Here's another in the series previewing conference teams.
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2011-12 RECORD: 15-3 in MAAC play, 24-9 overall; lost to Marist, 61-36, in the MAAC tournament's championship game; lost, 57-41, to Drexel in the first round of the WNIT.
KEY RETURNEES: 6-2 junior forward Katie Cizynski (5.6 points, 2.7 rebounds per game last season), 5-9 senior guard Katelyn Linney (8.3, 2.2, 65 3-pointers), 5-10 junior guard Alexys Vazquez (7.3, 2.8, 61 3's), 6-1 sophomore guard Felicia DaCruz (1.2, 0.7), 6-1 senior forward Brittany MacFarlane (5.3, 5.3).
KEY LOSSES: Forward Taryn Johnson (12.4, 7.7), guard Desiree Pina (11.0, 3.8, 3.3 assists).
KEY NEWCOMER: 6-0 freshman guard Kristin Schatzlein.
NOTES: After a 24-win season a year ago (second most in program history), the loss of the team's two best players indicated the Stags wouldn't be anywhere near as good this season. Oops ... Fairfield, with a 5-1 non-league start (the only loss was to Florida) looks ready to take on its traditional role as one of the leading contenders in the chase to catch perennial league power Marist ... More than a few of last year's role players have made dramatic improvements, maybe none more than Cizynski, who has more than doubled her ppg. average from last year (she averages 11.8 ppg. so far), and is averaging 9.0 rebounds per game after getting just 3.7 per a year ago ... Next on the much-improved list is sophomore point guard DaCruz, who rarely played after struggling early last season. Now, she's the team's most-indispensable player, averaging a team-high 35 minutes per contest. She isn't the offensive threat that Pina was a year ago at the point, but she's every bit as good a distributor (3.8 assists per game to date) ... As usual for the program, it's new faces but the same old playing style. Under Joe Frager, the team almost entirely eschews fast-break opportunities, unless it's a sure breakaway. Instead, the Stags grab a defensive rebound, walk it up court and run a precision offense out of a playbook that rivals the size of any NBA team's. It means that Fairfield doesn't score a lot of points (51.2 per game, so far, 317th of 343 Division I teams), but it also doesn't give up a lot (48.2, 9th best). A year ago, it was fifth-best nationally in fewest points allowed per contest ... The offense quite often produces open looks on the perimeter, and Fairfield has two of the best long-range sniper sin the league in Linney and Vazquez. In fact, Vazquez led the country in three-point shooting percentage for a portion of last season, and would have ranked second nationally at season's end had she made enough treys to qualify for the national leaders ... And, the top reserve, forward Brittany MacFarlane, was the conference's Sixth Player of the Year last season.
FAIRFIELD'S STRENGTHS: Outstanding perimeter shooting in Linney and Vazquez. Cizynski appears to be a more-than-adequate rebounder to replace Johnson's production in that statistic, and DaCruz, so far, is doing the job as Pina's replacement at the point. Brittany Obi-Tabot, a 6-1 junior forward who was lightly used last season, has also stepped up nicely and gives Fairfield a second post presence with MacFarlane able to come in to play the post off the bench with no noticeable drop. Plus, that precision offense is tough to defend and consistently produces open looks.
FAIRFIELD'S WEAKNESSES: Some youth (DaCruz is a soph who didn't play much last year), and depth. Only six players are averaging more than 7.5 minutes per game thus far, and that will take its toll on the top six unless that starts to change. Plus, more than a few players (Cizynski, Obi-Tabot, DaCruz in particular) are being asked to take on vastly increased roles from a year ago, but they have handled that so far.
REASONABLE EXPECTATION: So far the Stags look like the league's second-best team, and Frager-coached teams have been known to upset the Red Foxes on occasion. Look for Fairfield to stay in contention for much of the season, but to probably finish second or third in the final standings.