Predictions for an unpredictable season. That’s largely what the Mountain West’s annual women’s basketball preseason poll and player awards amount to in 2020-21.
Two days after releasing a modified league schedule designed to reduce travel and curb potential coronavirus exposure, the Mountain West on Thursday released its poll and preseason honors for the upcoming campaign. Defending regular-season champion Fresno State, which returns nearly all of its key players, is penciled in by media and league coaches as the team to beat.
It’s something of a changing of the guard. Boise State, the league’s preseason favorite for the last three years, was hit hard by graduation after edging Fresno State in last season’s MWC tournament final. The Broncos lost four starters and are third in this year’s preseason poll.
New Mexico, which has three starters back from a tumultuous 15-17 season, was picked sixth, but junior transfer LaTascya Duff was named MWC Newcomer of the Year. Duff earned WBCA JUCO All-American honors after averaging 17.0 points per game at Shelton State (Ala.) last season.
Forecasting what the Mountain West women’s hoops season might bring is more difficult than ever. Not only does the league have two new head coaches and a slew of first-year players, numerous teams’ preseason preparations have been heavily impacted by pandemic restrictions. The virus seems certain to make a significant mark on the upcoming season, as well.
No program has been hit harder than UNM, which has managed just a handful of full practices because of New Mexico’s strict pandemic restrictions. The Lobos are set to relocate to Canyon, Texas, on Friday where they’ll practice at West Texas A&M for the time being.
Lobos coach Mike Bradbury acknowledged the limited preparations are a concern. It is uncertain whether the Lobos will play any non-conference games before MWC play begins.
“I would feel better if we could’ve practiced,” Bradbury said. “I feel like we could have been competitive in the league. As it stands, it will be difficult.”
Other MWC teams also have been impacted by pandemic restrictions, which gives veteran squads like Fresno State an early advantage. Still, Bradbury expects teams like UNM, with numerous newcomers, to make strides if they can play through the regular season.
“The conference tournament could be interesting,” he said, “if we can all get there.”
Fresno State, which returns reigning conference player of the year Maddi Utti, received 22 of 26 first-place votes. Bradbury cast one of the dissenting votes, picking San Diego State to finish first. The Aztecs’ roster includes All-MWC point guard Sophia Ramos, preseason freshman of the year Asia Avinger and Minnesota transfer Mercedes Staples.