Friday, May 14, 2010

Women's Report: Loyola Should Get Better

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

Up now ...

LOYOLA (9-9 in MAAC play in 2009-10, 14-16 overall)

RECAP: A mixed bag of a season that took one downward turn when junior point guard Candice Walker was lost to a torn plantar fasciia after just four games, and the Greyhounds didn't have a capable replacement to handle the ball. Not long afterwards assistant coach Alisha Mosley was hospitalized after feeling ill for several weeks. She had double pneumonia, a loss of kidney functions, inflammation in the back of her brain and nearly lost her life. After 43 days in a medically induced coma, she began her recovery and, in late February, was moved from intensive care to a rehab situation. Reports about her recovery have been positive. On the court, sophomore guard Miriam McKenzie had as strong a break-out season as any conference player, finishing second in the league in scoring (16.7 ppg.) and sixth in rebounding (7.6). She also took on much of the ball-handling duties in Walker's absence and led the team with 85 assists, but committed 132 turnovers. Junior guard Erica DiClemente had a nice season, as did senior forward Kaitlin Grant. Freshman guard Katie Sheehin played well enough to earn all-Rookie Team honors. Loyola opened the season strong (4-1 in MAAC play), went through a long dry spell (8 losses in 10 games) and, then, finished wll with three straight victories before falling to Fairfield in the first round of the conference tournament.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: McKenzie's breakout. An athletic-do-everything player, she figures to be among the MAAC's better players for the next two seasons and is a likely Player of the Year candidate over that time. She was the youngest player to earn first-team all-MAAC honors this past season. Clemente, a 5-11 guard, averaged 14 points per game in her last seven games. Sheehin averaged 11.3 points and 5.6 rebounds in her last nine games. Meredith Tolley, a 6-foot-0 forward, established herself as one of the better long-range shooters in the MAAC, connecting on 43 during the season. The team opened the season with a nice victory over Iona, then suffered a 3-point loss to Fairfield and followed that with victories over Rider, Saint Peter's and Manhattan. After that, though, it suffered through a 2-8 stretch before winning its last three regular-season games.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Things bottomed out for the middle portion of the season during that 2-8 stretch in conference play. The loss of Walker, the team's only effective ball-handler, ensured a promising season wouldn't be any better than its .500 conference finish. Things never work well when the team's primary ball-handler (McKenzie) commits 47 turnovers move than assists. Besides the loss of Walker, there wasn't enough height. Walker, a 6-o forward, was the only true post player, although McKenzie wound up as the team's leading rebounder from the guard spot. Mosley's situation, obviously, was an emotional issue for the program.

WHAT'S AHEAD: Grant graduates leaving a significant post-position situation for the program to plug. Freshman 6-0 forward Alyssa Sutherland (2.8 points, 2.4 rebounds) could help out there next year, as could 6-1 incoming freshman Nneka Offadilo, who will be the program's tallest player. Otherwise the team has more than its share of good periter players in McKenzie, DiClemente, Sheehin, Tolley and Devon Carey. But it also needs to develop some depth. Only seven players appeared in its MAAC tournament game. Walker's expected return at the point should help significantly.

PREDICTION FOR 2010-11: Walker's return to full health should improve things. The perimeter group is deep and talented, among the better groups in the conference. McKenzie is the "signature" player that a program needs to compete for the conference's upper division. Coach Joe Logan is certainly among the better program directors in the conference, and is likely to employ a style of play that will mask the inside deficiency. Loyola was tied for fifth in the final regular-season standings last year, and should reach that level, at a minimum, this year. If it can rebound well enough it could finish in the top three or four spots.

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