Here's another in the "state of MAAC programs" series, looking back and ahead at conference men's and women's teams.
Up now ...
2011-12 RECORD: 6-12 in MAAC play, 12-18 overall.
RECAP: The team of the future still looks to have a bright one, but it didn't come this past season. After a 6-12 league mark and an 11-20 overall record in 2010-11, with four key freshmen in that year's playing group, there was the expectation of significant progress. It never came ... or, at least when it did appear to be on the verge, things fell apart. The Golden Griffins started 8-6 overall and, then, went 4-12 after that including five straight season-ending losses that concluded with a conference tournament play-in round setback to 5-26 Saint Peter's. The problem? The Griffs were still very young. Every other conference team had at least two seniors on its roster except Canisius which had zero. What solid experience it did have was lost at midseason when 5-10 junior swingperson Allison Braun, a team player and prototypical "glue" player, went down with a leg injury. She played 18 games and was instrumental in the team's fast start, but her loss was the start of the season's second-half slide. Hard to envision that a player who averaged just 4.6 points and 3.6 rebounds had such an effect, but she did. Then, two other frontcourt players, sophomores Jen Lennox and Courtney VandeBovenkamp, were nicked up physically for much of the season and didn't match strong freshman seasons.
WHAT WENT RIGHT: Jamie Ruttle, a 6-4 post player, had a nice sophomore season (11.7 points, 5.3 rebounds) and showed the ability, once she becomes a little more assertive, to eventually be one of the conference's better inside players. Another soph, guard Jen Morabito, remained one of the MAAC's best long-range snipers and her 38.5 percent accuracy from bonus territory was 19th-best nationally. Kayla Hoohuli, who was limited early while recovering from a knee issue, was one of the conference's top freshmen, an under-control player with a nice outside shot. She made more three-pointers than any other league freshman. Junior point guard Ashley Durham made 89.1 percent of her free throws, the 7th-best percentage nationally and Canisius was 6th best as a team from the foul line (78.0 percent). That 8-6 start was also a positive trend that, unfortunately, didn't continue. Still, there were some satisfying victories, including a 64-60 non-leaguer over UAlbany, the America East Conference's representative to the NCAA tournament; and a 58-57 win over regional rival Niagara.
WHAT WENT WRONG: Braun's injury and subsequent loss for the season's second half was a big blow. So, too, were the nagging woes to VandenBovenkamp and Lennox. Overall, there just wasn't enough experience. The team failed to make plays or have consistent positive stretches ... signs of a young team still figuring things out. While Durham did average 4.2 assists per game, she still struggled at times running the team and was in and out of the starting lineup all season. Freshman Ashley Gomez, who might have helped out at point guard, suffered a preseason knee injury and never returned. With all those woes, the team needed more from Ruttles than it did. But, to be fair, she didn't get a lot of inside help this past season. And, while the Griffs have plenty of height on the roster, there isn't a lot of inside athleticism. What little athleticism the team had up front came from 5-11 junior college transfer Ashley Wilkes (7.0 points, 4.5 rebounds), but just not on a consistent enough basis.
WHAT'S AHEAD: The Griffs will probably go back to the future. The program that, not so long ago, ruled with its three-point shooting ability will probably rely heavily on the long-range attack again as Morabito and Hoohuli will both be a year older and incoming freshman Emily Weber, a 5-7 guard from Shenedehowa High School (Clifton Park, N.Y.), will fit right in as a stellar three-point sniper. Ruttle almost assuredly will step up and if VandenBovenkamp and Lennox are fully healthy and Wilkes steps up just a little, Canisius could make significant improvements in the coming season.
PREDICTION FOR 2012-13: Almost no place to go but up for a team that has every player back. This is a program that, as recently as 2008-09, looked like a serious challenger to Marist's long-time league superiority. That year the Griffs went 14-4 in league play and 24-9 overall. And, the Griffs are the MAAC's last team other than Marist to advance to the NCAA tournament (2005). But since the 24-9 mark of 2008-09, the Griffs have been 6-12 in league play for three consecutive seasons without winning more than 12 overall in any of those seasons. Still, there's enough returning talent to expect the team to finish in the upper half of the league standings, possibly as high as second or third.