By COURTLIN HAYGARTH | HSU Sports Network
RUSSELLVILLE — With the beginning of the 2022-23 basketball season just over a month away, the Henderson State women’s basketball program was picked to finish third in the Great American Conference Preseason Poll, the league announced Wednesday.
The league’s coaches tabbed Harding as the preseason favorite with 116 total points and eight first-place votes. Southern Nazarene, who was picked second, and Southwestern Oklahoma State, who was selected fifth, each picked up two of the remaining four first-place nods. Henderson St., Arkansas Tech (4) and SWOSU rounded out the Top-5.
The Reddies come into this season off a 19-11 2021-22 season, including going 13-9 in conference, which landed them the No. 4 seed in last year’s GAC Tournament. After defeating East Central in the opening round, HSU fell to No. 1 and eventual conference champion Southwestern Oklahoma State in the semifinals. Since the 2019-20 season, Henderson has made the conference semis twice.
“Being picked third is a great start to our season, but as everyone knows, it is not where you start but where you finish,” head coach Jill Thomas said ahead of her 10th year at Henderson. “Our league is very good with tough competition day in and day out. With the depth we have we are able to have more competitive practices and challenge each other, which will be huge for us this season.”
Coach Thomas and her staff return 11 players from last year’s team, including three starters. The veterans leading this season’s group will be returning point guard Sonni Martin, All-GAC Second Team honoree Ashley Farrar and senior guard Gracie Raby. The Reddies will need to replace Lani Snowden, Karrington Whaley and Maci Mains, with Snowden and Whaley starting on last season’s semifinal team.
“Filling the shoes of those three seniors [will be] hard to do, especially since they were such key players for us in our system. This season, we have so much depth at every position and we could not be more excited about it,” Thomas said. “We return a lot of guards who have played heavy minutes throughout their career and will have a few post players inside who are able to play the roll [Karrington Whaley] had with us in the paint. We are thrilled about the 15 players on this roster and what they are capable of.”
Henderson State begins its journey for a third berth in the conference semifinals in the last four seasons with the GAC/MIAA Conference Challenge in Searcy, Arkansas Nov. 11-12. First on the docket is a date with Missouri Southern Friday, Nov. 11 at 3 p.m. before facing Emporia St. Saturday, Nov. 12 at 11 a.m. The home portion of HSU’s schedule begins with Champion Christian Wednesday, Nov. 16 at 5:30 p.m.