Here's another in the series previewing MAAC teams. Up now ...
2009-10 RECORD: 13-5 in MAAC play, 18-14 overall.
COACHES' PREDICTION: Picked for second in the preseason poll of conference coaches.
KEY RETURNEES: 6-1 junior forward Kristina Ford (9.5 points, 5.6 rebounds0z, 5-6 senior guard Suzi Fregosi (4.5 points, 2.7 rebounds, 4.8 assists), 5-8 sophomore guard Diana Hubbard (7.0 points, 2.,5 rebounds), 6-1 senior forward Anda Ivkovic (8.8 pints, 3.9 rebounds).
KEY LOSSES: Center Anna McLean (11.3 points, 8.5 rebounds), forward Thazina Cook (14.5 points, 7.0 rebounds).
NOTES: Four of its five conference losses came to first place Marist and third-place Fairfield (twice each) and one to Siena. The Gaels finished second in regular-season league play, but didn't make it to the MAAC tournament's championship game because of a semi-final loss to Fairfield, again. Still, the second-place finish earned an automatic bid to the WNIT where Iona met with high-powered Maryland and bowed out in the first round.
It was Iona's third WNIT appearance in the past four years, quite a turnaround from its former downtrodden days. Iona has had five straight winning seasons. Before that stretch, prior to the 2005-06 season, it was arguably the MAAC's worst program with 23 consecutive losing records.
The Gaels opened up with a 72-40 loss against a very good Charlotte team in the first round of the preseason WNIT, hardly indicative of how good Iona can be against teams at its own level. The expectation is for yet another second-place finish behind Marist, and that has pretty much been Iona's plight for the past five season. Over that time its record in MAAC play is a commendable 60-30, second only to Marist's 83-7 mark.
The losses of potent inside force McLean and Cook, an athletic forward and two-time first-team all-league selection, are big ones. But, the team does return four players who saw considerable time in th estarting lineup last season, including 6-1 forward Anda Ivkovic, maybe its best offensive player, who missed last season's final 10 games with a knee injury. Ivkovic appears all the way back after scoring 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting against Charlotte.
Hubbard, an all-Rookie Team pick last year, did not play in the opener and Iona publicists have not yet responded to inquiries about her absence.
Milica Paligoric, a 6-3 center, has moved in to take over McLean's role and had 15 points in a preseason exhibition contest and, then, went scoreless against Charlotte. The Gaels also have a good reserve front-court player in Samantha Kopp, a 6-2 center/forward who saw limited action last season but played 13 minutes against Charlotte.
HOW IONA WILL SUCCEED: If Hubbard returns quickly, then the Gaels have plenty of firepower between her, Ivkovic, Ford and even 6-0 junior guard Tomica Bacic, who was 3-of-6 from the field against Charlotte. It's enough to survive the offensive loss of Cook. What the team needs,, though, is an inside presence. Whether it's Paligoric or Kopp ... one of the two, or the two together, have to approximate the rugged play and rebounding that McLean proviced a year ago. If Iona gets some inside production it certainly can challenge Marist for the top spot in the conference. Without that, though, it's another second-place finish for the Gaels.
COACH'S COMMENTS: "I've never had a better captain or a leader than Suzi Fregosi," said coach Tony Bozzella. "Getting to the post season last year means a lot. It shows the hard work we've all put in. Now we need to reach the next level, and we'll use last year's post-season experience to help us get better."
PREDICTION: Second place, at least, and capable of contending for the regular-season title. Fregosi is a terrific point guard and ranked 11th nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio last season. She's got the requisite offensive players all around her to create significant offensive production. The feeling here is that Paligoric and Kopp will provide enough of an inside game to ensure Iona remains competitive throughout the season.