Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Off-Season: Rider Women to Move Up

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

Up now ...


2010-11 RECORD: 5-13 in MAAC play, 5-25 overall.

2010-11 RECAP: Like any young, developing team the Broncs improved as the season went on. After an 0-14 start, things certainly couldn't have gotten much worse. Here, though, was another case of a resilient group which played hard despite the poor start to turn things around somewhat afterwards. Rider won five of its next 15 games after that 0-for start before losing its play-in round game in the conference tournament. The team was among the youngest in the conference without a single senior on the roster. Its group of young players showed considerable improvement as the season progressed, particularly rookie forward McNeshia McKenzie, who played like an emerging MAAC standout late in the season.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: The team's biggest plus was, well, its "bigness." A front line of 6-3 senior-to-be center Sarah Homan and 6-2 junior Caitlin Bopp was among the better inside tandems in the league. Homan, who averaged 6.1 rebounds, had a massive 19-point/20-rebound effort in a late-season double-overtime victory against Iona. Bopp averaged 8.6 rebounds per game, second-best in the conference. McKenzie averaged 7.3 rebounds per game and had a 19-point/14-rebound performance in that victory over Iona. Shereen Lightbourne, a 5-10 junior guard (9.6 points) also had a nice second season and looks like a fixture there for the next two seasons. Ali Heller's 44-percent shooting from 3-point territory ranked among the top 15 nationally. And, point guard Alyssa Parsons held up for the season after a remarkable physical recovery from torn ACLs and subsequent surgery on each of her knees in the past three years.

WHAT WENT WRONG: A lot, particularly on the offensive end. No scorer averaged double digits on the season. Rider's .332 percent shooting was 8th-best among the 10 conference teams, while opponents' .420 field-goal percentage was last on the defensive end. Rider allowed 68.7 points per game, also worst among conference teams. Its turnover total (an average of 22.5 per game) also was the highest total in the league, a full turnover per game worst than the 9th-place team in that statistic. The team's top two scorers (Lightbourne and McKenzie) were a sophomore and a freshman, respectively, never a successful recipe. Neither Bopp nor Homan, despite their toughness and ability to grab rebounds, is much of an offensive threat. Heller, to date, is a one-dimensional player who does little else other than make 3's when she's open. And Parsons, while an admirable example of perseverance related to her contributions after two major knee surgeries, was the least-productive point guard in the league with just 44 assists against 81 turnovers. Two other contributors, 5-6 guard Dior Brown (4.9 points, 3.2 assists) suffered a late-Jan. shoulder injury and never returned. And, Carleigh Brown, a 6-0 forward (3.3, 3.4) also battled a variety of injuries. Still, the five league victories wasn't an embarrassment for a program that has struggled in its 14 MAAC seasons, compiling a 60-192 record to date in league play.

WHAT'S AHEAD: More height is coming with 6-3 center/forward recruit Marritta Gillcrease, a highly touted recruit from the Pittsburgh area. If nothing else, Rider will have the tallest front-line in the MAAC next season. But, the greatest need is to find a floor general, a capable point guard. And, there appear to be two strong possibilities: Manon Pellet, a 5- point guard from Marseille, France; and, Kornelija Valiuskyte, a 5-8 point guard from Lithuania who played at The Rock School in Gainesville, Fla., this past season. If either one has any significant impact then things can get a lot better for a team that has a lot of other pieces. The hope here is that their additions can relegate Parsons to a reserve role, where she'll be more effective. McKenzie, a prototypical small forward, is an exceptional athlete and a talent and looks to have the type of ability to make her one of the conference's better players over the next three years. She had back-to-back 20-point plus efforts in mid-February and averaged 14.5 points per games over Rider's final eight games. There should also be considerable depth since every player on last year's roster is expected to return and an incoming group of five freshmen looks like one of the league's better incoming groups.

PREDICTION FOR 2011-12: Don't expect Rider to suddenly compete for a league title, but do expect it to be among the most-improved teams in the conference. How much improved? If its returnees make off-season improvements and if a point guard steps up ... the Broncs could challenge the program's all-time best MAAC record of 10-8. If that doesn't happen this year, it almost assuredly will the following year. It looks like some real good days are ahead for the Rider women's program.

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