CONWAY, Ark. (KTHV) -- After winning last season's Southland Conference championship, UCA ranks second and third in the Southland Conference women's basketball preseason polls.
Central Arkansas finished with a 14-2 league record and 24-7 overall mark and undergoing a coaching change in the offseason. The school hired Sandra Rushing as the new head coach of the Sugar Bears.
UCA returns seven lettermen from last year's championship team. Five seniors, featuring Megan Herbert, the two-time Southland Player of the Year, were picked second by the league's Sports Information Directors and received one first-place vote; while in the Coaches' Poll they were selected third and did not garner a first-place vote.
"This is something I say every year - it's just an opinion," said Rushing, who enters her 24th season as a collegiate head coach. "It's not where you're picked that means anything - it's where you actually finish. I appreciate that we're picked to be in the mix somewhere, with the changes here and me being a rookie coach in this league, but preseason polls are something I've never put high on my list."
McNeese State, which has won the previous two Southland Conference tournaments, was picked to win the league in both polls - getting seven first-place votes by the coaches and six from the SIDs. Southland newcomer Oral Roberts received two first-place votes from the SIDs and ranked third in the poll, while they were just behind the Sugar Bears again in the Coaches' Poll at 4th.
"I know this is a very competitive conference with a lot of really good players and coaches," Rushing said. "Me being new to the league, I still have a lot to learn about the entire conference but I have had the opportunity to look at film on other schools, see the stats, and I know that you can't take any team lightly. You have to prepare for every single game. If you take somebody lightly, you're going to get beat."
Megan Herbert was named to the preseason all-conference first team for the third time, joined by four other seniors in guard Britni Martin and forward Sequeena Thomas from Sam Houston State, guard Kalis Loyd from Lamar and guard Ashlyn Baggett from McNeese.
Herbert enters her final season as the nation's active career leader with 66 double-doubles (tied for 13th all time among Division I players) and is on pace to become just the fifth player in Southland Conference history to eclipse both the 2,000-point and 1,000-rebound marks. Having already reached 1,100 rebounds (eighth-most in Southland history and 289 shy of second-most), she has 1,736 points and needs 264 to become the seventh player in Southland history to reach the 2,000 milestone.
The league will feature new head coaches at four schools, with Northwestern State, Oral Roberts and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi all breaking in new coaches along with the Sugar Bears.
"There is some unknown there with so many new coaches in the league," Rushing said.
"I'm sure people are wondering the same about UCA. What are we going to be? What's going to happen? We don't know the answer to that yet, but I do know that I want us to be consistent with our effort and play hard every time we step on the floor. Play as a unit and let's support each other and things will fall in place for us. It's not about these rankings in the beginning, what matters is the ones at the end of the season. And that's what we're focused on."