Last week we made early predictions (very early) for how we thought men's teams would finish in the upcoming MAAC basketball season.
Time now for the women's predictions, with the caveat that much can change between now and when the season starts in mid-November. And, note, these predictions come with brief "thumbnail" expectations. Full and lengthy previews on each program will come in late October/early November..
1. MARIST (17-1 in the MAAC last season, first place): The run of nine straight regular-season crowns (and, seven straight trips to the NCAA tournament) isn't likely to end this coming season. Gone are Player of the Year guard Corielle Yarde and forward Brandy Gang. But as versatile and as clutch as Yarde was, she wasn't the typical dominant performer who wins individual awards. And Gang, despite her 6-foot-2 frame, played more like a guard. Marist went 21-1 in its 22 games before losing a second-round NCAA game last season without a legitimate inside player. It has one now in 6-3 sophomore center Tori Jarosz, a transfer from Vanderbilt. Everyone else of note returns, including senior point guard Kristine Best, who missed most of last season with an injury. And, if Jarosz isn't enough help inside, three are three 6-foot plus freshmen coming in including 6-5 center Delaney Hollenbeck,
2. NIAGARA (9-9, tied for fourth last season): The league's second-best team at season's end, as evidenced by its 5-3 run in its last eight games that included two losses to Marist, one in double overtime the other (in the MAAC tournament) in single OT. Back are the top four scorers, including stellar point guard 5-5 junior Kayla Stroman and 6-2 junior center Lauren Gatto. Also back is one of the best-shooting groups, all from the same class, in recent league vintage. As freshmen last year, Meghan McGuinness, Val McQuade and Kelly Van Leeuwen all shot better than 40 percent beyond the three-point arc. McGuinness' 46.3 percent long-range accuracy would have been the best nationally had she had enough attempts to qualify for the national leaders.
3. SIENA (9-9, tied for fourth last season): Two starters graduated, but just as good replacements are ready to step in. It all, though, depends on health for the Saints as two key players from a year ago (sophomore guard Allison Mullings, freshman Ida Krogh) both had to redshirt with injuries. Senior center Lily Grinci is a legitimate candidate for Player of the Year honors, and George Washington transfer junior Janine Davis gives the program the legit point guard it has lacked for some time. Junior forward Clara Sole-Anglada might have been the league's most-improved player a year ago. There's a new coaching staff in place, and the change (after Gina Castelli directed the program for the past 22 seasons) will get some credit if the Saints show significant improvement. But, this year's team was going to be good whether a coaching change was made or not.
4. CANISIUS (6-12, eighth last season): After three consecutive 6-12 finishes in conference play, the Golden Griffins are poised to get closer to the 14-4 (24-9 overall) record of 2008-09, the last time they had a winning record. And, it appears, Canisius will rely on an old standby, long-range shooting, like it did back before the recent three-year run of sub-.500 seasons. Not only are guards Jen Morabito and Kayla Hoohuli standout snipers, but incoming freshman Emily Weber (a graduate of Shenedehowa High School, Clifton Park, N.Y.) might be the best shooter the program will have in coming years. Some thought the Griffs would make positive strides last year, but a sophomore-oriented lineup probably wasn't quite ready. Now, top inside player 6-3 Jamie Ruttle, along with classmates forwards Courtney VandeBovenkamp, Jen Lennox and Morabito, are juniors and there's enough experience in place to expect a positive turnaround.
5. LOYOLA: (9-9, tied for fourth last season): A big loss with the graduation of versatile forward Miriam McKenzie, but everyone else of note is back, including do-everything guard Katie Sheahan, who surely will contend for Player of the Year honors this season. Sophomore Kara Marshall, who made dramatic improvement as last season progresses, gives the Greyhounds a nice second option on offense, and junior Nicole Krusen also provides a long-range shooting touch. Senior Alyssa Sutherland and junior Nneka Offodile, a pair of 6-1 forwards who both battled some injury issues last season, provide enough inside. The only real question is depth.
6. FAIRFIELD (15-3, second last season): It's odd to pick the Stags this low, particularly after they pretty much established themselves as the conference's next best team (to Marist) in recent years. And, it shows the parity beneath Marist this year. In truth, probably any team picked here from second through eighth could make a legitimate case for finishing as high as second. And Fairfield could, too, despite the major losses of point guard Desire Pina and forward Taryn Johnson (who your scribe thought should have been last season's Player of the Year). Katelyn Linney and Alexys Vazquez can shoot from 3-point range with anyone in the league, there's good height with 6-2 Katie Czinski and 6-1 Brittany McFarlane and junior Christelle Akon-Akech coule have a break-out season.
7. RIDER (3-15, 10th last season): The Broncs clearly could have one of their best seasons since joining the conference in 1997, and could easily vault into the top three if everything falls into place. Just about everyone of note returns. There's height (6-3 senior center Caitlin Bopp) and 5-11 MyNeshia McKenzie, who led the league in rebounding last year. There's talent returning after missing all (5-10 guard Shereen Lighbbourne, a preseason knee injury) or part (5-7 guard Sironda Chambers, who missed the second half due to academics), and there's a potential break-out freshman in Manon Pellet, a native of France who sat out last season with a knee injury.
8. IONA (8-10, seventh last season): Another team that could easily finish much higher, particularly if the league's best young backcourt continues to mature. That would be now sophomores Damika Martinez and Aleesha Powell. All Martinez did last year was become the first freshman in MAAC history to lead the conference in scoring. And, Powell wasn't far behind and looks capable of taking over the team's point guard role. Sabrina Jeridore, a 6-3 junior center, will have to step up. But, there's a 7-player freshman class coming in and several will have to play right away. Teams that young traditionally don't contend for the league title.
9. MANHATTAN (10-8, third last season): No team has lost more than the Jaspers since last season. Gone are four of the team's top six scorers, including its two best players, Lindsey Loutsenhizer and Schyanne Halfkenny. Monica Roder (9.6 ppg. last season) is the top returnee. Allison Skrec returns from a late season broken collarbone to take over at the point, a position in which five different players started a game for Manhattan last season. More than a couple of previously lightly used players will have to emerge for the Jaspers to crack the top five or six.
10. SAINT PETER'S (4-14, ninth last season): The top two scorers (Jynae Judson, Quiana Porter) from a team that was offensively challenged a year ago have graduated, so points are likely to be at a premium again. Kristal Edwards, an athletic 5-11 swingperson is the top returning point-producer (6.5 ppg.). Junior point guard Aziza May, who looked good as a freshman but didn't progress much as a sophomore, needs to make strides. And, the Peahens need to locate some surprises from their roster to avoid another near-the-bottom finish.