Friday, August 21, 2009

An Early Women's Conference Preview

Women play basketball in the MAAC, too, and a pretty darned good brand of it.

A few posts back you'll find a very brief, very early preview of men's teams. So, it's only fair to do the same for women.

This blogger has seen every MAAC team at least twice, and in some cases more than twice, in each of the past two seasons.

Does that make me an expert? Not really, just a blogger with a somewhat informed opinion.

So, here's a look at one "informed opinion" about the coming season's MAAC season and how teams will finish. Remember ... it's for entertainment purposes only.

1. Marist

Big surprise, right? But, in recent years, Marist winning the MAAC is about as automatic as the sun rising in the east.

The Red Foxes were 16-2 in the regular season last year, and the surprise was that they lost twice after finishing 18-0 and 17-1 over the previous two seasons.

Julienne Viani is the only loss, albeit a significant one. But, very competent players like Erica Allenspach, Corielle Yard, Kristine Best and Elise Caron will all get more time at guard.

Senior forward Rachele Fitz is the best player in the league, by far, and she's supported up front by 6-3 center Marie Laterza, and 6-2 Brandy Gang. And, now, there's a 6-4 front-court player from Australia, Kate Oliva, joining the program.

2. Iona

Its top six players return, including 5-9 senior guard Thazina Cook (14.8 points, 6.7 rebounds last season). Junior Suzi Fregosi (4.9 assists last season) is ready to become one of the league's elite point guards. Kristina Ford, a 6-1 sophomore forward (10.8, 6.3) will be an all-league caliber player. Freshman Samantha Kopp, a 6-3 center, who this blogger saw play several times on the AAU circuit, will be a very good player.

3. Canisius

The NCAA record-holder for consecutive games with a three-pointer (453) will likely continue to thrive from the outside. A repeat of a program-best 24 victories overall last season probably won't happen, but the Golden Griffins won't fall too far. Two ke players, forward Marie Warner and guard Amanda Cavo, are gone but every other player of significance is back, led by energetic point guard Brittane Russell. The team made a summer trip to Italy, and 6-foot-0 senior forward Ellie Radke had 33 points in one of the games.

4. Siena

An 0-7 overall start had local media writing about whether Gina Castelli's job might be in jeopardy (it wasn't). And, then, Siena finished 9-9 in conference play, had a five-point lead in a home game with Marist in the closing minutes before faltering and showed signs of better things to come. Only 6-2 center Heather Stec, a second-team all-MAAC honoree, is gone. This year's Saints have size with 6-3 center Sarah Fullmer and 6-1 Serena Moore, shooting from 5-8 forward Allie Lindemann (68 3's last season), and an emerging guard standout in sophomore Christina Centano. A group of solid role players as well as a strong freshman class is also in place.

5. Rider

After a 10-20 overall record accounted for the program's most victories in a season since 1999-00, more wins should come this year. Six of the top seven players are back, including leading scorers 5-9 forward Tammy Meyers (14.2, 5.6) and 5-4 guard Amanda Sepulveda (12.3). Along the way a year ago, the Broncs beat Canisius and Fairfield, teams that were 2nd and 3rd in the regular-season standings. The last time Rider finished better than .500 overall was 1994-95, but that negative streak could end this season.

6. Saint Peter's

A 10-8 finish last year could easily be duplicated, or bettered this year. Only last year's leading scorer, Tania Kennedy, is gone, but the next seven are back. Quiana Porter, a 6-2 sophomore center, could help out as could incoming freshman forward Kaydine Bent, who averaged 15 points and 17 rebounds per game at Truman H.S. in the Bronx.

7. Fairfield

The first team to beat Marist last season, probably won't be as good as last year's 12-6 conference record, not after losing four seniors who combined for 1,059 points, 556 rebounds and 289 assists last season alone. Some good role players from a year ago need to step up. The best candidates are 6-footer Stephanie Geehan (8.7, 8.4), 6-1 Tara Flaherty (3.7, 2.7) and 5-6 Desiree Pina (8.7, 2-0). Laura Vetra, a 6-1 freshman center who is a native of Latvia and who played a year in Texas last season, should also help.

8. Manhattan

New coach John Olenowski, an assistant at Long Island University last season whose resume also includes a 330-39 record as a high school coach at Morris Catholic in Denville, N.J., has some good pieces back. Gone is 6-3 center Kelly Regan, but six of last year's top eight scorers return, led by emerging sophomore guard Alyssa Herrington (9.8, 2.6). There are also potential replacements for Regan in 6-1 sophomore forward Nadia Peters (1.2, 2.2), who has battled injuries thus far, and 6-3 junior center Alicia Marculitis (2.2, 1.2).

9. Loyola

Injuries decimated the Greyhounds (4-14 in MAAC play) a year ago, and graduation takes its best player, Sioban Prior. Back, though, are several solid players, led by 6-0 senior forward Kaitlin Grant (11.2, 8.1), and 5-11 senior guard/forward Erica DiClemente (9.2, 3.8), who missed several games with injuries last season.

10. Niagara

The Purple Eagles started 1-26 last season and, then, won two of their last four games, including a first-round MAAC tournament contest. This year could be more like the end of last season than the beginning. The team's top two scorers (Jennifer McNamee, 12.1, and Liz Flooks, 10.4) are back. in all, four players who had 20 or more starts last season return.

This observer's perception is that it will be a major shock if anyone other than Marist wins this year's title.

The next group appears to be Iona, Canisius, Siena, Rider and Saint Peter's.

But, any of the other four, Niagara, Manhattan, Fairfield and Loyola, could very easily in the upper half of the standings.

There does not appear to be a clear-cut last-place team, ensuring that games will be competitive on a nightly basis.

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