Friday, May 17, 2013

Team Report: Canisius Women Have Roles To Fill

Here's another in the "Team Report" series looking back and ahead at conference programs.

Up now ...


2012-13 RECORD: 8-10 in MAAC play, 12-19 overall. Won a play-in round conference tournament game, 79-55, over Saint Peter's; lost in the quarterfinal round, 76-58, to Iona.

2012-13 RECAP: A fourth straight year of failing to make it out of the post-season tournament's play-in round. This time, an 8-10 MAAC record after three consecutive 6-12 league finishes. The last four years have also seen the program finish 12-19, 12-18, 11-20 and 12-19. There was a very good start to league play, a 5-2 beginning, but the Golden Griffins were 3-8 in MAAC play after that.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Ashley Durham (11.8 ppg.) truly became the senior leader, both on and off the court and was rewarded with a first-team all-MAAC designation. Tiahana Mills had a nice freshman season (4.1 points, 3.2 rebounds, more assists than turnovers), and made the all-MAAC Rookie Team. Included was her game-winning half-court shot in an early season victory over Siena that was ESPN's top highlight of that particular night's sports action. No one else, though, had a particularly strong season although there were  many "solid" performances. Junior forward Jamie Ruttle and senior forward Ashley Wilkes eached averaged more than eight points (8.8 for Ruttle and 8.2 for Wilkes), and Wilkes was the team's leading rebounder (6.4). There was also considerable depth with eight players averaging at least 4.0 points per contest. Reserve forward Jen Lennox was fourth in the league in blocked shots (1.1 per game). Canisius was the MAAC's only team to have three players make at least 40 three-pointers (Durham had 48, Hoohuli had 47 and Morabito had 45) on the year, and one of just nine teams nationally to do so. 

WHAT WENT WRONG: It started early when junior forward Courtney VandeBovenkamp, expected to be a key member of the playing group, was lost for the year with a preseason knee injury. Still, there seemed to be enough depth  ... and, enough talent as evidenced by the 5-2 start in league play. Yet, Canisius had a chance to finish in the top six and avoid the tournament play-in round but lost its season's finale, a 64-53 decision at Siena when Mills missed the game with an ankle injury. That was the final loss in the 3-8 late-season stretch for the Griffs, and those losses came by an average of nine points per game, with only one of them by less than five points. It was the latest in a mediocre stretch in the program's history, one that includes just one winning season (14-4, 24-9 in 2008-09) in the last seven years. This looked to be the year the team started turning things around. In 2010-11, four of its players (Ruttle, Morabito, Lennox and VandeBovenkamp) each earned at least one MAAC Rookie of the Week award during a 6-12 league finish. It seemed to bode well for the future, particularly as that quartet matured. But, two years later, the record is pretty much the same.

WHAT'S AHEAD: Losing Durham (the only double-figure scorer), Wilkes (the leading rebounder) and senior swingperson Allison Braun, a valuable "glue" player, means the team has holes to fill. There are stretches that Ruttle looks like she could be among the league's best players, but it doesn't happen consistently. The Griffs will need a big year from her, but there's a good group back on the perimeter, including Hoohuli, Morabito and Mills. If VandeBovenkamp can return to her former form, it would be a nice lift. Other than Mills, a sophomore next year, the five best returnees are either seniors or juniors and experience is always a good thing.

PREDICTION: Losing two of a team's best three players, including the leading scorer and the leading rebounder, never bodes well. The Griffs will need some players to really step up if it hopes to match this past season's results, let alone surpass them. It looks like another battle to avoid the play-in round of the post-season tournament this year, with a finish somewhere between fifth and ninth the reasonable expectation.

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