Here's another in the series previewing MAAC teams.
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2011-12 RECORD TO DATE: 8-3 overall.
2010-11 RECORD: 5-13 in MAAC play, 5-25 overall.
COACHES' PRESEASON PREDICTION: 8th in MAAC.
KEY RETURNEES (This season's statistics): 5-11 sophomore forward MyNeshia McKenzie (11.6 points, 10.1 rebounds), 5-8 senior guard Ali Heller (10.9), 6-2 junior forward Caitlin Bopp (7.7, 5.7), 6-0 junior forward Carleigh Brown (5.6, 4.4), 6-3 senior center Sarah Homan (5.8, 4.9), 5-4 senior guard Alyssa Parsons (4.5, 2.7 assists).
KEY LOSSES: 5-10 junior guard Sheree Lightbourne (9.6 points) to injury.
NOTES: The program has not had a better-than-.500 overall finish since joining the MAAC in 1997, so the early start (including an active five-game winning streak) is extremely encouraging ... But, head coach Lynn Milligan is preaching that the team's record is 0-0 in MAAC play (which begins with a game vs. Manhattan on Monday) ... It wasn't hard to predict this kind of turnaround (and, this Hoopscribe did just that, identifying the Broncs to be the positive surprise team in a preseason posting), but that was before Lightbourne, last season's leading scorer, was lost for the year with a preseason injury ... Still, a lot of talent is in place and the pieces fit well together ... McKenzie has emerged as an elite player at this level, and leads the conference in rebounding... Heller is arguably the MAAC's best long-range shooter (26 three's so far) ... Bopp, Homan and Carleigh Brown give the team more than enough height to contend with any conference team inside ... Junior college transfer Sironda Chambers (9.5, 4.7) provides a dose of athleticism and is the team's third offensive option ... Alyssa Parsons, a senior point guard is very easy to overlook, but she has become a steadying veteran influence as the floor general ... And, Emily Fazzini, a 5-10 freshman guard, has made a nice transition and is in the playing group. ... The start is the best for Rider since the 1982-83 season ... But, there were signs from a year ago. Even after an 0-14 start, the team continued to play hard and had a semblance of success (5-11) in the second half of the season. It seemed to have been enough to vault the program into this season. The year opened with back-to-back victories, the confidence level rose and, well, the results are evident so far.
HOW RIDER CAN SUCCEED: Keep playing like it has so far. Easy to say, and we'll see how that goes. Egos need to be kept in check, but that's likely not a problem. Heller and Homan, two players who could start for most conference programs, are content to come off the bench where both have been major contributors so far and give the Broncs the type of firepower/strong play from reserves that no other conference team has. The team also needs to stay healthy. Bopp missed several games recently, but has returned and is likely to get better as the season progresses. The confidence level needs to remain high, and the team needs to remember what it has done so far to get to its current level of play.
PREDICTION: A lot better than the 8th-place prediction. After being a relative league doormat for so many years, can Rider actually contend for a league championship? .... Why not? The prediction is that Rider will most certainly finish in the top half of the league standings and may well be a year-long contender for the top couple of spots. Everything appears to be in place, right now, for a very nice season.