Oct. 13—For the first time in nine years, the Gonzaga women aren't favored to win the West Coast Conference regular-season title.

Instead, the target will be on the backs of the BYU Cougars, who got most of the first-place votes in the coaches' preseason poll released Thursday.

GU has won 16 of the past 17 titles, but the poll wasn't a big surprise. BYU has everyone back and the Zags lost three key players to graduation.

"I think we probably won't be favored, but I don't really care," head coach Lisa Fortier said last month as the Zags opened practice.

"Right now, we're just getting better," said Fortier, whose team will hold its annual FanFest event Saturday afternoon at the McCarthey Athletic Center.

"Our players are eager to learn the things we are trying to teach them," Fortier said.

GU won last year's regular-season title with a 16-1 record, splitting with second-place BYU (13-3).

The Bulldogs stoked the rivalry even hotter in the WCC title game with a last-second shot by Jill Townsend that beat BYU by one.

Townsend is gone, however; so are forwards Jenn and LeeAnne Wirth. Meanwhile, several key BYU players elected to take advantage of the NCAA's offer of an extra year of eligibility because of the disruption caused by the pandemic.

BYU received eight of 10 first-place votes and 80 overall. Gonzaga received the other two first-place votes and 72 total.

San Diego was a close third with 66 votes, followed by San Francisco and Portland.

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The Zags host BYU on Feb. 5 and visit the Cougars on Feb. 19.

Gonzaga placed one player, senior forward Melody Kempton of Post Falls, on the 10-player WCC preseason team. Kempton was the WCC Sixth Woman of the Year last season after averaging 6.6 points and 3.6 rebounds.

During the past 16 seasons, Gonzaga has amassed a conference record of 242-31 (.886) , which includes 15 WCC regular-season titles and eight WCC Tournament championships.

The last time GU wasn't picked first was in 2012, when the Zags were picked second behind BYU.

By the end of that regular season, however, the Bulldogs were 15-1 in the WCC and three games ahead of the field.

BYU placed three players on the preseason squad, including guards Paisley Harding and Shaylee Gonzalez, and forward Lauren Gustin. Portland and San Diego also had two honorees.

(c)2021 The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, Wash.)

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