Here's another in the series preving MAAC teams. Up now ...
2009-10 RECORD: 11-7 in MAAC play, 20-14 overall.
COACHES' PREDICTION: Picked to finish fourth in the coaches' preseason poll.
KEY RETURNEES: 5-11 junior forward Taryn Johnson (8.9 points, 6.9 rebounds), 6-0 senior guiard Joelle Nawrocki (4.8 points, 2.9 rebounds), 5-8 sophomore guard Katelyn Linney (10.2 points, 2.3 rebounds), 5-6 junior guard Desiree Pina (12.1 points, 2.9 assists).
KEY LOSSES: Center Stephanie Geehan (14.8 points, 11.4 rebounds), forward Tara Flaherty (5.5 points, 3.8 rebounds).
NOTES: There weren't many more satisfying seasons turned in by MAAC women's teams than Fairfield's, which started 10-12 overall and 4-7 in league play. After that ... seven straight conference victories followed by two more in the MAAC tournament before a championship game setback against Marist. Then, came another victory in the WNIT before its season came to an end. Geehan was clearly one of the top two players in the MAAC last season, and her loss is a big one in every sense. She not only provided offense, but was probably the league's top defensive player as evidenced by her conference record 118 blocks last season. Flaherty was also a nice inside player, so the Stags have some rebuilding to do inside.
But, sophomore Laura Vetra, a 6-2 center and a native of Latvia, is off to a nice start (8.5 points, 7.5 rebounds) as Fairfield has won its first two games. Taryn Johnson, a 5-11 forward, is also off to a strong start this season. There is also considerable firepower on the perimeter with the trio of sophomore Linney, an all-rookie team pick last season who is averaging 19 points through two games thus far; junior point guard Desiree Pina and senior guard Joelle Nawrocki.
Plus, Joe Frager is clearly one of the better coaches in the conference. His team lost four starters from 2008-09 and, then, survived the rough beginning to bounce back strongly. He only lost two starters from last year's team, albeit good ones, but there's plenty on hand to ensure this season won't have the same early bumps as last season's.
The only issue so far is depth. Only six players are averaging more than nine minutes per contest through the first two games.
HOW FAIRFIELD WILL SUCCEED: By having one of the better perimeter trios in Pina, Linney and Nawrocki, all experienced and tested performers. How good the Stags will be likey depends on the continued development of inside players Johnson and Vetra. But so far, so good on the front line. The other issue looks like it will be finding some depth, but guard Sarah Paulus was playing well last year before an early season-ending injury a year ago, and she is likely to give the team at least a seventh quality performer. And, Frager is well-proven in his ability to figure things out as a season progresses. Fairfield is the only team to beat Marist in each of the past two seasons, which says something about his ability to prepare his squad for big games.
COACH'S COMMENTS: "We'll rely a lot on our backcourt," said Frager. "But, we've still got a lot to take care of. At this point, Pina is the heart and soul of our team. She's one of the most-competitive players I've ever coached. Linney has worked hard on her game in the off-season, particularly at putting the ball on the floor a little more. She has developed more of an all-around game."
PREDICTION: Unless Fairfield's inside players provide almost no suppor ... and that's not the case so far ... it's hard to envision the Stags falling below the predicted fourth-place finish. And, there's enough here to think a higher finish is a possibility. If it's a given that Marist is the MAAC's top team again, then Fairfield is likely to finish anywhere from second to fourt.