Ohio State, ranked No. 3 in the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today Top 25 polls, and Georgia Tech, ranked 19th, headline the field for the 16th year of the Preseason WNIT. Several other teams are receiving votes in various preseason polls, and six of the teams are picked to win their conference or division this season. Those six are Ohio State (Big Ten); Arkansas-Little Rock (Sun Belt); Bowling Green (Mid-American); Florida Gulf Coast (Atlantic Sun); Marist (MAAC); and North Carolina A&T (MEAC).
Throughout the WNIT’s history, all 31 established conferences have been represented in the Preseason event. A total of 186 different schools have been invited to play. This year, Arkansas-Little Rock, Chicago State, Eastern Illinois, Florida Gulf Coast, North Carolina A&T, Northern Colorado, Towson, UTEP, West Virginia, and Winthrop will play in their first Preseason WNIT.
All eight first-round games will be played today, followed by Round 2 games Sunday-Monday. Semifinals are Nov. 18-19; consolation games are Nov. 20-21; and the championship is set for Sunday, Nov. 22. Teams are guaranteed to play three games in the Preseason WNIT. All games are played on home campuses.
In last year’s Preseason WNIT, North Carolina defeated Oklahoma 80-79 in a fierce battle of Top-5 teams.
First-round 2009 Preseason WNIT games
(All 2008-2009 team records in parentheses)
Friday, Nov. 13, 2009
Eastern Illinois (24-9) at Ohio State (29-6), 5 p.m. ET
Towson (17-13) at West Virginia (18-15), 6 p.m. ET
UTEP (18-12) at Florida Gulf Coast (26-5), 7 p.m. ET
Arkansas-Little Rock (26-7) at Oklahoma State (17-16), 7 p.m. ET
Winthrop (16-16) at Georgia Tech (22-10), 7:30 p.m. ET
Chicago State (16-13) at Bowling Green (29-5), 7:30 p.m. ET
North Carolina A&T (26-7) at Marist (29-4), 7:30 p.m. ET
Northern Colorado (12-18) at New Mexico (25-11), 9 p.m. ET
Below are some highlights of each of the 16 participating teams:
- Arkansas-Little Rock is coming off its best win total in school history and returns all five starters from its 26-7 team.
- Chicago State has posted more wins in the past two years than at any other time, and welcomes back four starters from its 16-13 team.
- Bowling Green returns honorable mention All-American Tracy Pontius and nearly everyone else from a 29-5 team that won its fifth straight MAC regular-season title.
- Eastern Illinois vaulted to a 24-9 record last year, its most Division I wins in school history, and the incoming class of freshmen received national recognition.
- Florida Gulf Coast gets every player back from its second straight postseason appearance. The Eagles, still in Division I infancy, finished the season on a 17-1 stretch and a 26-5 record overall.
- Georgia Tech (22-10) topped 20 wins for the third straight season, and also earned its third straight NCAA Tournament berth. The Yellow Jackets return four starters and are an early-season Top-20 team.
- Marist will kick off All-American Rachele Fitz’s senior season with its first Preseason WNIT invitation. Marist (29-4) has won six straight Metro Atlantic titles and become a staple in the NCAA Tournament.
- New Mexico welcomes back all but two players from a 25-11 team that advanced to the quarterfinals of the Postseason WNIT and won at least 20 games for the 11th time in 12 years.
- North Carolina A&T is coming off its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 15 years. A senior class of five players looks to build on a school record for wins that last year’s 26-7 team posted.
- Northern Colorado has high expectations in the Big Sky with all five starters returning from a young team that went 12-18 last year.
- Oklahoma State signed three top junior college players to support Andrea Riley, who averaged 23.0 ppg, 6.0 apg, and 4.2 rpg last year. The Cowgirls expect bigger things for 2009-10 coming off their 17-16 season in the Big 12.
- Ohio State, picked No. 3 in early polls for this fall, advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament after capturing the Big Ten Conference regular-season and tournament titles. The Buckeyes return two-time Big Ten Player of the Year Jantel Lavender, as well as Big Ten Freshman of the Year Samantha Prahalis.
- Towson is a program on the rise, winning its first Colonial Athletic Association Tournament games in school history in 2008 and 2009. The Tigers welcome back their top five scorers from a 17-13 team.
- UTEP, which went 18-12 last year with its youngest team in school history, has everybody back, including three players lost to season-ending injuries and the Conference-USA Player of the Year (Jareica Hughes) and Freshman of the Year (Dietra Caldwell).
- West Virginia also was young and injury-bitten last year, but looks forward to getting three returning starters back on the court from an 18-15 team that showed promise of things to come with some upset victories.
- Winthrop made the postseason (WNIT) for the first time in its Division I history last year as the automatic berth out of the Big South. The Lady Eagles (16-16) recorded back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in school history.