GREENSBORO — Duke has finished atop the ACC regular-season standings the past three years.
So when the conference, during a women’s basketball media day gathering Tuesday at Grandover Resort, announced its preseason media and coaches polls with the Blue Devils on top, there wasn’t much cause for surprise.
The Blue Devils led reigning ACC tournament champion Maryland and Georgia Tech in the Blue Ribbon Panel and coaches’ polls, getting 29 first-place votes to 18 for the Terps from the Blue Ribbon voters, and nine first-place votes to Maryland’s three from the coaches.
“We’ve been working hard in preseason and it’s been a tremendously successful season in the weight room,” said Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie, whose team finished 27-6 last season and was eliminated from the NCAA tournament in a regional final for the third straight year.
“This might be the strongest team I’ve coached in 21 years of being a head coach, and we hope to use that as much on the floor as we can. I think we’ve got terrific leadership and chemistry, and we’re working to get a whole lot better.”
The Blue Ribbon poll had Virginia picked fourth, followed by North Carolina, Miami and Florida State. In the coaches’ poll, the Tar Heels were No. 4, followed by Miami, FSU and Virginia.
“We’re real excited about everything,” said Tar Heels coach Sylvia Hatchell, whose team finished 20-11 and was not invited to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 11 years. “We’re more athletic. … We just want to put last year behind us. We did win 20 games, but we had more injuries last year than we had had in 10 years total.
“Not making the NCAA can’t do anything but motivate us. I think we should have made it – we won 20 games and ended up fourth in the conference, and it was the first time we didn’t have at least five teams in there. But I’m not on the committee. Maybe I should have been.”
N.C. State was eighth in both polls, followed by Wake Forest, Clemson, Virginia Tech and Boston College.
“I’m personally excited about the season because I really like this team,” said Wolfpack coach Kellie Harper, whose team finished 19-16 and was eliminated in the second round of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament.
“They’ve been really good in preseason in terms of their attitude, their chemistry, their outlook and their work ethic. I’m very, very ready to get this season started. We’ll be a better defensive team just because we’re one year older.
“I had no idea where we’d end up (in the poll). This is about as wide-open a poll as there may be.”
Maryland’s Alyssa Thomas was named Blue Ribbon preseason player of the year, finishing in a three-way tie with Duke’s Elizabeth Williams and Chelsea Gray in the coaches’ poll.
The groups totally agreed on the 10-member preseason All-ACC team as well as the five-player newcomer watch list.
The preseason all-conference teams consist of Thomas, Williams, Gray, N.C. State’s Marissa Kastanek, Maryland’s Tianna Hawkins and Laurin Mincy, Georgia Tech’s Ty Marshall, FSU’s Natasha Howard, Virginia’s Ataira Franklin and Miami’s Stefanie Yderstrom.
The newcomer watch lists include Alexis Jones of Duke, Xylina McDaniel of UNC, Malina Howard of Maryland, Jonquel Jones of Clemson and Uju Ugoka of Virginia Tech.
N.C. State will open the regular season Nov. 9 at noon, hosting Wofford in the Wolfpack Invitational.
The Tar Heels will open Nov. 9 at 5 p.m., hosting Davidson in the first round of the Preseason WNIT.
Duke’s opener will be at home against Presbyterian on Nov. 17 at 7 p.m.