Sunday, May 9, 2010

Women's Report: Rider To Be Improved

We did it for the men, and now it's the women's turn ... a look back and ahead at the conference's 10 programs.

Call it a "10 Teams in 10 Days" series.

The reports are done in reverse order of last year's finish.

First up, this past season's 10th-place finisher ...

RIDER (2-16 in MAAC play in 2009-10, 4-26 overall)

2009-10 RECAP: A 7-11 conference record and 10 overall victories in 2008-09, the program's high points since 1999-00, created some optimism that was never fulfilled. Instead, third-year head coach Lynn Mulligan dismissed leading scorer senior Tammy Meyers from the program after seven games and the Broncs' offense suffered. The team wasn't going to be a contender anyway, and there were indications that Meyers' dismissal was addition by subtraction. On the court, though, teams only had to be concerned about defending senior guard Amanda Sepulveda, a terrific outside shooter, and junior guard Cintella Spotwood, an athletic slasher. Not much offense was coming from anywhere else. On the year the Broncs scored a MAAC-low average of 52.7 points per game while allowing 65.5 points, also worst among conference teams.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Sepulveda had a nice senior season, connecting on 77 3-pointers, best in the conference and 26th-best nationally. She was a long-range threat all season. She was also an above-average point guard, but the team needed her to score more than it needed her to pass. Spotwood chipped in with 10.2 points per game and should be one of the league's better players as a senior in the coming season. Although freshman Caitlin Bopp didn't win the conference's top rookie award, she might well be the first-year player who will have the most impact in the league in future seasons. A 6-2 center, Bopp averaged 8.4 points and 9.6 rebounds. She was the conference's second-leading rebounder, third nationally in that statistic among all freshmen and 40th nationally for any player. On the year she had 10 double-doubles. The team had a nice early season non-conference victory over state rival Monmouth, and defeated solid conference teams Manhattan and Saint Peter's during regular-season play.

WHAT WENT WRONG: The early dismissal of Meyers left the offense too easy to defend. There was also much youth getting significant time. Four of the team's top seven scorers were freshmen or sophomores. Other than Bopp (8.4 ppg.), who wasn't a real offensive threat, the Broncs got almost nothing offensively from its frontcourt. On the season, it shot a conference-low .334 percent from the field. And, then, Bopp suffered an ankle sprain and didn't play in the MAAC tournament. Without her, Rider managed just 25 points in a 45-25 first-round tournament loss to Siena, the low point total ever by a team in the conference tournament. There just wasn't enough experienced talent around for anything other than a last-place finish.

WHAT'S AHEAD: Certainly better days. Only Sepulveda departs. If Bopp adds some off-season strength she'll be among the league's elite inside players over the next three years and will be a terrific building piece for the program. Sophomore Sarah Homan, a 6-3 post player, flashed some signs that she can be a future contributor. Another inside player, 6-foot freshman Carleigh Brown, could be another nice piece for a strong future front court. Spotwood is a strong swingplayer and will likely be the go-to perimeter performer next season. Five recruits are signed, including junior college transfer Aisha Varnadore, who averaged 15.4 points per game at Burlington County College this past season. Things certainly can't get much worse for a team that hasn't won more than seven league games since 1999-00 and hasn't been above the .500 mark overall in its 13 years in the MAAC. The Broncs probably won't get there next season either, but they're moving in the right direction.

PREDICTION FOR 2010-11: Eight of the team's players will be freshmen and sophomores and another is an incoming JC transfer. That sort of youth rarely has great success at this level. Still ... if Bopp continues to develop, if this year's freshmen make some natural progression, if JC transfer Varnadore can pick up Sepulveda's lost scoring and the incoming freshmen can at least contribute, Rider should escape the cellar. Don't expect the Broncs to compete for the upper division, but it could contend to escape the play-in round for the conference's bottom four teams and move on to even better things beyond next season.

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