Here's the latest installment in the "10 Teams in 10 Days" series looking back and ahead at MAAC women's programs.
Up now ...
IONA (13-5 in MAAC play in 2009-10, 18-14 overall)
RECAP: Picked to finish second in the preseason poll, and that's where the Gaels finished. Mostly a successful season, the fifth straight winning overall record from a program that, prior to its current five-year run of success, might have been the worst the conference has ever seen. Prior to the 2005-06 season Iona had 23 consecutive losing seasons. But, that's a thing of the past and, these days, an 18-14 overall record is no longer out of the ordinary. The Gaels finished 13-5 in the MAAC, losing only to first-place Marist (twice), third-place Fairfield (twice) and Siena. Senior guard Thazina Cook was a first-team all-league player for the second straight year, playing through some minor knee issues to be among the league's elite. Senior center Anna McLean was among the conference's better "bigs" averaging 8.5 rebounds. Iona looked like a team capable of challenging Marist in the league tournament's championship game. Instead, it lost to Fairfield (for a third time) in the semifinal round. Its second-place regular-season finish, though, brought an automatic berth in the Women's NIT. There, the Gaels got a tough draw meeting Maryland and losing, 88-53, in the opening round. It was Iona's third trip to the WNIT in four seasons.
WHAT WENT RIGHT: Cook was the requisite offensive weapon. McLean and 6-1 junior forward Kristina Ford (9.5 points, 5.6 rebounds) combined to be one of the conference's better post duos. Suzi Fregosi, a 5-6 jnior guard, emerged as one of the MAAC's top point guards and was 11th nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio. Freshman guard Diana Hubbard was named to the league's all-rookie team. Junior forward Anda Ivkovic was having her best all-around year until going down with a mid-season injury. The team was probably the deepest in the conference with 10 players averaging at least 12 minutes per game. Overall, Iona continued to establish itself as the MAAC's second-best program, behind only Marist, of recent vintage. It has a 60-30 record in league play over the past five seasons. Only Marist (83-7) has been better.
WHAT WENT WRONG: Primarily an inability to handle Fairfield, which earned a 72-59 regular-season victory over Iona on Feb. 19 which basically knocked the Gaels out of contention for the league title. And, then the Stags knocked Iona out of the conference tournament with a 61-57 victory in the semifinal round. Iona was 1-3 against Marist and Fairfield in the regular season and 12-2 against everyone else. Ivkovic, a talented offensive player, missed the final 10 games with a knee injury and Iona was absent a key weapon without her versatile skills. Her absence surely played a role in the team's 5-6 record in its last 11 games. Iona also had a 5-9 non-league record, but played one of the better non-conference schedules of any MAAC team, including losses to Arizona, Notre Dame, Arkansas, UConn and the WNIT loss to Maryland. Only the difficult non-league schedule stood between the team and a 20-victory season. The team also struggled from the field as McLean (at .509 percent shooting) was the only Gael to make more than .412 percent from the floor. Iona countered that, though, with an edge in rebounds and by committing fewer turnovers to get off 211 more shots than opponents on the season.
WHAT'S AHEAD: It has to find replacements for its two best players, Cook and McLean, and that won't be easy. But every other member of the 10-individual playing group does return. Ford will likely get even better in the post and Ivkovic, if fully healthy, will likely become the team's leading scorer and one of the conference's better players. Hubbard is likely to build on a strong freshman season. The program did have some height on the bench in sophomores 6-3 center Milica Paligoric (4.1, 2.7) and 6-0 Tomica Bacic (1.8, 2.2), and at least one, if not both, will need to make major strides for the Gaels to be as good as they were this past season. The team might also get an inside boost from incoming freshman 6-4 center Sabrina Jeridore.
PREDICTION FOR 2010-11: Head coach Tony Bozzella's cast has turned over a few times since his arrival, but the winning goes on, indicative of his abilities as a coach. If Inkovic is recovered and makes the expected step from strong role player to a featured role offensively, and if one of the post players, whether it's returnees Paligoric or Bacic, or incoming freshman Jeridore, can be an effective post player, then don't expect the Gaels to slip much, if at all. Expect Iona to be in the mix for the regular-season title with the likelihood of a second- or third-place finish the most-realistic expectation.