Here's another in the series previewing MAAC teams. Up now ...
2009-10 RECORD: 9-9 in MAAC play, 14-16 overall.
COACHES' PREDICTION: Picked to finish third in the preseason poll of conference coaches.
KEY RETURNEES: 5-10 junior guard Miriam McKenzie (16.7 points, 7.6 rebounds), 5-11 senior guard Erica DiClemente (10.7 points, 5.0 rebounds), 5-10 sophomore guard Katie Sheehin (8.8 points, 4.6 rebounds), 6-0 senior forward Meredith Tolley (7.1 points, 4.3 rebounds), 6-1 sophomore forward Alyssa Sutherland (2.8 points, 2.4 rebounds).
KEY LOSSES: Forward Kaitlin Grant (10.6 points, 6.3 rebounds).
NOTES: Help wanted on two fronts for this year's Greyhounds. It needs to find an inside game, and it needs to find a point guard. Through two games, both losses, the team has 21 turnovers against an astronomically high 56 turnovers. Thirty three of those turnovers came against highly regarded West Virginia. The ball-handling woes are a continuation of a year ago when the program lost 5-foot-5 guard Candice Walker, the previous starter at the point, due to a foot injury after four games. After that, do-everything all-league performer McKenzie took over the bulk of the ball-handling duties and had 132 turnovers against just 85 assists. But, she was highly effective otherwise, averaging 16.7 points (2nd best in the league) and 7.6 rebounds. She was the youngest player on the first-team all-conference squad last season, and is the signature standout all teams need to succeed.
As for ball-handling ... Walker is back, but hasn't played much yet. If she fully recovers and can return to her former level, Loyola will be the better for it. And, then, there's the inside game. Loyola operated at a minus 3.4 rebound-per-game margin a year ago, and the team's top oinside player from a year ago, 6-footer Kaitlin Grant, has graduated. There remains a question about whether help is coming. Freshman 6-1 forward Nneka Offodile had four points and five rebounds in a 64-57 loss to La Salle, and she could help. So, too, could 6-1 sopohomore forward Alyssa Sutherland. And, Freshman guard Nicole Krusen, who is averaging eight points and three rebounds thus far, looks like another nice piece.
Otherwise, Loyola's perimeter attack alone makes it one of the conference's better teams. Of its top four returnees, the 6-0 Tolley is the tallest, but she is primarily a perimeter player who made 43 3-pointers last season. Erica Clemente, who averaged 14 points in Loyola's last seven contests last year, is off to a good start averaging 12.5 points per outing through two games. Katie Sheehin, an all-rookie team pick last year, averaged 11.3 points and 5.6 rebounds in the team's last nine games last season.
HOW LOYOLA WILL SUCCEED: If new players don't step up, Loyola will still be a potent team capable of finishing in the upper half of the standings. But real success ... maybe getting into the top three or, even, contending for a league title ... is probably entirely predicated on finding a point guard (Walker?) and getting inside help, probably from either Sutherland or Offodile. Otherwise, everything else is in place ... a true standout, above-average support players, depth and some of the best perimeter attacks in the conference. If Offodile and/or Sutherland produce inside, and point-guard play can be addressed ... that's how Loyola will succeed.
COACH'S COMMENTS: "Hopefully, we'll get more of the same from McKenzie, who had a break-out sophomore season," said coach Joe Logan. "Still, people know about her now and teams will be coming afer her. Erica DiClemente has been with us for five years (she missed a season with an injury), wnd we'll look to her for a lot, too. Candice Walker is coming back from injury, and we can use her. We've been picked third because we're older and experienced. Right now, I'm happy people are considering us to be among the top three or four teams in the league."
PREDICTION: A lot depends on Walker's abililty to return at the point guard spot. If she can help this team take care of the ball better than it has so far, then a top three finish is the likely result. Any hopes of finishing higher than that rest with the young inside players. But, if the turnovers continue, and an inside game isn't found ... Loyola could drop a spot or two.