Here's the latest in the "10 Teams in 10 Days" series taking a look back and ahead at conference women's teams.
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CANISIUS (6-12 in MAAC play in 2009-10, 12-19 overall)
RECAP: After losing two terrific players (Amanda Cavo and Marie Warner) from the 2008-09 team that finished 14-4 in conference play and 24-9 overall, the Golden Griffins figured to have a down cycle, and they did. But, it wasn't so bad. Six teams, ones that finished fourth-through-ninth, were fairly even in terms of talent this past season. It's just that the Griffs finished at the bottom of those six. Of its 12 league losses, nine were by single digits and five of those by five or fewer points. Canisius didn't have much height, but rode a deep, solid roster and its traditional three-point shooting proclivity for whatever success it did have. Senior guard Brittane Russell cemented her legacy as one of the program's best-ever players, fiinishing her career as the only MAAC player (and one of only five in NCAA history) to ever accumulate more than 1,200 points, 500 rebounds, 400 assists and 300 steals.
WHAT WENT RIGHT: Russell and 6-foot-0 senior forward Ellie Radke had strong seasons. Russell averaged 13.0 points and her 3.0 steal-per-game average not only led the MAAC (she was the conference's top thief in all four of her seasons in the league), but was 16th-best nationally. She was a second-team all-MAAC all-star and should have been on the first team. Radke averaged 11.2 points and a team-high 6.3 rebounds. The team's best night might have come in a loss to league champion Marist on Jan. 29. Before a sell-out Koessler Arena crowd of 2,196 the Griffs held a 23-14 lead over Marist at halftime before the Red Foxes rallied for a 54-45 victory. A group of younger players got valuable experience, particularly 5-5 freshman guard Ashley Durham who looks like a capable replacement for Russell at point guard. In recent years, the program has found an up-tempo, 3-point shooting playing style to be effectively and currently has an NCAA-record active streak of 485 consecutive games with at least one made 3-pointer.
WHAT WENT WRONG: First, there wasn't enough height. The Griffs were outrebounded by an average of 4.4 per night. Then there were injuries. Promising 6-foot freshman Melissa Gardner, who might have helped on the boards, suffered a foot injury after starting in 10 of the team's first 12 games (she was averaging 3.0 rebounds in 16 minutes per night) and missed the remainder of the season. Stephanie McDonald, a 5-10 sophomore guard (averaging 3.3 points, 3.2 rebounds) who started the team's first six games, suffered a shoulder injury and didn't play again. If those two remained healthy giving Canisius a little help inside the result likely would have been a few more wins. Then there was youth. Four of the team's top 10 players were freshmen, and that's never a great recipe for success. The lineup was almost a nightly work in progress. Eleven different players started at least a game. That's usually a sign of a roster of solid players, but not enough real standouts, which appeared to be the case here.
WHAT'S AHEAD: Here's a trivia question: What team is the last other than Marist to win the MAAC's post-season tournament? That would be Canisius, which earned the right to advance to the NCAA tournament in 2005. That won't happen again in 2010-11, but the Griffs seem to be doing the right things in their building process to get back there. Still, Russell and Radke will be tough to replace. Durham will have to emerge as a sophomore, which she seems capable of doing. Micayla Drysdale, a 5-9 junior guard whose career .392 percent 3-point accuracy is the best in the program's history, looks like she can provide some offensive punch. The return of Gardner and McDonald will help, as will the natural progressions of sophomore guard Tauralee Tenn, who moved into the starting lineup late in the season, along with 6-2 freshman Whitney Ellenor and 5-10 freshman Allison Braun. More help, especially up front, should come from incoming recruits, including two 6-foot-3 post players and another 6-1 forward. All three incoming "bigs" are from Canada. Next season the Griffs will have nine Canada natives on the roster, the most of any Division I program nationally.
PREDICTION FOR 2010-11: The MAAC looks like it will be as balanced in the coming season as it has been in recent memory. Canisius probably won't contend for the top couple of spots, but will clearly be in the next pack, like it was this year. The Griffs, though, don't appear destined to be at the bottom of that pack as they were this past season. Expect Canisius to finish anywhere from fourth to eighth, getting on the high side of that if the freshmen provide immediate help and on the low side if that help doesn't materialize. The team should be better this season, but it is best set up for success in the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons.