up the 2012 portion of the league schedule on Dec. 12. The 2013 portion of MIAC play will start on Jan. 2 with the regular season concluding on Saturday, Feb. 16. The MIAC Playoffs are set for quarterfinals on Feb. 19, semifinals on Feb. 21 and the postseason championship on Saturday, Feb. 23.
With 22 conference games on each team's schedule and a full double-round robin of MIAC action among the 12 teams, the season is sure to be action-packed. Add in the league's parity in 2012-13 and the intense battle for positioning in the MIAC standings and conference Playoffs, Thursday's tip off can't come soon enough for MIAC basketball fans.

Click here for the complete MIAC women's basketball preview

2012-13 MIAC Women's Basketball Preseason Coaches' Poll
Coaches voted for every team in the conference except their own team. Points were assigned for each vote (11 for first, 10 for second, etc.) Teams are ranked in order of highest point total to lowest with vote totals listed and first-place votes shown in parentheses.

2012-13 MIAC Women's Basketball
Preseason Coaches' Poll
Rank Institution Total
1 St. Thomas (11) 121
2 Concordia (1)       105
3 St. Olaf 96
T4 Gustavus 87
T4 Saint Mary's 87
6 Saint Benedict 75
7 Bethel 54
8 Augsburg 49
9 Hamline 43
10 Carleton 39
11 Macalester 25
12 St. Catherine 11

2012-13 MIAC Women's Basketball Playoffs
The 2012-13 MIAC Playoffs will feature the top six teams in the conference standings playing in a high-seed-host, single-elimination postseason tournament. The top two seeds receive first-round byes, with the other four squaring off in the quarterfinals. The two quarterfinal games will be held Feb. 19 with the winners advancing to the semifinals on Feb. 21. The championship is scheduled for Feb. 23. The winner will receive the MIAC's automatic bid to the 2012-13 NCAA Division III Women's Basketball Tournament.

| MIAC Women's Basketball Playoffs Websites | 2011-12 | 2012-13 |