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As strong as ever: GPAC has top-three teams in women’s basketball coaches’ poll

There have been a lot of strong Great Plains Athletic Conference women's basketball seasons in the past, but this year is in the discussion for being at the top of that list.

Dakota Wesleyan University's Sydney Halling (34) shoots between the defense of Concordia University's Philomena Lammers (42) and Grace Barry (55) defends during a Great Plains Athletic Conference game on Dec. 15 at the Corn Palace. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Dakota Wesleyan University's Sydney Halling (34) shoots between the defense of Concordia University's Philomena Lammers (42) and Grace Barry (55) defends during a Great Plains Athletic Conference game on Dec. 15 at the Corn Palace. (Matt Gade / Republic)

There have been a lot of strong Great Plains Athletic Conference women's basketball seasons in the past, but this year is in the discussion for being at the top of that list.

In the latest NAIA Division II coaches' poll, Dakota Wesleyan University, Concordia University and Northwestern College swept the top-three spots, respectively, with them all being 12-2 in GPAC play.

However, the conference has also shown its depth as Morningside College (No. 9), Dordt College (No. 12) and Hastings College (No. 21) are all ranked, too. In total, eight GPAC teams have been ranked at some point this season, with the No. 1 spot being filled by either DWU or Concordia in every poll.

"There's definitely been some really good years, but I feel like it's more of the depth of the conference," Concordia coach Drew Olson said. "There's no night where it's like good, where I feel like in other conferences, they get that. They got that off night."

The Massey Ratings, which takes into account NAIA Division I and II, back up that claim. The GPAC is the nation's highest-rated conference, while no other D-II conference breaks the top six. It also has the top-four D-II schools and three of the top-four schools overall.

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The reason the conference has such depth is simple-coaching and recruiting.

"Part of it is we have some pretty good coaches that go out and do a lot of recruiting," DWU coach Jason Christensen said. "I just think Midwest basketball is pretty good. I just think the GPAC does a good job having kids around who can play basketball."
Christensen himself is a case of this working. With rosters mainly composed of players from South Dakota and Minnesota, he took over an 8-23 program after the 2009-10 season and is now on pace to surpass 25 wins for a fourth straight season and has the top-ranked team in the country.

To improve, specifically in the national tournament, he followed what other top GPAC programs have done and schedules tough non-conference opponents. This season, DWU played two non-conference ranked teams, as well as an exhibition against NCAA Division I Iowa.

"Some coaches are looking for a weak non-conference schedule to get 10 wins, but I'm not going to do that," Christensen said. "I'm not worried about my coaching record, I'm worried about us getting to the next level-that's why we schedule tough."

Even with teams crammed at the top of the national poll and GPAC standings, coaches still want to see conference teams do well in out-of-conference games to strengthen the GPAC's reputation.

"I think there's a good, healthy respect of the quality of play and just how competitive it is," Northwestern coach Chris Yaw said. "... I think most would want to be part of a good conference."

Yaw isn't ready to declare this as the strongest the GPAC has ever been, however, noting the postseason success of others.

In 2015, it was an all-GPAC final four, while the conference had three teams represented in 2012 and 2018. The GPAC has also had at least one team in all but the 2014 final four dating back to 2010.

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"It's tough to compare year to year, but there's no question it's really strong," Yaw said. "It certainly wouldn't be out of question to debate it, but there's just a great reputation and long history of it being very tough."

Related Topics: DAKOTA WESLEYAN UNIVERSITY
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