Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Rider Women's Preview: Getting Better

Here's another in the series previewing MAAC men's and women's teams. Up now ...


2009-10 RECORD: 2-16 in MAAC play, 4-26 overall.

2010-11 PREDICTION: Picked to finish 10th in the coaches' preseason poll.

KEY RETURNEES: 6-2 sophomore forward Caitlin Bopp (8.4 points, 9.6 rebounds), 6-3 junior center Sarah Homan (4.5, 4.6), 6-0 sophomore forward Carleigh Brown (4.3, 5.2), 5-6 sophomore guard Dior Brown (3.6, 4.3), 5-4 sophomore guard Alyssa Parsons (missed 2009-10 with a knee injury).

KEY LOSSES: guard Amanda Sepulveda (11.5 points, 3.3 rebounds), forward Cintella Spotwood (10.2, 4.7).

NOTES: Clearly one of the youngest teams nationally, and the only team in the MAAC without a senior on the roster, comprised of three juniors, five sophomores and three freshmen. And, one of the juniors is an incoming junior college transfer...Sepulveda was a do-everything point guard, who graduated. Spotwood, an athletic front-court player, would have been the team's top returning scorer but she is no longer at Rider and school officials will not divulge a reason for her departure...
Bopp won Rookie of the Week honors five times last season, and finished third nationally among all freshmen in rebounds. She was 41st nationally in rebounds among all players and is the youthful piece around which the program can grow in future years...
The incoming JC transfer is Aisha Varnadore, a 5-6 guard who averaged 15.4 points last season at Burlington County College. She should provide some much-needed perimeter scoring...And, then, there's Parsons' return from a torn ACL suffered last preseason. Parsons, a 5-4 point guard, averaged 19.5 minutes per game in the 2008-09 season, while scoring 2.9 points and handing out 1.8 assists per contest. She should take over at the point and provide a little experience...
The Riders haven't won more than seven conference games since the 1999-00 season, and have yet to break the .500 mark in its 13-year affiliation with the MAAC....
How important is Bopp to the team? She missed the MAAC tournament's opening-round game with an ankle injury last season and without her Rider lost, 43-25, to Siena. The 25 points scored is the lowest total by any team, men or women, in the tournament's history.

HOW RIDER CAN SUCCEED: By getting older quick. Teams with so many young players rarely win in the MAAC, and Rider probably won't this season, not without a single senior. The team also lacks depth (only 11 players on the roster), and the likely starting backcourt of Parsons and Varnadore didn't play a minute on the Division I level last season. But, there isn't any place to go but forward after a 2-16 conference finish a year ago and the Broncs looked poised to make at least a little progress. Success here will be measured in small increments, however. An increase of even a couple of conference wins would be a nice step forward and a building block considering that the entire roster will be back for 2011-12, too. There are definitely some nice pieces in place. Bopp is poised to become one of the conference's top four or five inside players this season and, potentially, much better than that in the future. Homan, at 6-3, showed some signs last year and gives the team some nice height inside. Varnadore and Parsons, theoretically, should eventually become an effective backcourt pair, but they'll need some experience first to get there. The loss of Spotwood, a tough player to defend, will hurt. But, the good news is that a lot of young players got a lot of minutes last year which should help a little this season. Carleigh Brown (4.3, 5.2), a 6-0 sophomore forward; and, Dior Brown (3.6, 4.3), a 5-6 sophomore guard, should also be in the playing group.
Still, there's way too much youth here for anyone to think the Broncs will move up much, if at all, from last season's last-place finish. But, there is definitely some signs that things are getting better and there's considerable hope for future seasons.

COACH'S COMMENTS: "Our expectations are high," said coach Lynn Milligan. "Caitlin Bopp has really progressed this preseason. She has the "it" factor. She wants to work hard ... she wants to be great. And, that kind of example rubs off on a young team. Sarah Homan had a terrific sumer. She's bigger and stronger and she's ready to make a big leap forward."

PREDICTION: Very likely to finish last again this season, but probably with a few more victories than a year ago. It should still be interesting to watch the young team grow. At least there's some sense of a future here. Bopp and Homan could cause some opponents trouble with their length inside. And, if the backcourt matures, there's a legitimate chance to exceed expectations.

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