Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Mid-Season Look at Women's Storylines

We're not quite at the midway point for women's basketball in the conference ... teams have played eight league games apiece, so the actual mid-season mark won't happen until this weekend.

Still, there has been enough basketball to identify some of the top storylines thus far on the women's side, in no particular order.

- Marist continues to dominate.

Death, taxes, Marist women's basketball.

The Red Foxes have won been the conference's representative to the NCAA tournament in each of the past five seasons and have won outright or tied for the regular-season conference title for the past seven seasons.

Things aren't any different this season. Marist is 8-0 in MAAC play, 17-2 overall and have a 12-game winning streak. Dominating? It has outscored opponents by an average margin of 17.2 points per game.

The only question remaining is whether Marist can get through league play unbeaten, a feat it last accomplished in the 2007-08 season.

The program has not skipped a beat after last season's graduation of three-time Player of the Year Rachele Fitz. If anything, according to more than one league coach, the Red Foxes are tougher to defend this season than in the recent past because of their balance.

Guards Erica Allenspach and Corielle Yard comprise the best backcourt in the conference, and junior forward Brandy Gang has stepped up enough to be a consistent third option on offense. The team is so balanced that only one player (Allenspach) averages more than 26.5 minutes per contest, and 12 players averaging at least 8.1 minutes per night.

- Resurgent Siena women's team.

The Saints were picked to finish eighth by league coaches in their preseason poll, but they're going to finish much higher than that.

So far Siena is 6-2 in league play and shares second place with Loyola entering this weekend.

Player of the Year-like performances by senior center Serena Moore, along with an out-of-nowhere emergence by junior small forward Maja Gerlyng, who currently averages more points per game (11.8) than minutes played last season (10.7). Geryling averages 16.4 points in conference-only contests, best in the MAAC.

Another junior, guard Christina Centeno, has become a nice third offensive option, and the team has enough quality depth to go nine or 10 deep most games.

The Saints have been over .500 in league play since the 2003-04 season, but that they seem well on their way to cracking the .500 mark in the MAAC this season with ease.

- An infusion of youth.

This blogger cannot remember there being this many freshmen having impact for women's programs, and I've been covering the MAAC since 1989.

The down side is that teams needed freshmen to step in, which usually means a lack of quality players otherwise and that has been the case for the most part. The up side is that these precocious youngsters are getting valuable playing experience that will pay big dividends in future years, and the freshmen are certainly making their respective marks.

We'd certainly miss someone if we tried to name them all, but early observations show some of the better ones to be Teresa Manigrasso of St. Peter's, Katie Gattuso of Niagara, MyNeshia McKenzie of Rider and a quartet of standouts at Canisius.

- The future.

It's inevitable that some team other than Marist will eventually win the conference title isn't it?

The last team to dethrone Marist, at least in the league's post-season tournament, was Canisius in 2005.

The crystal ball says Canisius might be the team to do it again. Not this year, but within the next three seasons.

The Golden Griffins have four freshmen -- forwards Jamie Ruttle, Jen Lennox and Courtney VandenBovenkamp and guard Jen Morabito. Another of the Griffs' top players is guard Ashley Durham, only a sophomore.

All four freshmen have won at least one Rookie of the Week award this season. Durham was an all-Rookie team selection last year.

Canisius is 2-6 this season in league play and isn't likely to crack the upper half of the standings this year. But the future for the Buffalo-based program appears very bright.

- League all stars ...

Let's take 10, in no particular order:
- Serena Moore, forward, Siena.
- Erica Allenspach, guard, Marist.
- Maja Geryling, forward, Siena.
- Corielle Yard, guard, Marist.
- Katie Sheahin, guard, Loyola.
- Katelyn Linney, guard, Fairfield.
- Taryn Johnson, forward, Fairfield.
- Erica DiClemente, guard, Loyola.
- Abby Wentworth, guard, Manhattan.
- Mariam McKenzie, forward, Loyola.

- Player of the year.

We'll be diplomatic here, and name the top two candidates Allenspach of Marist and Moore of Siena.

Allenspach was the preseason selection of league coaches so Moore will probably have to outdistance Allenspach considerably to win the award.

But, she's showing signs of doing that, averaging 14.5 points (second-best in the MAAC) and 8.9 rebounds (tops in the league). Moore is also 2nd in blocks and 4th in field-goal percentage.

Allenspach is 3rd in scoring, 5th in assists, 1st in field goal percentage and 2nd in free-throw percentage.

It should be a race between those two right down to the final games of the season.

- Coach of the Year.

Hard to pick against Marist's Brian Giorgis if his team goes through conference play without a loss. But, he needs 10 more wins in succession to do that.

For now, the choice is from the best of the also-rans, Loyola's Joe Logan and Siena's Gina Castelli.

Expectations for Siena were far below what the team has accomplished so far. So, at the midway point the front-runner is Castelli.

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