HUNTSVILLE – Sam Houston State has ample reason to believe 2017-18 will be a turnaround season. They will be tasked with proving it to those outside its program.

The Bearkats have been picked to finish 13th in the Southland Conference women’s preseason poll as voted on by the league’s head coaches and sports information directors. Sam Houston garnered 40 total points, likely a product of its 3-15 conference record a season ago.

“I really don’t take much into consideration,” head coach Brenda Nichols said. “We could always use that as motivation but we hadn’t really talked about last year. We are living in the moment and taking care of what we want to accomplish. We have changed a lot of things including how we work out to our conditioning and our mindset.”

The Kats return leading scorer Jenniffer Oramas (9.1 points per game), leading rebounder Lydia Baxter (6.6), leading three-point shooter Rachel Harrell (38) and leading blocker Kiera McKinney (38) among eight total letterwinners to this year’s squad.

“It’s always important when you can return players,” Nichols said. “Our players continued to battle. At the end of the year, these kids could have left but knew they had a chance to make something happen this year. At the same time, they are all battling because we have some good transfers and incoming freshmen. There is no set positions as far as starters. Everyone has to battle to get into the lineup.”

Sam Houston hosts LSU-Alexandria on Nov. 5 at 3 p.m. in the team’s lone exhibition before opening the season five days later at Arkansas. League action tips on Dec. 30 when the Bearkats visit Abilene Christian for the first of their 18-game conference slate.

Lamar received 18 first-place votes to earn the top spot in the league’s 2017-18 women’s basketball preseason poll. Two-time defending tournament champion Central Arkansas earned the second-place spot with six first-place votes while Stephen F. Austin is favored for third place with two first-place votes.

Sam Houston returns a bulk of its production from a season ago including eight of its 10 players who played in 20 or more games. In fact, Sam Houston returners contributed 75 percent of the team’s points a season ago (1,124 of 1,481 points) and 65 percent of the team’s rebounds (706 of 1,077 rebounds).

“It doesn’t matter where you’re picked and where you’re ranked,” Nichols said. “The Southland is a dog-eat-dog league. Everyone wants to be in that eight to get to Katy. Wherever you’re picked, you can finish anywhere. We were in the conference tournament title a couple years ago.”

2017-18 Southland Women’s Basketball Preseason Poll

Pl. School (First-place votes) Total
1. Lamar (18) 279
2. Central Arkansas (6) 260
3. Stephen F. Austin (2) 244
4. New Orleans 213
5. Abilene Christian 186
6. McNeese 163
7. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi 147
8. Northwestern State 133
9. Nicholls 132
10. UIW 92
11. Houston Baptist 71
12. Southeastern Louisiana 68
13. Sam Houston State 40