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Utah State's women's basketball team has been picked to finish sixth in the Mountain West's preseason poll released Tuesday morning, sandwiched in the middle of what's expected to be one of the tougher midmajor conferences in the nation.
Fresno State, led by former Utah State coach Raegan Pebley, was picked to finish first after winning last year's conference tournament. Wyoming was picked second, following by San Diego State, New Mexico and UNLV. The Aggies were ahead of Colorado State in seventh, followed by Boise State, San Jose State, Nevada and Air Force.
"I look to use that as a little motivational tool for our girls, because I know that's not where we want to end the season," coach Jerry Finkbeiner said.
Utah State finished second in the Western Athletic Conference last season and reached the conference semifinals. But Finkbeiner isn't expecting any pushovers in league play.
"The conference is a lot quicker than the WAC, a lot bigger than the WAC, the conference schedules are a lot tougher than the WAC," he said. "It's definitely a step up, and our fans will see it from the opening tip of the conference season."
No Aggies were picked in the Mountain West preseason team, which was led by Preseason Player of the Year Kayla Woodward of Wyoming. Colorado State's Sam Martin, San Diego State's Erimma Amarikwa, Fresno State's Taylor Thompson and San Jose State's Ta'Rea Cunnigan rounded out the group.
SDSU's Chloe Johnson and Cierra Warren were picked as the preseason Freshman and Newcomer of the Year, respectively.
The Aggies return six letterwinners from a squad that finished 18-14 last season, and expect to be led by Jennifer Schlott, Franny Vaaulu and Makenlee Williams. The team also has seven newcomers.
Finkbeiner said he is ready for a big step up this year, but overall expects his team to grow into the league.
"It's going to be a challenge," he said. "I'm realistic to know it's going to be a big bite to chew off, but at the same time I believe our team has a chance to be pretty good if we stay healthy. And we have a chance to be successful if we kind of look at it as a process and a journey."