San Antonio – Armed with a young-but-talented roster, the St. Mary’s women’s basketball team undoubtedly expects to contend in the Heartland Conference this season.

And their Heartland opponents seem to agree.

The Lady Rattlers have been picked fourth in the Heartland Conference preseason poll, which was voted on by the league’s head coaches and sports information directors.

Receiving 11 of 14 first-place votes, Arkansas-Fort Smith was picked No. 1, while Newman collected the rest of the first-place votes en route to being tabbed No. 2. Texas-Permian Basin was picked third.

The Lady Rattlers are looking to build on last season, when they went 15-12 and finished third in the league with a 7-3 conference record. They’ll do so with two starters back in the fold, as seniors Amber Sophus (Houston) and DeAnna Patterson (Converse, Texas) will lead the way in 2011-12.

Patterson is St. Mary’s leading returning points scorer, having scored 214 points last year (7.9 points per game), while Sophus is St. Mary’s top defensive stopper.

The Rattlers also welcome in a prized recruiting class that includes sophomore guard Jackie Edwards, a San Antonio native; forward Morgan Pullins (Fr., Franklin, Mich.); and guard Kyra Littlejohn (Fr., Southfield, Mich.).

St. Mary’s is scheduled to open the season against Fort Hays State in the St. Mary’s Classic. Tipoff is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on Sat., Nov. 12 at Bill Greehey Arena.

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