After a brief hiatus, we'll return to (and, finish off) post-season team reports.
Only one program left for men's and women's reports.
Up now ...
2011-12 RECORD: 8-10 in MAAC play, 14-18 overall.
2011-12 RECAP: A slight improvement from an 11-20 overall finish the previous year, but a second straight "down" season after running up victory totals of 18, 18, 20, 21 and 17 in the five seasons before the past two. Still, considering youth and a key injury, the year wasn't a total disappointment. The program's expected top player, 6-foot-1 senior forward Kristina Ford, was injured in the season's 10th game, missed the next seven and was never close to her best afterwards. And, even after that, Iona didn't come close to reverting to the struggles the program had prior to the strong five-year run. Even after Ford went out, the team found ways to win and opened with a 6-2 start to league play. Then, though, came seven straight losses. The Gaels continued to struggle and barely won a first-round post-season conference tournament game, needing a driving bucket by freshman guard Aleesha Powell with two seconds remaining to squeeze past Rider by a point in overtime. The season, though, did provide some hope for the future as two freshmen (Damika Martinez and Powell) emerged.
WHAT WENT RIGHT: The nice early start, but many of those early conference victories came over teams that finished in the lower-half of the standings. And, then, there was the rapid development of freshman guard Damika Martinez, who stepped up, at least on the offensive end, in Ford's absence in a manner rarely seen from a freshman. Martinez averaged 16.0 points per game, leading the conference in scoring and becoming the first true freshman to do that in the MAAC's 31-year history. She was the conference's Rookie of the Year and probably should have been a first-team all star (she was a second-team pick), but conference coaches who do the voting traditionally favor upperclass players for post-season honors. Powell, another guard, wasn't that far behind (8.4 points, 3.5 rebounds). One game in particular, a mid-season victory over Siena, highlighted what might becoming from those two precocious guards. In that one, Martinez (28) and Powell (20) combined for 48 points. Otherwise, nothing great from the Gaels other than some strong early play from Ford before her injury. Suzi Fregosi had a standout senior season (122 assists against just 57 turnovers).
WHAT WENT WRONG: It all started going in the wrong direction when Ford got hurt. In her first nine games she was averaging 18.3 points per contest and looked like a runaway pick for the MAAC's Player of the Year. Then came the injury and, after her return, she only averaged 11.2 points in the final 15 games in which she played and clearly was not physically the same player. Then came a difficult stretch in the schedule when Iona seemed to be playing the conference's better teams every game and that produced the seven straight losses. There was also too great a reliance on freshmen with Martinez and Powell required to be the go-to players after Ford's injury, and that is never a great recipe for success. The defense particularly suffered as Iona finished last in the league in points allowed (67.8 per contest). And, then, Iona lost its senior point guard, Fregosi, in the MAAC tournament to a recurrence of a hip injury that sidelined her for most of the previous year.
WHAT'S AHEAD: Certainly better days. Head coach Tony Bozzella has done a terrific job resuscitating what had previously been a very downtrodden program. But, those better days might not reach full fruition in the coming year. Of the team's top seven players from this past season, only Martinez, Powell, 6-3 sophomore center Sabrina Jeridore (who did block 45 shots, but is still developing the rest of her game) and 5-7 guard Diana Hubbard return. Hubbard, who had a promising freshman year seems to have regressed since then. Junior Haley D'Angelo, a career-long reserve, looks to be the only true candidate to replace Fregosi for the coming season. There appears to be a very strong incoming group of five freshmen. But, as Iona found out this year, mid-major level college teams don't succeed when they have to reply on freshmen. The good news is that Martinez and Powell will both be a year older, but their supporting class might be very young.
PREDICTION FOR 2012-13: It's hard to envision Iona competing for a league championship, not with so much youth and question marks surrounding the starting lineup beyond Martinez and Powell. Those two, though, will make the Gaels dangerous on any given night. If a couple of the freshmen make significant contributions, Iona could contend to stay out of the league tournament's play-in round (for teams that finish seventh through 10th). Anything better than that would be a nice accomplishment this year. But, the coming season should be a nice building block for a relatively rapid return to league contention in future years.