Defending NCAA champion Minnesota is No. 1 for the second straight year in the WCHA Women’s Preseason Coaches poll. Minnesota received seven first place votes to claim the top spot. Wisconsin was picked second, receiving 64 points and one first place vote. Minnesota Duluth ranked third with 58 points while Ohio State was fourth with 50 points and Minnesota State was a close fifth with 48 points.
Rounding out the poll were St. Cloud State in sixth (38), first-year member North Dakota in seventh (33) and Bemidji State in eighth (31). The results nearly matched the final standings from last year, except Ohio State and Minnesota State tied a year ago and North Dakota was not a member of the conference.
Minnesota’s Krissy Wendell and Natalie Darwitz were named the WCHA Preseason Co-Players of the Year. Both were also named to the All-USCHO Preseason First Team. Last season, Wendell tallied 36 goals and 42 assists for 78 points to top Minnesota’s single-season scoring record. Darwitz scored 27 goals and 37 assists for 64 points. A first-team All-WCHA selection, she led the team in power-play points with 10 goals and 18 assists for 28 points, also a league high.
The Golden Gophers captured the 2004 WCHA regular season title, the 2004 WCHA Final Five championship and the 2004 NCAA Women’s Frozen Four championship. Minnesota returns 15 players off of last year’s championship squad including 2004 WCHA Player of the Year, Krissy Wendell, along with fellow forwards Kelly Stephens and Natalie Darwitz and goaltender, Jody Horak.
Wisconsin (25-6-3/18-5-1) was second in the league last season and won the third place game at the WCHA Final Five. The Badgers are led by All-WCHA defensemen Carla MacLeod and Molly Engstrom, last year’s league Rookie of the Year, Sara Bauer and the 2004 WCHA goaltending champion, Meghan Horras.
Minnesota Duluth (20-12-2/15-8-1) finished third in the league a year ago. The Bulldogs advanced to the Final Five championship game, losing to Minnesota. Caroline Ouellette is the league’s top returning scorer after totaling 55 points on 21 goals and 34 assists in 22 league games last season.
WCHA league play starts Friday, October 8 as Ohio State hosts St. Cloud State and Minnesota travels to North Dakota for two-game conference series. Wisconsin hosts Wayne State in a two-game non-conference series Friday and Saturday and Minnesota State hosts Manitoba in an exhibition game. Bemidji State travels to Mercyhurst for a Saturday-Sunday series.