NEW YORK (AP) — The Washington Mystics sit atop the preseason Associated Press WNBA poll for the first time.
The runner-up from last season’s WNBA Finals received five first-place votes from the 14-person national media panel Wednesday. It’s the first time in the four-year history of the poll that Washington is No. 1.
“It’s nice when you go to the finals, people assume if you have a young talented team you can be a contender the following year,” Washington coach Mike Thibault said. “It’s hard to do. We’ve worked since I got here to contend every year. The players have gone through the process physically and mentally to know what it feels like. You want to learn from the loss, I hope.”
Washington is led by Elena Delle Donne, who was the panel’s preseason player of the year. She is receiving treatment for a leg injury and may miss the start of the season.
“She put us on her back last year for some long stretches,” Thibault said. “Everyone saw her value in the Atlanta series when she played and didn’t play. She’s comfortable in her own shoes here. Players with her know they are playing with someone special.”
Thibault is impressed with how Delle Donne’s leadership has improved.
“I think that’s one of the biggest things she’s learned how to do is speak up when she needs to,” he said.
Delle Donne was joined on the AP preseason all-WNBA team by Liz Cambage and A’ja Wilson of Las Vegas, Tiffany Hayes of Atlanta and Brittney Griner of Phoenix. There was a three-way tie for preseason rookie of the year between New York’s Asia Durr, Las Vegas’ Jackie Young and Minnesota’s Napheesa Collier.
Las Vegas is picked to finish second, also garnering five first-place votes. Los Angeles is third and Phoenix fourth. The Aces made a huge acquisition last week, trading for Cambage . They added one of the best players in the world and made themselves instant title contenders. The Sparks added Chiney Ogwumike via trade, reuniting her with her sister Nneka. They received three first-place votes and followed the Aces in the poll.
Chiney Ogwumike’s former team the Connecticut Sun is fifth. Atlanta rounded out the top half of the rankings.
The Seattle Storm, who won the title last year, are picked seventh. Seattle will be without reigning MVP Breanna Stewart for the season after she injured her Achilles overseas. Storm point guard Sue Bird is also sidelined indefinitely with a knee injury.
Minnesota, Chicago, Dallas, New York and Indiana completed the poll.
The WNBA tips off its 23rd season Friday.