Here's another in the series previewing conference teams. Up now ...
2009-10 RECORD: 6-12 in MAAC play, 12-19 overall.
COACHES' PRESEASON PREDICTION: Picked for seventh in the coaches' preseason poll.
KEY RETURNEES: 5-9 senior guard Micayla Drysdale (6.7 points, 2.8 rebounds), 5-5 sophomore guard Ashley Durham (6.0 points, 1.8 rebounds, 1.4 assists), 5-10 sophomore guard Allison Braun (4.5 points, 4.3 rebounds), 6-0 sophomore forward Melissa Gardner 91.5 points, 3.0 rebounds), 5-10 redshirt shophomore guard Stephanie McDonald (3.3 points, 3.2 rebounds), 6-2 sophomore forward Whitney Ellenor (3.3 points, 2.9 rebounds).
KEY LOSSES: Guard Brittane Russell (13.0 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 3.0 steals), 6-0 forward Elle Radke (11.2 points, 6.3 rebounds).
NOTES: The 3-point shootingest team the conference has ever seen ... an NCAA record of 485 consecutive games with at least one made shot from beyond the bonus stripe ... might not have that ame identity this year. Returning players made only 75 of the team's 218 3-pointers last year, and the top two losses, Russell and Radke, are both big ones. The top returnee's scoring average from a year ago is a mere 6.7 points per game, which means several former role players need to step up into featured roles. Drysdale and Durham, a near carbon-copy of Russell, appear to be the two most-likely candidates.
The team's glaring weakness a year ago was rebounding. The Griffs worked to a 4.4 rebound-per-game disadvantage. The early season losses of two promising young players didn't help on the boards, and that was more than enough to turn what might have been a better season into a sub-standard one. Of the Griffs' 12 league losses, five were by five points or less. Had the rebounding been better, some of those close losses would have been close victories.
The good news is that Canisius focus is likely to be a lot closer to the paint of the post rather than the 3-point stripe this season, although coach Terry Zeh's teams have never passed up open shots from the perimeter before, and aren't likely to abandon that strategy entirely this season.
But, back and healthy are redshirt sophomore 5-10 guard/forward Stephanie McDonald (3.3 points, 3.0 rebounds last season), who started six early season games before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury; and 6-0 sophomore forward Melissa Gardner 91.5 points, 3.0 rebounds), who started 10 of the team's first 12 games before a foot injury kept her out the rest of the way.
Then, there's a trio of good-sized newcomers from the north. Jen Lennox is a 6-4 freshman from Kitchener, Ont., Jamie Ruttle is a 6-4 freshman from Burlington, Ont., and Courtney VandeBovenkapm is a 6-1 freshman from Amherstburg, Ont. For once the Griffs will have plenty of height.
Drysdale, Durham and 5-10 ophomore guard Allison Braun (4.5 points, 4.3 rebounds last season) provide a good perimeter trio.
Until last season's dip the Griffs have been one of the more competitive women's programs in the conference in recent years. In fact, Canisius is that last MAAC team prior to Marist's active five-year run to make the NCAA tournament, getting there in 2005.
HOW CANISIUS WILL SUCCEED: It might be a lot to ask two returnees who played a total of 18 games last season (Gardner and McDonald) and two tall freshmen (Lennox, Ruttle and VandeBovenkamp) to solve the team's inside deficiencies from a year ago. But, they have the potential to do that. When Gardner and McDonald both went out early a year ago, it left Radke, an undersized post player, as the primary inside player and that just wasn't enough. And, don't discount another sophomore, 6-2 forward Whitney Ellenor (3.3 points, 2.9 rebounds last season). She had a team-high 22 blocks while playing in just 23 games and an average of 13.5 minutes per contest. There certainly is enough height in place. Now, it's just a matter of letting the redwoods mature. If it happens quickly, the Griffs can once again be a formidable force in the conference.
But, more needs to happen besides that. Durham, who could follow Russell's lead on the court a year ago, needs to step up and take over primary ball-handling duties. Drysdale needs to probably double her scoring average from a year ago as the featured offensive performer.
That's asking a lot. Canisius is asking some very young frontcourt players to be effective very quickly, and several other players to step up to new, more-important roles.
That's the world of college basketball: players leave, new players step up. But, in this case, every role on the team seems to be undergoing a makeover.
COACH'S COMMENTS: "We've got four freshmen and four sophomores on the roster, so we're doing more teaching of things and learning how to be successful than we have in the past," said coach Terry Zeh. "We're trying to fit our system to our players. Drysdale is our captain and really took on a leadership role in the off-season. She really analyzes things we do and really incorporates that with her work with our young players."
PREDICTION: The coaches probably have this one right. There's a lot of potential here, but much of it looks like it needs to vine ripen for a season. There are good days ahead for the team in the future, particularly with so many potentially strong but young frontcourt players. Teams so young, though, rarely contend for a MAAC title, and the likelihood is that this one won't this year. Expect Canisius to occasionally cause better teams some problems when things fall into place on certain nights, but don't expect that on a regular basis. Finishing higher than the seventh-place prediction would be nice, but even a fall to eighth or ninth, if the younger players show improvement, wouldn't be a disaster.