The Radford University women’s basketball team was selected as the 2018-19 Big South Conference preseason favorite.
Highlander senior forward/guard Destinee Walker earned preseason First Team All Big South honors and redshirt junior Lydia Rivers was placed on the All-Big South Second Team.
The Highlanders received nine first-place votes from the league’s head coaches and tallied a total of 116 points in the poll.
High Point got the remaining two first-place votes and were predicted to finish as the runner-up with 102 points.
“Being picked number one in the preseason is nice and it is great to be recognized by others in the conference,” Highlander sixth-year head coach Mike McGuire admitted. “At the same time, we realize the preseason rankings do not guarantee us anything.
“They are merely talking points for the season. This is a conference where anyone can beat anyone and we will have a wide open conference race this season. We will work hard to accept the challenge of being picked to win the Big South, which will always be the goal for our program moving forward.”
Walker was an All-Big South Honorable Mention member last season as a junior after averaging 11.0 points per game, which was good for 12th in the league.
The Florence, South Carolina native scored double-figures in 19 games and finished with a 41.3 field goal percentage, ranking inside the Top 10 in the Big South. The Highlanders went 12-3 when she was in the starting lineup.
Rivers recovered nicely from a knee injury that forced her to miss the majority of the 2016-17 season. The forward, who made 12 starts, averaged 7.1 points in 25.6 minutes per game.
The Kinston, North Carolina product finished second on the team in rebounds per game and was fourth in the Big South (7.7). In addition, she blocked 53 shots, ranking third in the league and 77th nationally.
Radford returns three starters from last year’s team that finished second in the Big South regular-season standings and went on to knock off Penn State in the opening round of the WNIT.
Five other returners and five newcomers could give McGuire the depth he needs to make another deep run in March.
“I am excited about this team and the journey ahead this season,” McGuire added. “The group has been fun to work with so far. They come to practice wanting to do well and are determined to improve each day.
“Teaching them what it takes to be successful at a high level is my daily motivation. I believe our fans will see this team improve tremendously as the season progresses since we have some new faces and new roles that must be established.
“We’ll learn a great deal about our team during non-conference competition and that experience will prepare us for Big South Conference play.”
The team’s non-conference schedule is highlighted by four games against Power 5 opponents and an appearance in the Miami Thanksgiving Tournament.
“This is by far the most demanding non-conference schedule that our program has played during my tenure. As I tell the team, I want our program to learn to compete at a high-level night in and night out,” McGuire said.
“This schedule will force us to do so and will prepare us for what I feel like will be a wide open Big South Conference season.
“I also shared with our team that if you want to play in this program now, you will need to prepare to play schedules like this moving forward. It’s challenging and exciting at the same time.”
For the second straight season, Radford posted a 24-9 record, possessing the best two-year mark in program history. After making its third WNIT appearance in four seasons, Radford collected its first WNIT win in the McGuire era with a 63-62 first-round victory at Penn State.
McGuire’s Highlanders will face a challenging slate that features only four home contests in the 11-game non-conference schedule. Radford is 1-1 against non-conference teams played during the 2017-18 season.
“We are playing more Power 5 schools than we ever have and will be facing some other outstanding mid-major programs that are expected to have a great year,” McGuire noted.
“We also have the opportunity to compete in a Thanksgiving event in Miami, Fla., that will allow our team to spend some extra time together.”
Radford will travel to NC State (Nov. 18) before taking a Thanksgiving trip to South Beach. For the first time since 2012, Radford will take part in the Miami Thanksgiving Tournament, which runs Nov. 23-25. The Highlanders will either play Temple or Nebraska on Nov. 23 and Nov. 25.
December kicks off with a trip around the Commonwealth as the Highlanders are set to play New River Valley foe Virginia Tech on Dec. 4 and Virginia on Dec. 8. In the 37th meeting of the NRV Showdown, Radford looks to snap an eight-game skid and collect its first win over the Hokies since 2006.
The Highlanders and Cavaliers face one another for the first time since 2014, meeting for the 16th time overall as Virginia holds a slight 8-7 edge in the all-time series.