Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Loyola Women's Report: Expect Solid Season

Here's another in the series looking back and ahead at MAAC programs.

Up now ...


2011-12 RECORD: 9-9 in MAAC play, 13-17 overall.

2011-12 RECAP: Not the season Loyola expected, particularly after getting picked to finish second in the coaches' preseason poll. And, particularly, having two of the league's top players (senior Miriam McKenzie and junior Katie Sheahin) coming back from a 15-3 league finish the previous year. Things started out slow (4-7 in non-league games) and, then, continued that way with an 1-4 start to conference play. A bunch of injuries, none of them truly serious, didn't hurt. McKenzie, the stellar 5-foot-10 guard/forward, suffered a knee injury early in the season and missed three games. Junior forward Alyssa Sutherland was nicked up, missed a game and wasn't 100 percent for much of the year. And, sophomore forward Nneka Offodile also missed a couple of games and wasn't at her best for much of the year. That didn't help the team's inside game. Yet ... after a 7-13 overall start the Greyhounds pulled everything together and went on a six-game winning streak that included victories over Fairfield and Niagara. Then, suddenly, the bottom dropped out again with three straight losses to end the regular season (Iona, Fairfield, Marist) and a loss in its first league tournament game (to Niagara).

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Junior guard Katie Sheahin had another strong season, leading the Greyhounds in scoring (15.1 ppg.), assists (3.1) and steals (3.4). Her steals average was ninth-best nationally and she just reinforced her status as the league's most-versatile player and is one of two or three players who will get contention for the 2012-13 preseason Player of the Year designation. McKenzie, when healthy, was also a huge factor (14.4, 8.4 rebounds). Her rebound average was second-best in the conference. Freshman guard Kara Marshall had a standout first season (11.0 points, 2.3 rebounds) and added long-range shooting to the mix. In many years she'd have been a candidate for Rookie of the Year honors. Otherwise, not a lot. Sutherland was a role player hindered by knee issues. Sophomore guard Nicole Krusen averaged 3.9 points per game, but was strictly a long-range shooter (31 of her 36 field goals were three-pointers). The six-game winning streak was indicative of what the Greyhounds could do when all was working. But, the season-ending four-game slide was equally indicative that they weren't quite up to beating the conference's better teams this past season.

WHAT WENT WRONG: The slow start, followed by a series of minor injuries. And, one major one, too. Fifth-year guard Candice Walker, who started the season at the point, went down for the year after two games and that hurt not only in terms of losing the floor general but the team's overall depth. It meant Marshall, a freshman, got thrust into a starting role early, although she certainly grew into that as the year went on. McKenzie, Sutherland and Offodile played a good portion of the season with nagging injuries, and those were the team's top three inside threats. Still, Loyola did well enough on the boards (only getting outrebounded by 1.8 per game), but didn't take care of the ball well enough. Committing 17.7 turnovers per game is just too many, particularly when it's also getting outrebounded. McKenzie had a teamp-high 131 TO's, far too many for a player who wasn't the primary ball-handler. And Marshall (105 turnovers against 50 assists) looked like a freshman, too often, when handling the ball. It meant Sheahin had to look for her offense more so than usual, and she only shot 35.8 percent from the floor. After Walker went out there wasn't a true ball-handler on the roster and the team suffered from a lack of quality depth.

WHAT'S AHEAD: Uncertainty. Sheahin and Marshall make up a nice starting point, though. Sheahin is one of the top two or three players in the league, and Marshall was one of the top two or three freshmen and should make the traditional improvement as she matures as a player. If healthy, Sutherland is a nice, versatile player and vocal team leader. And Offodile gives the team an inside presence. Still, there doesn't appear to be much depth and losing McKenzie, often the go-to player for much of her career, will hurt. The team has five incoming freshmen, but it's hard to tell how well newcomers will perform. Loyola will need a couple of the new players, at least, to contribute to some degree to get back over the .500 level.

PREDICTION FOR 2012-13: If everyone stays health, and the team finds both a legitimate fifth starter and some quality depth, there's a realistic chance to get back over .500 and finish in the upper half of the league standings. The feeling here is for a middle-of-the-pack finish.

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