Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Off-Season: Solid Returnees Lead Fairfield

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

Up now ...


2010-11 RECORD: 10-8 in MAAC play, 17-13 overall.

2010-11 RECAP: It wasn't that long ago when this past season's record would have been a source of considerable pride. From 2001-02 through 2006-07 the program went six straight years without bettering the .500 mark. That stretch cost veteran coach Dianne Nolan her job. In came Joe Frager, who helped turn the program around, returning it to some semblance of when it was traditionally around the top of the league standings. In Frager's first three years the Stags finished 22-9, 18-13 and 20-14. Year No. 4 of Frager's tenure looked like more of the same ... maybe a little better ... as Fairfield opened with a 10-4 mark in league play and a 17-8 overall record. And, then, came the season's last five games, all losses. Albeit, the setbacks came against quality teams: Loyola (which finished 2nd in the MAAC, Manhattan (3rd), Marist (1st) and twice to Siena (4th). It still was a good, solid season, but just not as good as it looked like it might have been before the losing streak. Overall, Fairfield had success despite a lack of a true post player and without much depth. Still, 2010-11 marked the program's fourth consecutive winning season, and there doesn't look like there's an end to that streak of success on the horizon.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Junior Taryn Johnson, a gifted and versatile forward, averaged 12.8 points, 8.1 rebounds and blocked 55 shots on the season. Sophomore Katelyn Linney, who burst on the scene as a freshman (10.2 points, 67 3-pointers) stepped it up as a sophomore (12.7 points, 76 3's) as one of the most-dangerous snipers in the conference. Desiree Pina, who began her career as an off-guard, had a solid second season as a point guard. Role players Joelle Nawrocki (5.5) and 6-1 Brittany McFarlane (4.8, 6.4) were valuable contributors. The team also opened strongly, starting 10-3 with the only losses coming to Villanova, Hofstra and Rhode Island, all from higher-level conferences. As always, the result was better than the parts would have indicated. Much of Fairfield's success came from its work on the defensive end where it ranked fourth nationally in fewest points allowed.

WHAT WENT WRONG: The Stags didn't "step up" against quality opponents like their predecessors did. Fairfield was the only MAAC team with a win over Marist in both the 2008-09 and '09-10 seasons. But, in 2010-11 Fairfield went 0-8 against the four teams that it finished behind in the conference standings. The Stags struggled to score points, finishing 296th of 330 Division I teams nationally in points-per-game average, and that was never more evident than late in the season when it scored 44, 45 and 33 points in its final three contests. It lost by a 36-33 score to Siena in the MAAC tournament's quarterfinal-round contest as the teams combined for the lowest point total in a conference tournament game in the league's 30-year history. Johnson, at 5-11, was the team's only player who had any success inside, and she struggled against taller opponents. Pina fell off considerably, dropping to 9.9 points per game after averaging 12.1 as a sophomore. Her outside shot was wildly inconsistent, and she finished with a field-goal percentage of .292 enabling opponents to back off her defensively. There wasn't much depth. Offensive-minded sophomore Laura Vetra and slender 6-2 freshman Katie Cizynski both contributed some off the bench, but no other player averaged more than 8.2 minutes of playing time per game.

WHAT'S AHEAD: Only Nawrocki graduates, meaning six of the seven-member playing group returns. The expected year's improvement should mean more of the same, at the very least ... another winning season, another run at 20 victories. Plus, two key players (Johnson and Pina) will be seniors, and that type of experience never hurts. The program, though, didn't seem to address its greatest need: a post player. McFarlane, a 6-1 junior, might help address that need. Otherwise, recruiting brought in only more help for the backcourt with the top recruit likely to be Felicia DaCruz, a four-year starter at Albertus Magnus H.S. in Bardonia, N.Y., who will probably serve a one-year apprenticeship behind Pina. Still, Frager has shown he knows how to get the best out of his teams and how to overcome deficiencies. The coming year's Fairfield team will have some deficiencies, and Frager will find a playing style that best suits the talent he has.

PREDICTION FOR 2011-12: Considering that the team's top three players are back, as well as six of the top seven ... it's hard to envision anything other than an improvement over last season's solid record. The prediction here is that Fairfield will be in the mix, right behind Marist, battling for second or third place.

NOTE: This wraps up the post-season reports on each of the men's and women's conference teams. Next up we'll start taking a team-by-team look at new players joining leauge programs for the upcoming season.

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