Tough race to handicap? Believe it.
Six of 11 Mountain West women’s basketball teams received first-place votes in the annual conference preseason poll released Wednesday. Fresno State was tabbed as the favorite with defending regular-season champ New Mexico picked second.
UNM’s Antonia Anderson was named to the five-player All-MWC team, the only Lobo to receive preseason honors in the poll of league head coaches and media members.
Offseason player movement and lots of it complicated this year’s team voting, as did pandemic-related rules allowing players an extra year of eligibility. All of the Mountain West’s top contenders from last season have had significant roster changes, making this year’s race difficult to predict and potentially ultra-competitive.
“There are a lot of teams that could finish anywhere from first to eighth,” UNM coach Mike Bradbury said, “including us. I’d say the poll looks about right, but when was the last time it ended up being correct? Maybe being picked second is good news. It means we have a chance to win it.”
New Mexico was picked to finish sixth last preseason but ended up on top in a strange, COVID-impacted campaign filled with postponements, cancellations and games played in largely empty arenas. The Lobos played all but two games outside of New Mexico because of pandemic restrictions and finished 15-5 overall, 11-3 in MWC play.
Fresno State (17-11, 12-6 last season) received 13 of 27 first-place votes in the preseason poll. Junior twins Haley and Hannah Cavinder were named to the all-conference team with Haley selected as preseason player of the year.
New Mexico received seven first-place votes, with UNLV, Colorado State, San Diego State and San Jose State splitting the other six. Wyoming, which won last season’s conference tournament, did not receive a first-place vote and was picked to finish fifth.
Coaches are not allowed to vote for their own teams in the polling, and Bradbury voted for San Diego State to finish first.
“It is tough to call this year because there are so many factors,” Bradbury said. “COVID can still impact games and travel, and injuries always come into play. Fresno State has the two best players, and I really like my team if we stay healthy. But one key injury could change everything.”
Notably absent from the league’s preseason all-conference team was Jaedyn De La Cerda, UNM’s leading scorer and an All-MWC postseason selection in 2020-21. Colorado State point guard McKenna Hofschild and UNLV post Desi-Rae Young joined Anderson and the Cavinders on the squad.
“I think they missed that one,” Bradbury said.
De La Cerda was diplomatic when asked about the all-conference selections.
“I’m just here to play basketball,” she said. “We’ll see how things end up at the end of the season.”
San Diego State’s Asia Avinger was picked as preseason freshman of the year, while Nevada point guard Kylie Jimenez, a graduate transfer from Portland State, was named preseason newcomer of the year.