Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Women's Report: Fairfield Won't Fall Far

Here's the latest installment in the "10 Teams in 10 Days" series looking back and ahead at MAAC women's programs.

Up now ...

FAIRFIELD (11-7 in MAAC play in 2009-10, 20-14 overall)

RECAP: It took Fairfield a while to get things right but when it did, it did so in a big way. A 20-win season was a significant accomplishment for a team that lost four key starters from the previous year. And, then, it started this past season with a 10-12 overall record and a 4-7 mark in conference play. It would have been easy to figure 2009-10 wasn't going to be their year, and the Stags could have coasted home. Instead they won their last seven conference contests and nine in a row overall including victories in the first two rounds of the MAAC tournament before losing to Marist in the championship game. It was enough to earn a post-season berth in the Women's Basketball Invitational event where it won a first-round game over Towson before falling in the second round to Appalachian State. The season saw former role player 6-2 senior Stephanie Geehan produce a season that was worthy of Player of the Year consideration, former shooting guard Desiree Pina make a successful transition to point guard and freshman Katelyn Linney emerge as one of the conference's top rookies.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Geehan, content to defer to older teammates over her first three seasons, made a seamless transition to be the program's spotlight player. In doing so she set a conference record for single-season blocked shots (118), fifth-best nationally. Her 11.4 rebound-per game average also led the MAAC and ranked sixth nationally. She also became one of just 10 conference players to ever record 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds for her career. Pina became a nice second option, while also directing the offense and was just about indispensible, averaging 38.1 minutes per contest. Linney became an effective long-range weapon with 67 three-pointers on the season. Sophomore Taryn Johnson, an athletic forward, averaged 8.9 point, 6.9 rebounds and had 53 blocks and Tara Flaherty, a 6-2 senior forward, became an effective second presence in the post, particularly late in the season. The late-season nine-game winning streak included a victory over Marist and two over second-place finisher Iona. As a team the Stags set school records for most blocks and most made three-pointers in a season. Give at least a little credit to third-year head coach Joe Frager, who is among the conference's best.

WHAT WENT WRONG: The slow start, which wasn't helped by a knee injury to promising sophomore guard Sarah Paulus (3.8 points, 3.5 rebounds in four games). After that, the Stags became an "Iron Six," as its top six players scored 1,877 of its points and the rest of the roster contributed just 97. No other MAAC team did more with less. When Geehan struggled, which wasn't often, Fairfield became primarily an easier-to-defend perimeter team. Geehan got in early foul trouble in the conference tournament's championship game, and the Stags couldn't compete against Marist without her. Otherwise not much else went wrong, particularly in the second half of the season.

WHAT'S AHEAD: Frager took a team that lost more than any conference team after the 2008-09 season and produced a second-straight 20-victory year in 2009-10. The program doesn't lose as much in terms of quanty, but it does lose one of its all-time best players in Geehan as well as Flaherty, its only other inside presence. It will be interesting to see if Fairfield can overcome significant losses yet again. The perimeter, though, will be as good as any team's, particularly with Johnson at small forward and Pina and Linney at the guard spots. If Paulus is healthy again, she'll be a nice addition. Junior Joelle Wawrocky, a 6-foot-0 guard, and 6-1 freshman forward Brittany McFarlane both look capable of stepping up next season. The program, though, needs to find some post players and depth and much of that could come from incoming freshmen post players 6-2 Katie Cizynski and 6-1 Brittany Obi-Talbot and 5-10 guard Alexys Vazquez.

PREDICTION FOR 2010-11: After surviving the loss of four starters and still finishing with 20 victories this past season, we know better now than to underestimate what Frager can get out of his players. The perimeter pieces are in place. If the incoming freshmen can provide some help in the post and, in the process, extend the team's playing rotation to seven or eight, it could be another good season for the Stags. They won't fall from the conference's upper half, and could realistically finish in in the top three.

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