Monday, June 10, 2013

Team Report: Siena Women Will Need Inside Help

Here's another in the "Team Report" series, taking a look back and ahead at conference programs.

Up now ...


2012-13 RECORD: 8-10 (6th place) in MAAC play, 13-16 overall. Won a quarterfinal-round MAAC Tournament game, 52-48, over Fairfield. Lost in the semifinal round, 68-58, to Iona.

2012-13 RECAP: A stellar season from its top player, senior center Lily Grenci (15.9 points, 9.5 rebounds per game), and from sophomore guard Tehresa Coles (9.1, 4.6). Otherwise, a mixed bag. The program fired long-time head coach Gina Castelli to bring in former Northwestern assistant Ali Jaques, yet despite the return of the majority of the previous year's roster the record was almost identical to Castelli's from the past two season ... except Castelli's last two teams finished fourth in the league standings, while this season's had to sneak out a win over a Canisius team playing without its point guard in the season's final game to avoid the play-in round and finish sixth in the MAAC. Jaques, though, proved to be an effective motivator as her team effectively persevered through some difficult stretches. Subsequent years will be a better indication of what she can do with this program.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Grenci's strong season that, in this humble estimation, should have brought her Player of the Year honors (which, instead, went to Iona sophomore Damika Martinez). Coles improved significantly, particularly on the offensive end. Defensively, she finished 28th nationally in steals. As a team, Siena went to the foul line more than any other conference team, and converted there finishing 38th nationally in free-throw percentage. There were nice non-league wins over Maine, coming back from a 17-point second-half deficit; and one at UMass. Siena also had a regular-season blowout win over second-place Iona  (68-54), and a three-game mid-season winning streak (over Manhattan, Saint Peter's and Loyola). A new defensive scheme that emphasized pressure, particularly with a half-court/trapping zone, forced opponents into nearly 20 turnovers per contest, more than any other MAAC defense. The MAAC tournament victory over Fairfield, which had beaten the Saints in both regular-season games was an pleasant upset.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Start with some tough losses including three straight early in the season: a one-point setback at Sacred Heart on a last-second foul call, followed by a last-second half-court heave by Tiahana Mills of Canisius to beat Siena (ESPN SportsCenter's top highight that night), followed by losing a late-game lead and, then, an overtime contest at Niagara. It could have been a devastating stretch, yet the Saints hung in, quickly following up with a 3-game winning streak. But, a 5-7 run down the stretch required beating a depleted Canisius team in the final regular-season contest to avoid the tournament's play-in round. The team emphasized pounding the ball inside, at the expense of its perimeter players, and opponents sagged inside to eventually clog the middle. Other than Coles, no other perimeter player averaged more than 5.2 points per game. Injuries were also a factor. Redshirt freshman guard Ida Krogh played through year-long foot issues, and junior forward Kate Zarotney played through season-long shoulder issues. And, while the team forced turnovers it committed more than its share. Its 19.3 per game ranked it 293 of 343 D-I teams nationally in total turnovers. And, only 10 teams nationally had worse field-goal percentages.

WHAT'S AHEAD: The loss of Grenci is as significant as any team in the league has to deal with. And, Zarotney, probably the next best inside player, is having off-season shoulder injury and might be lost. Those were the team's best two post players last season. It leaves the post, for the coming year, in the hands of sophomore-to-be Symone Kelly, who battled concussion issues and had a limited role last season, and incoming 6-2 freshman Meghan Donohue. Kelly, a physical player, showed some signs this past season but the middle will be inexperienced. The Saints will also need contributions from other its other incoming freshmen, particularly 5-6 point guard Briana Logan, who is a cousin of the men's program's all-time leading scorer Marc Brown. Other perimeter spots are well stocked with experience, including wing forward Sole-Anglada, guards Kanika Cummings and Ciara Stewart. Coles, a junior, is a potential all-league player and Krogh, a sophomore, is also solid.

PREDICTION: If Zarotney doesn't play, then the Saints will be relying on inexperienced post players to compete inside against several teams with quality inside veterans. The perimeter, though, is at least solid with considerable depth. The turnover issue might be alleviated to some esxtent if Logan can at least be a contributor at the point. Still, the MAAC looks to be stronger overall for the coming year, and adds two new programs including Quinnipiac (which loses only one starter from a 30-3 team). The best expectation is a middle-of-the-pack finish, and avoiding the tournament's play-in round would be a nice achievement.and not out of the realm of possibility. 

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