The 2017-18 D2 Women's Basketball season ended with the biggest upset in the history of the game, with Central Missouri knocking down the giant that was Ashland in Sioux Falls for their first title since 1984.
But with that historic event now in the rear-view mirror, it is time to take an early look at who might be raising the NCAA trophy roughly one year from now when the Elite Eight returns to Columbus after Ashland won the title there in 2017.
Now be certain, these teams are just favorites on paper and things will definitely change as we inch closer to the season starting in November and the NCAA Tournament when it gets underway next Winter.
But without further delay, here are five programs that look like early favorites for the 2019 D2 Women's Basketball title.
After a heartbreaking defeat that ended their chance at a 74th-straight win and birth of a dynasty for D2 sports, the Eagles have enough pieces coming back – just three seniors leaving – to make another run at their third title since 2013.
National Player of The Year Jodi Johnson leads a group of eight projected returning players, with three of them starting every game of their memorable run to the title game. Though it will be hard for the team to average just under 100 points-per-game again, the team should still be potent enough to beat anyone on any given night.
The biggest loss will be the height on the team, with all of their six-footers leaving to graduation and then listing the tallest player at 5-foot-10. A key freshman or possible transfer to help in that department will only improve the Eagles' chances to win yet another title.
The Vulcans went through a tumultuous 2017-18 season that was filled with growing pains and pains of the physical type all year. Without their All-American forward Seairra Barrett, the Vulcan women relied on a roster with mostly unproven players to step up around 2018 honorable mention All-Ameircan Shatara Parsons.
While the season ended well at 24-7 given some of the circumstances with the team, the future is even brighter with just Parsons slated to depart. With Barrett returning and everyone else a year better, look for Cal U to return to the glory they have tasted so many times over the last decade-plus.
The last team to beat Ashland prior to the Eagles falling in the national championship, Drury has arguably been the best bet to dethrone AU over each of the last two seasons, and that is unlikely to change going forward.
The Panthers lose two seniors this year, but return a roster with only one junior so the group has been able to build time together and still has plenty left. Hailey Diestelkamp will become the true star for her team in her third year, with three others becoming rising juniors.
DU has come so close to taking the throne in the Midwest Region and next year they should do that and possibly much more.
The Tigers were one of the rising programs in the mid-2010's with a MIAA title in 2014-15, but have struggled to find their success since then. Returning to the NCAA Tournament in 2018, FHSU made it into the regional semis before falling to eventual champion Central Missouri.
Looking towards the next season, the roster will come back with all but one player. The returnees are all also either rising juniors or sophomores save for three players who will be leaned on for veteran leadership. Basically, the team returns most players who can extend their run even further next year.
The MIAA will be the biggest challenge for the team as it is traditionally one of the best leagues in the country. Just take reigning champ UCM for an example, and 2010 champ Emporia State still lurks as a big-time rival.
With the fifth-best scoring defense in D2 this past season, BHSU returns all but one player in a quest to improve off their first round exit in the NCAA Tournament.
The 2018 tourney was the second appearance in the last three seasons for the Yellow Jackets and they appear ready to make a huge jump from their previous early exits.
Areas of improvement include more scoring and better free throw shooting which will be critical if the team is to advance in the tourney if/when they get there. Though the championship won't be in South Dakota for the foreseeable future, this team based in SD could be making headlines very soon.