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UMM is picked to win women's basketball

The University of Minnesota, Morris, who claimed its first Upper Midwest Athletic Conference (UMAC) regular season championship and earned a berth in the NCAA Tournament in 2010, was the coaches' choice to win the women's basketball title again in 2011 according to a poll. Behind players Steph Roggenbuck and Emily Mehr, the Cougars posted only one loss throughout last year's conference schedule to claim the UMAC trophy.

Expectations are high for head coach Tim Grove and his team, who returns all five starters from last year's NCAA Tournament run. Roggenbuck, Mehr and Brandi Cresap all saw their name on the all-conference list at the end of the 2010 season. Add all-defensive team member Jenni Noordmans to that list and its obvious that the Cougars' core is strong. Mehr was named the UMAC Freshman of the Year last season after finishing second in the league in field goal percentage. The one player she looked up to statistically-speaking was teammate Roggenbuck, as the pair guided one of the best shooting teams in the league. As a team, Minnesota, Morris finished second in the UMAC in field goal percentage last season at nearly 40 percent, and was also second in scoring at nearly 70 points per game.

Northwestern College, who claimed second place in the poll, hopes to carry its momentum from last year's UMAC Tournament Championship over to this season and regain the conference title, a trophy that the Eagles last hoisted in 2008. The Eagles will have a new face on the bench this season, as Aaron Kahl takes over as the team's head coach after the departure of 12-year head coach Linda Schuck. Kahl returns a majority of the team's nucleus from a year ago, highlighted by 2009-10 UMAC Player of the Year Katie DeWitt. DeWitt nearly averaged a double-double with 23.8 points and 9.5 rebounds per game last season to lead all UMAC players. The senior will once again be joined on the court by Megan Myhre. Myhre, a second-year player for NWC after transferring from Concordia-St. Paul after her freshman campaign, will lead the team's efforts in the post.

Northland College, who finished last season at 12-2 in conference play, took third place in the poll. The LumberJills were the second UMAC team to earn an invitation to the NCAA Tournament last season and will look for a new identity for the 2010-11 campaign after All-UMAC selections and four-year players Lindsey Hamm and Chelsea Lundgren graduated. This year's LumberJill squad will be anchored in the middle by lone senior forward Laura Fisher. Junior guard Ashley Runge, who earned eight starts last year, led the UMAC in three-point shooting last season, averaging 8.3 points per game. She will be joined in the back court by junior guard Lulu Seelye.

Earning 26 points gave the College of St. Scholastica fourth place in the poll. After five consecutive losing seasons, head coach Stacy Deadrick will look to turn things around in 2010-11. That about-face won't be easy though, as the Saints lost a solid group of seniors, including Kirsten Haukom, who made her way into the school's record book on more than one occasion. The Saints' will be a focus this season as senior Kelly Cinquegrani is back, along with junior Laura Amys, and sophomore Bri Allen. All three have the potential to take over a game.  Junior Morstad returns to the back court after leading the team in assists last season. Juniors Taylor Fellbaum and Shannon Lehikoinen, along with sophomore Ashlee Blegen, will look for more playing time this season. Senior Katie Kimm started 10 games last season and can be a force defensively.

Fifth and sixth place Bethany Lutheran College and Martin Luther College finished two and three points behind St. Scholastica in the poll. The Vikings from Bethany Lutheran, who went 5-9 in UMAC action in 2009-10, return two of their top scoring threats from a year ago when head coach Tiffany Young Klockziem's team finished just one win shy of the postseason. Bethany Lutheran returns second team all-conference player Nicole Jones, who led her squad in scoring, rebounds, steals and assists while appearing in nine UMAC Top 10 categories last season. Junior Anna Cepek was another all-conference selection for the Vikings. Three newcomers, including Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) 6th Player of the Year Tromesa May, will be an athletic addition to the team.

Martin Luther has high hopes for the upcoming season with a solid group of returning players following last year's 6-8 UMAC record. Erica Babinec and Sarah Free return as the primary scoring options for the Knights. Babinec received All-UMAC honors for the second consecutive season after leading the Knights in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals, while Free returns as the outside threat. Kadie Drake and Amanda Gardner also return on the perimeter after getting heavy minutes a season ago. In the paint, the Knights lost three key performers, but also return several important ones, including junior Emily Boldt, who will make a comeback after recovering from an injury that ended her 2009-10 season.

Presentation College made a run in last year's conference tournament as the No. 6 seed, making it all the way to the championship game. Returning to the Saints' lineup this season include seniors Dana Chalupsky and Sara Gregersen. Gregersen carried Presentation in 2009-10, as one of the top forwards in the UMAC. Second-year head coach Alaina Benson will be looking for contributions from the team's seven newcomers. Nicky Rausch, Kendra Bornhoft, Ashley Tanner, Chelsea Voorhees, Kaylee Voorhees, Hannah Phillips and Mary Butler will all dress in a green and gold Saints uniform for the first time this season.

Rounding out the poll was Crown College with seven points. After a one-win season in 2009-10, the Storm are looking to make improvements again this year. Just one starter returns for Crown in Judy Mundt. Lexi Norman also returns for head coach Bill Adamson after playing in 20 games throughout the 2009-10 campaign. Adamson welcomes Tasha Hamilton, Cassie Clarke and Misa Matetich, who all previously played at Itasca Community College. The Storm will be young and inexperienced as the Crown program continues to build.

All eight UMAC teams will play their respective nonconference schedules before beginning conference action on Jan. 11, 2011. While everyone will battle for the league's regular season title, the conference postseason tournament championship during the week of Feb. 23 will be equally important, as, for the first time, the UMAC Tournament champion will earn an automatic qualifier into the NCAA Tournament.