West Coast Conference: something standard, something new

With nine consecutive West Coast Conference championships under their belts, Gonzaga’s dominance resembles that of another West coast team. And once again this season, the Bulldogs have been tabbed in preseason polls to take the top spot.

There’s good reason for that: Gonzaga lost only two players last year, and they return four starters: Jasmine Redmon, Haiden Palmer, Sunny Greinacher and Shelby Cheslek. Coach Kelly Graves, in his sixteenth year, said the team is taking the high expectations in stride.

“It’s humbling to be picked first again, but there’s no pressure,” he said. “The kids are used to it. They embrace it.”

Graves is confident in the depth and experience of the Bulldogs. Seniors Redmon, who was the conference’s defensive player of the year last season, and Palmer represent the last link to the Elite Eight team of 2011.

The Bulldogs are also long. Out of the 15 players on the roster, 10 are six feet tall or more.

Gonzaga has former Stanford stand out Nicole Powell as assistant coach this year, for the first time. Graves would love to best the Cardinal, who dominate in the Pac-12 the way the Bulldogs do in the WCC. Gonzaga’s RPI is usually just a few percentage points behind that of the larger conference.

“Our goals never change: win conference, and go as far as we can go in the Tournament,” Graves said.

They begin their season tomorrow night at home against Idaho in the WNIT. The arena is sold out, as it often is.

A newcomer to the WCC this year is Pacific, which migrated from the Big West Conference. They were conference tournament runners up last season, and went on to play in the WNIT. They lost three starters, and are picked to finish fifth in the WCC this season.

San Diego, tabbed to finish second, was 22-10 last year and advanced to the second round of the WNIT. They lost only one player last season. Third-pick Saint Mary’s returns most of their roster, and Brigham Young, chosen fourth, has several returners including some coming back from injuries. The WCC’s top five teams should entertain fans with great battles.

Loyola Marymount, Portland, San Francisco, Santa Clara and Pepperdine round out the rest of the rankings.

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