Sunday, May 8, 2011

Off-Season Report: Jasper Women Solid

Here's the latest in a series examining conference programs.

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2010-11 RECORD: 13-5 in MAAC play, 24-10 overall.

2010-11 RECAP: The best season by the Jaspers since 2002-03 when it won the conference crown and advanced to the NCAA tournament. This year its overall victory total was second-best of all MAAC teams (only Marist's 31 victories accounted for more), and its 13-5 league mark was good for third place overall. That much was not expected prior to the season from a team that looked to be in transition. Abby Wentworth, the only senior starter, was learning to play the point guard position after playing off the ball previously. And, the other top seven players included four seniors, two sophomores and a freshman. But it didn't take long for Wentworth to adjust to the new position and she became one of the top two or three players in the conference. Monica Roeder, a 6-0 freshman provided some long-range shooting as the team's second-leading scorer (9.7 points per game) and 6-0 junior Lindsey Loutsenhiser became an inside force by midseason after a relatively slow start to average 9.4 points and 6.1 rebounds. As a team Manhattan started 8-5 overall and 0-2 in league play. After that it was 16-5 overall and 13-3 against MAAC foes. Its only conference losses were two each to league champion Marist, second-place finisher Loyola and one to fourth-place finisher Siena. It was all good enough to get Manhattan its first post-season tournament berth since 2003, a trip to the Women's Basketball Invitational. There it won its first two games before its season ended against UAB.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Plenty. Wentworth made a remarkably smooth adjustment to playing the point, although she did play the position in high school, and seemingly made every clutch play the Jaspers needed throughout the season. She finished second in scoring among all MAAC players, first in assists, second in steals and first in minutes played. Roeder scored 20 points in her first college game, hitting 6-of-7 from 3-point territory. She cooled off a little after that, but finished with 62 3-pointers. Loutsenhiser didn't start in the team's first nine games, but when she moved into the starting lineup she provided a much-needed dose of post play and the on-court improvement of the team was noticeable. Nadia Peters, a 6-1 junior, was also an effective front-court player (6.4 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.7 steals, 1.2 blocks per game). Overall Manhattan held opponents to 50.9 points per game, the 5th best total nationally.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Hard to nit-pick things from a team that exceeded expectations. Still, a 3.5 rebound-per-game disadvantage was a minor detriment. The Jaspers made up for it with an efficient offense that slowed things down and took care of the ball. Defensively opponents committed 173 more turnovers than Manhattan. The Jaspers' success came despite its relative youth. The experience should pay future dividends, but it also likely kept Manhattan from being even better this season. Wentworth was the team's only double-figure scorer, and the team was definitely offensively challenged at times.

WHAT'S AHEAD: Everyone but Wentworth returns from the eight-member playing group, so that leaves just one gap, albeit a very significant one. After the Jaspers were eliminated in the conference's post-season tournament, second-year head coach John Olonowski was asked how much Wentworth meant to his team this season. "She meant everything," said Olonowski. And, that was not stretching the point. She might have been the conference's most-indispensable player, and her MAAC-highest 36.7 minutes of playing time per game was indicative of that. How to replace her? Maybe 5-10 sophomore guard Maggie Blair, who averaged 1.4 assists per game as a reserve this season, or maybe incoming freshman Sheba Hall, a 5-5 point guard from Philadelphia's Lower Merion High School. Otherwise, the team is set everywhere else. The entire roster will benefit from a year's experience and Roeder, Loutseniser and Alyssa Herrington all should improve offensively, and Peters, Loutsenhiser and athletic sophomore forward Toni-Ann Lawrence comprise one of the better returning front-court groups.

PREDICTION FOR 2011-12: Manhattan's success will be predicated on one thing: finding an adequate replacement at point guard for Wentworth. But, Olonowski entered this past season without a point guard, too, and got a terrific season out of Wentworth when she moved there. Otherwise, things should be good for Manhattan. The early expectation is an upper-division finish, potentially as high as second or third place.

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