Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Women's Report: Siena's Pieces in Place

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

Up now ...

SIENA (8-10 in MAAC play in 2009-10, 11-17 overall)

RECAP: Another slightly less-than-satisfying season, but the team remains on the verge of being better than respectable. Although it hasn't been above .500 in conference play since 2003-04, it has had a 48-60 MAAC record over that time. Not bad, just not real good. This past season was a little of both. The Saints knocked off the conference's second-best team, Iona, in regular-season play and lost a one-point game to the league's third-best team, Fairfield, when the Stags' Stephanie Geehan sank a three-pointer at the buzzer. Siena also lost an overtime game at Niagara. Victories in those two close losses and Siena would have finished in fourth, rather than seventh place. A variety of injuries also played a role in holding down the Saints. An 0-6 start in non-conference play against a series of higher-level opponents was followed by a 11-12 afterwards. Mostly, though, the season was what the results indicated: some very good nights and some lesser ones. On the whole, a lot of inconsistent play.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: The apex was a 75-67 overtime victory over tough Iona late in the season when Siena trailed by 18, 27-9, late in the first half and, then, rallied for a victory against its largest deficit in a winning effort in nine years. The win was predicated on a 12-assist/4-turnover effort after the half, something the Saints didn't get enough of as it had 3.9 turnovers per game more than opponents for the season. A 45-25 victory over Rider in the first-round of the MAAC tournament was a positive, too, as Broncs' point total was the fewest by a Siena opponent in the Saints' Division I history. Siena also had a big victory over a solid Loyola team (59-33) in mid-season. Junior forward Serena Moore (13.7 points, 7.7 rebounds) emerged as one of the league's best front-court players and will likely be a Player of the Year candidate next season. Freshman Lily Grenci, who battled foot problems all year, had two big games with 14-point efforts against the league's top two teams, Marist and Iona. Senior guard Allie Lindemann had 68 3-pointers, the second-highest total in the conference. A variety of other players had moments, just not enough of them. A commitment to defense after the 0-6 start paid some dividends. The first victory of the season, a 65-61 overtime effort against the University at Albany, was the 300th win of coach Gina Castelli's career. Only two other coaches (Mike Granelli and Dianne Nolan) have recorded more victories as MAAC coaches.

WHAT WENT WRONG: In Siena's glory days (over a five-year span from 1997-98 through 2001-02 it won 16 MAAC games four times ... only Marist has matched that sort of streak), it won because it had the most overall talent. It hasn't had a "signature" player since those days, and last year was no exception. Injuries played a role. Senior Sarah Fullmer, a 6-3 center, suffered a concussion, missed four games and, then, played tentatively (5.3 points per game) over the final seven games of the year. Grinci, a 5-11 forward, broke a foot in preseason, didn't come back until the end of December and didn't get in playing condition for another month. She had two big-time efforts, portending a bright future, and, then, was hindered by her foot woes again at season's end. There were far too many turnovers, 18.1 per game. Overall team quickness, or lack thereof, also caused problems. Opponents made 8.8 steals per game against Siena, while Siena only averaged 5.7 steals per contest. A touted recruit, Carly Cooper, expected to provide backcourt help, left the program before ever playing a game.

WHAT'S AHEAD: Despite the loss of three starters (point guard Merrick Volpe, Fullmer and Lindemann), better days are likely ahead. Five recruits are signed (and, a sixth might be coming), including point guard Ciara Stewart, who will likely get plenty of playing time. Two other guards and two post players are among the recruiting class and the group is expected to help increase team speed and athleticism. The flip side is that it's rare that freshmen make a significant impact. Still, Moore will be among the league's best players next season, Grenci is an emerging talent with all-league caliber potential and sophomore guard Christina Centano is a gritty, versatile perimeter performer who should have a step-up season. Several other solid role players also return.

PREDICTION FOR 2010-11: Siena should be solid again, and may be better if any of the freshmen, particularly the point guard, are ready to contribute. The team should be deeper and more athletic than last season, but less-experienced as well. There are enough good veteran players in place, though, to at least ensure a middle-of-the-pack finish. If any of the freshmen add anything of significance, then, it could be better. Expect anywhere from fourth-to-seventh in the standings with the promise of better things ahead as the strong incoming recruiting group develops.

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