Lady Toppers picked to finish fourth in Conference USA

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In the Conference USA preseason coaches’ poll released Wednesday, two-time reigning CUSA tournament champion Western Kentucky was picked fourth while 2017-18 regular-season champion Alabama Bimringham was picked as the favorite to win the league.

Coming off a 24-9 season and its fourth trip to the NCAA Tournament over the last six seasons, WKU will be led by first-year coach Greg Collins who took over after six years as an assistant and associate head coach under Michelle Clark-Heard. Collins will be faced with the task of replacing two of the program’s all-time great players, Tashia Brown and Ivy Brown, in his first season.

Western returns both the CUSA freshman and sixth player of the year in Raneem Elgedawy and Dee Givens, respectively. Elgedawy, in her first season on The Hill, made an instant impact in the post for the Lady Toppers, starting all 33 games and averaging nine points and 7.1 rebounds per game.

The Egyptian native totaled five double-doubles, the most by a WKU freshman since Crystal Kelly in 2004-05, and had 23 rebounds in a single game against Florida International on Jan. 11, the most boards by any Division I freshman in a game since 2015-16.

After exploding for 20 points in last year’s season-opening upset of No. 16 Missouri, Givens settled into her role as WKU’s offensive spark off the bench, averaging 8.8 points and 4.1 rebounds per game. The redshirt-junior was instrumental in conference play, hitting double digits in nine CUSA contests and sporting an assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.43 across the 16 games.

Also back for the Lady Toppers will be point guard Whitney Creech, combo guard Kayla Smith, 3-point specialists Sidnee Bopp and Terri Smith and sophomore Sherry Porter, who started 15 games.

The Lady Toppers will also have both Alexis Brewer and Arame Niang eligible after the duo sat out the 2017-18 season to satisfy NCAA transfer rules. They will be joined by graduate transfer Jae’Lisa Allen, who comes to WKU from the University of Virginia, and freshmen Myriah Noodel-Haywood, Kallie Searcy and Meral Abdelgawad.

Rice received five first-place votes and was selected to finish second in Conference USA while Middle Tennessee got one first-place vote and is predicted to come in third.