DENVER - (Aug. 9) For a fifth straight year, Seattle University women’s soccer is the favorite to win the Western Athletic Conference (WAC), according to the preseason coaches’ poll, released Wednesday morning. Senior defender Stephanie Spiekerman was voted the WAC Preseason Defensive Player of the Year.

SU was a unanimous pick, with UMKC and Grand Canyon following. GCU is postseason-eligible for the first time in 2017. Utah Valley, CSU Bakersfield, and UTRGV are fourth, fifth, and sixth, respectively. New Mexico State and Chicago State round out the preseason rankings.

“It’s very humbling and quite an honor to know that we were predicted to finish first,” said Coach Julie Woodward. “There is a lot of pressure involved with that as the conference has become extremely strong and every is so competitive on a daily basis.”

Seattle U has won seven of the last eight possible WAC titles since 2013, including an undefeated run through the league in 2016. It is one of four Division I programs to win at least seven conference titles in the last four years. SU has won four consecutive WAC regular season crowns and three of the last four WAC Championships. It is also one of just nine non-Power 5 conference schools to advance to three of the last four NCAA Tournaments and one of 21 overall Division I programs to achieve that feat.

Spiekerman, the 2016 WAC Defensive Player of the Year, earned preseason honors this year. The Seattle native was instrumental in the Redhawks posting eight shutouts last season, as SU also allowed just five goals in seven conference outings.

“She has been a joy to watch grow and develop over her career at Seattle U,” said Woodward. “I am excited for her senior season. She is a very talented player and an extremely incredible person. She has continued to impress and improve every year and provides such great leadership for not just our back line, but the team in general.”

Joining Spiekerman on the Preseason All-WAC Team are Natasha Howe and Hannah Carrothers. Howe, a graduate forward/midfielder, recorded seven goals and three assists last year. She tallied a hat trick in a win at Utah Valley and earned WAC Tournament MVP recognition as the Redhawks claimed their third WAC Championship. Carrothers started 19 matches on defense, securing SU’s back line and dishing out three assists in her sophomore campaign.

Spiekerman (2016) and Howe (2015) were both Preseason All-WAC selections previously in their careers.

Spiekerman is the third different Redhawk to earn a major preseason WAC award. Stephanie Verdoia was the conference’s Offensive Player of the Year choice in 2013 and 2014, while Julia Besagno was voted Defensive Player of the Year in 2013.

Woodward’s squad opens the season with an exhibition on Friday, Aug. 11, against British Columbia. Kickoff is set for 3 p.m. at Championship Field.

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