Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Off-Season: Iona Women Set To Rebound

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

Up now ...


2010-11 RECORD: 7-11 in MAAC play, 11-20 overall.

2010-11 RECAP: It's far too easy to say 2010-11 was a disappointing season for the Gaels, and it was. But, Iona no longer lives and dies with a single year's result. This is a program in fine shape, molded so by head coach Tony Bozzella, who will be entering his 10th season directing Iona. There wasn't much talent in place when he arrived and his first team finished 1-27. But, in the five years from 2005-06 through 2009-10, his teams averaged 18.8 victories per season. Iona has become one of the conference's top women's programs in recent years, and a one year anomaly won't change that. And, things surely would have been better this past season had stellar point guard Suzi Fregosi been healthy. Instead the player who is arguably the conference's best pass-first point guard suffered a hip injury in Iona's eighth game and never returned. Without her, the on-court direction wasn't nearly as good, as evidenced by the fact that the team lost five league contests by six points or less with three of those in overtime contests. Reverse just three of those decisions and the Gaels would have finished a respectable 10-8 in league play. Instead, they had to rely on career-long reserve senior Marissa Flagg to step in at the point. And, while Flagg performed admirably ... she wasn't anywhere near the player that Fregosi is. Team ball movement suffered and a number of players didn't have the production expected of them.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: After the loss of Fregosi, not much. Again ... five losses by six or fewer points, a sign that the team was close but not quite good enough. Still, it was competitive most nights. Kristina Ford, a workhorse 6-1 senior-to-be forward had a nice season (12.0 points, 6.2 rebounds). She had a strong 18-point, 9-rebound effort in the team's final game, a 59-47 loss to Manhattan in the first round of the conference's post-season tournament, maybe a sign that a spectacular senior season is coming up. Departing senior Anda Ivkovic finished her strong career averaging 11.5 points and 5.8 rebounds in her final year, finishing with 1,163 career points. Jackie Marshall, a freshman guard, had one eye-opening performance, scoring 17 points while hitting five three-pointers in 21 minutes of time in an early February game against Rider. Flagg, a career-long reserve who averaged less than two points per game over her first three years, did better than expected as Fregosi's replacement, averaging 6.5 points and 2.9 assists per game.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Enough that Iona followers should just discount last season as one-of-those-years and move on. But, to summarize ... Start with the loss of Fregosi, the floor general. Her loss was as significant as any in the conference this past season, and severely hindered the Gaels. Even before that, sophomore Diana Hubbard, who looked like a promising up-and-coming player in 2009-10 as a rookie, suffered a preseason concussion, missed the team's first six games and, then, struggled after that. She averaged 7.3 points and 3.7 rebounds, numbers that basically matched her freshman production (7.0, 2.5). Ivkovic was returning after a late 2009-10 season ACL injury, was forced to wear a restrictive knee brace all season and was clearly not the player she was previously. On top of everything else, Iona wasn't its usual physical force inside, getting outrebounded by an average of three per game. And, Iona had been picked to finish second in the conference, so things were pretty disappointing overall.

WHAT'S AHEAD: Probably a return to something approximating the 18.8 wins-per-year average of the previous five seasons. Every key player other than Ivkovic returns. Flagg also graduates, but Fregosi is expected back, which should jump-start the offense considerably. While Fregosi doesn't score much (she averaged 2.4 points per game before getting hurt last year), everyone else's scoring seems to go up when she's delivering passes. It means Ford will probably be one of the better scorers in the league this coming season. And, Hubbard should make the move forward expected of her this past season that, probably because of the early season concussion, never happened. There is height in place, too. Malica Paligoric (4.8, 4.2) is a 6-3 center and Tomica Bacic (7.6, 5.6) is a 6-0 forward/guard, and both are seniors and might deliver more than last season. Bozzella has also been adept at finding players from overseas, and brings in Jiya Dorcas-Eya, a 6-2 forward originally from Nigeria. Dorcas-Eya, though, played last season at Northwest Florida State Junior College and only averaged 3.2 points and 3.8 rebounds there. The top incoming player appears to be guard Damika Martinez, a 5-7 point guard from Meriden, Conn., who was rated one of the top 25 high school point guards in the country last season.

PREDICTION FOR 2011-12: That pick for Iona to finish 2nd last season will probably carry over to this year. If Fregosi and Hubbard are healthy, Iona is likely to finish in the top four spots this year with a second-place finish a reasonable prediction.

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