Monday, February 7, 2011

Niagara Women Down, But Future Bright

Midway through the second half of the Niagara women's team's game at Siena on Sunday the Purple Eagles' on-court lineup consisted of four freshmen and a junior who had only played in 11 of the squad's first 22 games.

Is it any wonder that Niagara remains the conference's only winless team (0-12 in league games) and has a 1-22 overall record that includes an active 17-game losing streak?

The team's plight wasn't helped by the early season loss of point guard Kayla Stroman, last season's conference Rookie of the Year, and this year's leading scorer before a knee injury shut her down after eight games.

And one of Stroman's replacements, junior Ali Morris, is also out for the season after recent shoulder surgery.

The result of losing two veteran ball-handlers and having to rely extensively on not-yet-ready freshmen isn't exactly a recipe for success.

But MAAC opponents better give Niagara its lumps this season becaus a closer look indicates the Purple Eagles won't be anyone's doormat in the very near future.

Freshmen 6-2 center Kate Gattuso, 5-11 forward Shy Britton and 5-10 guard Chanel Johnson are all getting valuable playing experience this season and have all had some strong games that indicate what should come on a more consistent bases in the future.

Stroman and Morris should both be back at full health next season and the team will also return solid role players current sophomore Jessica Flammn and junior Meghan Waterman, one of the league's better defensive players.

And, there's more help coming from a transfer who is currently in the program and practicing with the team but unable to play until next season. That would be 6-foot-2 center Lauren Gatto, who played a season at the University of Illinois at Chicago where she averaged 3.8 points and 2.8 rebounds before transferring to Niagara.

Gatto, and the continued emergence of Gattuso, should solve one problem for Niagara, its rebound struggles (opponents outrebound the Purple Eagles by more than six per game).

The return to health of Stroman and Morris should help the current ball-handling deficiencies (Niagara averages more than 22 turnovers per contest).

And, the natural maturation process of Britton and Johnson, exciting young players who look capable of developing into productive scorers ... it all means better days are ahead for the Niagara women's program. And those days aren't far off.

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