Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Women's Report: Jaspers Getting Better

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

Up now ...

MANHATTAN (10-8 in MAAC play in 2009-10, 15-15 overall)

RECAP: The program hasn't had a winning overall record since a 20-10 mark in 2002-03, and underwent an off-season coaching change to bring in John Olenowski, who had done nothing but win an extraordinary amount of games as a high school coach and head coach, in the 1980's at Pace University. Most recently an assistant at Long Island University, Olenowski almost got the Jaspers back on the positive side of the won-loss ledger with a 15-14 regular-season mark that slipped back to .500 (15-15 overall) when they lost to Niagara in the first round of the MAAC tournament. Otherwise things were fairly satisfying, an encouraging first step, for a young team that was 10-20 overall the previous year. Included was a midseason stretch when it won six times in eight MAAC games. The season also saw 6-foot-0 sophomore forward Lindsey Loutsenhiser emerge as one of the better players in the conference, senior point guard Michelle Pacheco revitalize her career that slipped considerably the previous season and allowed a host of younger players to get valuable and positive playing experience.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Pacheco, who fell out of favor and lost her starting job as a junior, flourished under Olenowski in her senior seasons, finished fourth in the conference in scoring, first in assists, second in steals and was a first-team all-MAAC selection. Loutsenhiser, a sophomore, finished third in scoring, 10th in rebounding and second in field-goal percentage. She was a second-team all-star selection who probably should have been on the first team. Nadia Peters, a 6-1 sophomore forward, was a nice inside presence and her 1.6 blocks-per-game average was second-best in the conference. The team won games by taking care of the ball. Its' positive 3.4 turnover ratio was the best in the MAAC as it turned it over 100 fewer times than opponents. Those extra possessions showed up on the scoreboard where Manhattan averaged 62.3 points per game, third-best in the conference. There was the 6 wins in 8-game mid-season stretch including a pair over third-place Fairfield. At the end of the season Manhattan knocked off Manhattan, 65-62, one of Marist's three regular-season losses and Pacheco had 28 points in that contest.

WHAT WENT WRONG: A very evident rebounding disadvantage (Manhattan's 32.9 rebound-per-game average was last in the conference, and it got beat by an average of six per game) left the team with very little margin of error. And, then, it lost its best outside-shooting threat when sophomore guard Alyssa Harrington, one of the conference's top marksmen, suffered a mid-season injury and missed the final 16 games. To that point she was leading all conference players with 37 three-pointers. Manhattan had four other players hit at least 20 3-pointers during the year, but the loss of Harrington made the team a little easier to defend. Loutsenhiser, whose best work came on the perimeter, was also the team's leading rebounder (6.5 per contest). An overabundance of young players (10 of the 13 team members were freshmen or sophomores) almost ensured the best work was in the future. There was also a lack of depth. After Harrington's loss, the team pretty much only relied on seven players. The season ended on a down note, the 66-54 tournament loss to Niagara which the Jaspers had beaten in both regular-season contests. It should give the team some off-season incentive.

WHAT'S AHEAD: More improvement should be coming particularly if the program can find a replacement for Pacheco, its standout point guard. That could come from incoming freshman Jazmine Jarvis, a 2,000-point scorer on the high school level. If Jarvis, or anyone else, steps up to run the team effectively then the Jaspers could reasonably approach the 20-victory level this coming season. Loutsenhiser is the requisite "star" player a team needs to compete for the conference's upper level, and Harrington's return should allow her to be a second offensive force. Peters should get better and provide a little more inside, and junior guard Abby Wentworth (9.4 points, 4.6 rebounds) is another solid starter who does a little bit of everything. Toni-Ann Lawrence, a 5-11 freshman forward, averaged 2.9 rebounds in limited playing time this past season and could add some needed inside help. Among the recruits is 6-3 center Brandone Roberts.

PREDICTION FOR 2010-11: If a point guard steps up, and some rebounding help emerges ... both likely to happen ... Manhattan should do no worse than this year's fourth-place finish and could compete for the top three spots. Anything more than that does depend on filling the point-guard/rebounding needs, but finishing in one of the top three spots is certainly a possibility. Competing for the regular-season crown isn't out of the question, either.

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