Here's another in the series previewing MAAC teams. Up now ...
2009-10 RECORD: 8-10 in MAAC play, 11-18 overall.
COACHES' PREDICTION: Picked for eighth in the preseason poll of conference coaches.
KEY RETURNEES: 6-2 senior forward Serena Moore (13.7 points, 7.7 rebounds), 5-9 junior guard Christina Centeno (6.5 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.4 assists), 5-9 senior forward Cathy Cockrum (3.9 points, 3.8 rebounds), 5-11 junior guard Maja Gerlying (3.0 points, 1.0 rebounds), 6-0 sophomore forward Lily Grenci (2.4 points, 1.7 rebounds).
KEY LOSSES: 5-8 guard Allie Lindemann (11.2 points, 2.7 rebounds, 68 3-pointers), 6-3 center Sarah Fullmer (8.9 points, 6.4 rebounds), 5-6 point guard Merrick Volpe (6.3 points, 4.4 rebounds, 3.3 assists).
NOTES: Three senior starters lost, but all shared a common thread: skilled, but non-athletic. They'll be replaced by a variety of quicker, more-athletic performers and a new playing style will reflect that.
Siena and 21st-year head coach Gina Castelli has had six straight sub-.500 overall records, but has remained in the middle of the pack in the conference. Last year's 8-10 MAAC record could easily have been 10-8. Over the past six years the Saints' conference mark is 48-60. Not great, but not horrendous, either. Before that, though, from 1997-98 through 2003-04, Siena was as nearly as dominant a team in the league as Marist has been in recent years. Over that seven year stretch Siena either won outright or shared the top spot in the league standings six times. From 2000-01 through 2003-04 the Saints' MAAC record was 61-11 and its overall record was 89-32.
Serena Moore is a gifted athlete who has improved some aspect of her game each season. Preseason drills have allowed her to show off a nice mid-range jumper she didn't have previously. She is the No. 3 returning scorer, No. 2 returning rebounder and No. 2 returnee in field goal percentage among MAAC players. She is also one of just two seniors on the preseason first-team all-star squad, as selected by league coaches (Erica Allenspach of Marist is the other one), and is a legit Player of the Year candidate.
Centeno moves to the point full time after playing both guard spots over the past two years. She had 101 assists as a freshman, the only Siena women's player to go over 100 assists in her first season in the program's Division I history.
Grinci and Gerlying, in particular, look ready to step up and step into key roles after being limited by injuries for most of last year.
Gerlying had 11 points (5-of-5 shooting) in last season's opener at Illinois and, then, battled hamstring, groin and ankle injuries for most of the rest of the way.
Grenci (foot woes) was almost never healthy, but she had two eye-opening games: a 14-point, six-rebound effort in 23 minutes in an upset victory at Iona and another 14-point performance (5-of-6 shooting) against Marist.
HOW SIENA WILL SUCCEED: Moore steps up a little more to be the Player of the Year candidate she figures to be. Centeno makes a smooth transition to the point guard spot. Geryling and Grinci both stay healthy and each can extend the flashes they showed last year into consistent, season-long results. There also seems to be considerable depth in plalce, including two other contenders for starting roles, 5-9 senior Cathy Cockrum (3.9 points, 3.8 rebounds), and 5-6 junior guard Brittany Wilwohl (1.6 points), who has a nice offensive game and looks ready to get into the playing group. There are also six freshmen on the roster, with the best of those likely to be athletic 5-7 guard Allie Mullings, 6-1 forward Clara Sole Anglade, a native of Barcelona, Spain, and 6-0 forward Kate Zarotney.
The Saints will certainly need to adapt to a new playing style, some new faces in new roles and some new faces, period. But the potential is definitely there and the team looks like it has a legitimate chance for its first winning record overall since the 2003-04 season.
PREDICTION: Definitely higher than eighth. In the interest of full disclosure ... your blogger is doing radio color commentary work for the Siena women's games this season and has attended a few preseason practices. The feeling here is that league coaches understandably overlooked players like Grinci and Gerlying, whose roles were previously limited by injuries. There is enough in place here for at least the start of a move upward in the standings. Bottom line ... at least middle of the pack.
COACH'S COMMENTS: "What we are really excited about is how much our returning players have stepped up their games since last season. Serena (Moore) has worked on parts of her game every off-season to get better, and has added another dimension in terms of shooing. We've got six freshmen, and they need to lelarn quickly. But, they bring a lot of energy to our program and quite a bit of athleticism."