For the eighth consecutive season and the 18th time in the last 19 years, the Liberty women's basketball team has been tabbed as the preseason favorite to win the Big South Conference title, as voted upon by the conference's head coaches. Meanwhile, redshirt senior post player Ashley Rininger was named the Big South Preseason Player of the Year and senior point guard Sadalia Ellis was included on the second team preseason all-conference squad. The honors were announced at Monday's 2015-16 Big South Basketball Media Day, held at the Marriott Fairfield Inn & Suites Uptown Charlotte hotel.
Liberty, which swept the 2014-15 Big South regular-season and tournament titles, received six of 11 possible first-place votes and 116 total points. Led by preseason all-conference selections Erica Williams, Schaquilla Nunn and Aliyah Kilpatrick, Winthrop placed second in the poll with four first-place votes and 105 points. Radford earned 92 points for third place, after playing in the 2015 WNIT.
The fourth through sixth-place teams in the poll were separated by only seven points, led by 2015 Big South runner-up High Point in fourth (74 points). The Panthers were followed closely by fifth-place Campbell (72) and sixth-place Gardner-Webb (67).
Presbyterian (seventh place, 59 points), UNC Asheville (eighth, 48), Longwood (ninth, 42), Coastal Carolina (10th, 36) and Charleston Southern (11th, 15) rounded out the poll. Coastal Carolina garnered the final first-place nod.
Rininger is the first Lady Flame since Avery Warley in 2011 to be voted Big South Preseason Player of the Year. She was voted MVP of the 2015 Big South Championship and earned her second straight first team All-Big South selection. Rininger, who paced the Lady Flames with 12.8 ppg and 8.9 rpg, was also a first team Capital One Academic All-American.
Ellis started 32 games at point guard as a junior, finishing second in the Big South in assists (4.1 apg) and fifth in steals (2.2 spg). She scored 7.8 ppg and shot a career-best 77.3 percent from the free throw line.
Rininger and Ellis are two of Liberty's three returning starters from 2014-15, along with redshirt senior post Katelyn Adams. Head coach Carey Green's squad will also add redshirt junior guard Mikal Johnson, who scored 10.5 ppg at Rider in 2013-14, and seven newcomers.
Liberty is two and a half weeks away from its 2015-16 season opener, a Nov. 13 matchup at Appalachian State. Liberty will travel to Gardner-Webb on Dec. 2 for its first of 20 Big South Conference tilts this season.
The 2016 Big South Women's Basketball Championship will span March 10-13, with the winner earning the Big South's automatic bid to the 2016 NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Championship. The tournament location will be announced in November.
2015-16 Big South Women's Basketball Preseason Poll Team (First-place votes) – Points 1) Liberty (6) – 116 2) Winthrop (4) – 105 3) Radford – 92 4) High Point – 74 5) Campbell – 72 6) Gardner-Webb – 67 7) Presbyterian – 59 8) UNC Asheville – 48 9) Longwood – 42 10) Coastal Carolina (1) – 36 11) Charleston Southern – 15
2015-16 Big South Women's Basketball Preseason All-Conference Team First Team Ashley Rininger, Liberty (Preseason Player of the Year) Erica Williams, Winthrop Schaquilla Nunn, Winthrop Kaylah Keys, High Point Aisha Foy, Radford
Second Team Sadalia Ellis, Liberty Olivia Parker, Gardner-Webb Aliyah Kilpatrick, Winthrop Raven Williams, Longwood RaeChaun Edwards, Campbell
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