Here's another in the series previewing conference teams.
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2011-12 RECORD: 8-10 in the MAAC, 13-18 overall. Won a MAAC tournament play-in round game, 61-60 in overtime against Rider; lost in the quarterfinal round, 61-45, to Fairfield.
KEY RETURNEES: 5-7 sophomore guard Damika Martinez (16.0 points, 4.9 rebounds per game last season), 5-6 sophomore guard Aleesha Powell (8.4, 3.5), 6-3 junior center Sabrina Jeridore (3.2, 3.6, 1.4 blocks), 5-7 senior guard Diana Hubbard (4.4), 5-6 senior guard Haley D'angelo (1.4, 1.1).
KEY LOSSES: Forward Kristina Ford (13.9, 7.0), forward Tomica Bacic (8.2, 6.6), guard Suzi Fregosi (4.9, 122 assists).
KEY ADDITIONS: 5-11 freshman forward Joy Adams, 5-8 freshman guard Kadesia Johnson.
NOTES: After a 4-2 start last year the Gaels faltered down the stretch going 9-16 after that. Much of the team's woes came when Kristina Ford, a strong Player of the Year candidate a year ago, got hurt in the team's 10th game (she was averaging 18.4 points and 7.9 rebounds through the first nine), missed several games and never was close to 100 percent after that ... The team also lost a solid forward in Bacic and a pass-first point guard in Fregosi ... This year's team is extremely young with just two seniors (Hubbard and D'Angelo) among the first seven, and two freshmen and two sophomores among the top five scorers so far ... But, there's plenty of talent in place. Sophomore guard Martinez led the MAAC in scoring last season, the first-ever freshman to do that. And, she's off to another strong start, averaging 17.8 points and 6.3 rebounds so far, clearly projecting herself into the Player of the Year chase. Sophomore Aleesha Powell was another strong frosh guard a year ago, and has moved to the point this year and is averaging 4.0 assists per night ... Head coach Tony Bozzella appears to have found more good freshmen for this season. Joy Adams, a 5-11 forward, might be the early leader for this season's Rookie of the Year honors, averaging 10.5 points and 9.0 points through four games, and 5-8 freshman guard Kadesia Johnson (3.5, 1.5) is in the playing group ... The team also has an inside presence in 6-3 junior center Sabrina Jeridore (3.8, 4.5, 1.8 blocks) and a calming veteran influence in the backcourt in 5-6 senior Haley D'angelo (2.3, 1.8, 2.3 assists), who joined the program as a walk-on and has progressed into a starter this season ...Bozzella is certainly unafraid of early season challenges, having played No. 3 Duke (a 100-31 loss) already and meeting No. 18 St. John's on Wednesday. Providence, another Big East program, is also on the non-league schedule ... About the only thing the team lacks is more of a veteran presence. Teams that rely heavily on upperclassmen traditionally have the most success, and the Gaels will need to buck that trend this season to have success.
IONA'S STRENGTHS: Talent. Martinez, although just a sophomore, is obviously as good a scorer as there is in the league, and Powell is a very good running mate. Adams provides considerable help around the basket, as her 9.0 rebounds to date thus far would indicate. And, Jeridore is a presence inside on the defensive end. The tough early season schedule, too, should help the youngsters develop.
IONA'S WEAKNESSES: Experience, or lack thereof. It's easy to look at this team and to dismiss them as being too young to be competitive. That could be ... or, the talent in place could grow up fast and win more games than expected.
REASONABLE EXPECTATION: League coaches picked the Gaels, in the annual preseason poll, to finish eighth this season, but they could easily better that prediction. Martinez is capable of winning games almost on her own when she has big offensive nights. Iona probably won't contend for the league title and probably won't finish in the top three, but somewhere between fourth and seventh seems reasonable.