Saturday, May 14, 2011

Off-Season: Siena Women's Future Bright

Here's another in the series looking at conference programs.

Up now ...


2010-11 RECORD: 11-7 in MAAC play, 14-16 overall.

2010-11 RECAP: The Saints were picked to finish eighth in the coaches' preseason poll and, then, turned in a season of surprises finishing in fourth in the regular-season and giving Marist its best game in the post-season tournament. It might even have been a little surprising for Siena, too, as it started with a 1-8 record against non-conference opponents before going 13-8 after that, including victories in 5 of its last 7 contests. The conference record was the once-dominant program's first better-than-.500 performance since the 1993-94 season, and it appears that result is a sign of a team on the verge of returning to its glory days rather than a one-year anomaly. Individually, senior center Serena Moore made her mark as one of the better players the conference has seen, leading the MAAC in scoring and rebounding and finishing second in Player of the Year balloting to Marist's Erica Allenspach in a voting that could have gone either way. Moore also became just the 13th player in MAAC history to finish with career totals of more than 1,000 points, 600 rebounds and 100 blocks. Overall, a better-than-expected season that included a relatively close conference tournament semifinal-round game against Marist when the Saints were within three points early in the second half before the Red Foxes wound up winning by 15.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: The huge season by Moore, who became the conference's best post player by far. Her consistently productive presence inside also helped open things up for two emerging perimeter players, juniors Maja Geryling (10.0 points per game) and Christina Centeno (9.5 points). The team also got a boost when senior "glue" player point guard Missy Ramsey recovered enough from a knee injury to get into the starting lineup and the team's other senior, Cathy Cockrum provided tough play and defensive intensity inside. The team also exhibited considerable resiliency after a 1-8 start. It began with a holiday tournament victory over Fordham of the Atlantic 10 in a non-league meeting and carried into MAAC play. The Saints had their best success against fifth-place finisher Fairfield, beating the Stags twice during the regular season and, then, again in the quarterfinals of the league tournament by a 36-33 score in which Siena scored an amazingly low seven points in the first half. Siena often struggled to produce points, but thrived with a defense that wound up 12th nationally for fewest points allowed per game.

WHAT WENT WRONG: The slow start kept the team from a winning record overall, and Marist's continued domination ended Siena's season in the post-season tournament's semifinal round. The team went through its share of injuries, too, as four of the five starters played through a variety of physical woes, top inside reserve Lily Grenci suffered a severe ankle sprain and missed eight late-season games and highly-touted freshmen forward Kate Zarotney and guard Kanika Cummings were hindered all season while recovering with pre-Siena injury situations. Still, hard to find too much to fault when the season far surpassed early expectations.

WHAT'S AHEAD: Finding a reasonable replacement for Moore will be the key. Other personnel losses are role players, and there appears to be a slew of young talent ready to step in. The problem, though, is just that: the talent will mostly be young. Next year's team will only have two seniors (Gerlyng and Centeno) and one junior (Grenci). Otherwise ... six sophomores and four freshmen. But, that bodes well for the program's future. Five of the six sophomores-to-be gained considerable experience this past season and all five will be expected to play key roles in the future. Stewart looks like a more-than-capable replacement at the point, Zarotney and Clara Sole-Anglada both showed reasons, as first-year players, to get into the playing group in the post and Cummings and Mullings are both explosive, athletic perimeter players. And, Grenci has proven to be an effective inside player when healthy and could make a major step up. Couple that with another very strong incoming group of four recruits and there are even better days ahead for Siena.

PREDICTION FOR 2011-12: For at least one more season, it will still be Marist's league and everyone else is playing for second place. But like this past season, when at least four teams, including Siena, were pretty well bunched behind Marist, there doesn't appear to be a sure-thing runner-up to the Red Foxes. If the current freshmen step up as expected, and one of two of the incoming recruits contribute, then Siena will have a strong playing group and likely be able to at least approximate this past season's success. Expect an even bigger step forward in following years as the young players continue to mature. Siena's talented youth brigade certainly merits designation as a team ready to step up when (if?) Marist ever takes a step backwards.

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