Evansville, which has earned four regular-season titles and four postseason tournament crowns, is still the team to beat in the Missouri Valley.
The Purple Aces, directed by head coach Mick Lyon, top the 2001 poll with three-of-seven first-place votes and 45 points. No coach in the league predicts UE to finish lower than second, and with good reason.
UE's scoring trio of Kristin Prom (34) Jessica Schwartz (31) and Trayce Burch (15) combined for 80 points last year and enter this year with just as much fire. Prom, the 2000 Freshman of the Year, and her two all-conference teammates will no doubt, be a force to reckon with in 2001.
Besides trying to control the Purple Aces' scoring machine, the opposition might be hard pressed to score themselves. The 2000 Valley Player of the Year, defender Krista McKendree, returns for her senior season after earning All-America honors last year. She will anchor the UE defense that set a program record with 12 shutouts.
The No. 2 team in the poll is Illinois State.
All-conference goalie Becky Feldman has graduated, but in 2001, the Redbirds look solid with returners Angie Roth and Melissa Culthrust directing the defense. Just like Evansville, Illinois State frequently finds the back of the net. Paced by the league's leading scorer for the past two consecutive seasons, Annie Wayland helped the Redbirds score 2.78 goals per game last year.
Entering the season with 34 career goals, Wayland is well within striking distance of the Valley career goal record of 45.
Meanwhile, the Valley's defending tournament champion, Southwest Missouri State, finished third in the coaches poll with one first-place nod and 35 points.
On the heels of his program's first NCAA Tournament appearance, Bears' head coach Rob Brewer plans to focus on defense.
Last year's Valley Defensive Player of the Year, SMS goalie Jennifer Grocki, has graduated, but the Bears are prepared with two returning key defenders, Katy Reisch and Natalie Whiteman.
On the other side of the ball, SMS's Alina Alaimo is back after scoring 17 points for the Bears in 2000, including the game-winning goal in the semifinals of the league championship.
The No. 4 team in the coaches poll, Creighton, garnered the remaining first-place tally and 33 points.
With a youthful squad of 20 underclassmen, third-year head coach Bruce Erickson is seeking to improve on the Bluejays' 4-3 league record from a year ago.
Helping that cause, CU returners Lulu Quigley and Franny Hylok made an impression their first year of collegiate play. Hylok earned a spot on the all-conference second team while both Hylok and Quigley made the all-freshman team. Another standout back for the Bluejays is Sara Hovland. Hovland, the career assist leader at Creighton, served up goals eight times for the Jays last season. During her tenure, she has 21 assists.
The lone affiliate, Drury, with its new head coach, Chris Baker, collected 21 points and the fifth slot in the coaches poll.
Baker inherits the program as the Panthers begin their third year with the Valley. In the past two seasons, Drury has qualified for the league tournament, but hasn't been able to get beyond the quarterfinals.
This season, Drury returns two seniors and a dynamic group of up and comers. If closeness counts, the six one-goal losses the Panthers suffered last year might serve as valuable learning tools for 2001.
The newest members in the league, Northern Iowa and Indiana State, round out the coaches poll in sixth and seventh place with 13 and 10 points, respectively.
UNI's goalkeeper, Anne Marie Witko, earned national recognition as she recorded 192 saves in the Panthers' 19 matches. With her 10.11 saves per game, Witko finished fourth in the NCAA in goalie saves.
UNI returns all 11 of its starters in 2001.
Indiana State can match UNI's returning numbers, as the Sycamores not only have 14 letterwinners back, but 16 new faces.
One of those newcomers is a transfer, Carey Patton. A goalkeeper who transferred from Missouri, Patton figures prominently into INS success, according to head coach Vernon Croft.
2001 Missouri Valley Preseason Coaches Poll