Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Team Reports: Fairfield Women Will Be Strong Again

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

Up now ...


2012-13 RECORD: 11-7 in MAAC play (3rd place), 18-14 overall. Lost in the MAAC tournament's quarterfinal round, 52-48, to Siena. Received a berth in the Women's Basketball Invitational (WBI) where it won a first-round game, 71-51, over St. Francis and, then, lost to Penn, 49-48.

2012-13 SEASON RECAP: Start at the end ... the Stags got sudden endings both to MAAC play and, then, the season. It took a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Penn to end Fairfield's season, 49-48, in the WBI. That post-season berth came after Siena pulled off an upset, 52-48, victory in the quarterfinal round of the MAAC tournament. The late-season ups and downs were a microcosm of the regular season in which Fairfield opened non-league play by winning five of its first six games and opened MAAC play with a 6-1 record, the only loss in that stretch by five to league unbeaten Marist. After that nice league start, though, the Stags went 5-6 in other conference games. And, other than those two nice stretches ... the 5-1 non-league start and the 6-1 MAAC stretch ... Fairfield's record was 7-12.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: The 5-1 non-league start, the 6-1 MAAC start wee both very nice stretches, and probably saw the Stags playing a little better than expected. The program lost two all-time players, from the previous season (Taryn Johnson and Desiree Pina) to graduation, and, all things considered, getting 18 total wins on the year probably exceeded expectations. But, players leave and others step up. Junior forward Katie Cizynski, previously a role player, became a first-team all-MAAC selection, averaging 11.9 points, 8.4 rebounds and shooting 48.6 percent from the floor (52nd best nationally). Junior forward Brittany Obi-Tabot, previously a lightly used reserve, broke out to average 10.5 points, 5.8 rebounds and was a second-team all-MAAC pick. Sophomore guard Alexys Vazquez was superlative from long range, making 74 of 189 from beyond the bonus stripe, a 39.2 percent accuracy rate which was 23rd best nationally. Katelyn Linney, a senior guard, averaged 8.1 points per game and Kristin Schatzlein, a freshman guard, had a solid first season in college (4.4, 2.2). The Joe Frager-preferred playing style ... defense and deliberate, multi-play offense, was effective again. Fairfield opponents only averaged 53.9 points per game, the 23rd best defensive statistic nationally. That total, though, is always somewhat skewed since the Stags almost never push the ball up court and usually run clock on offense while running a variety of set plays. Still, it works. Frager has 119 wins in six seasons, and really has turned the program around after it went through six straight years without cracking the .500 mark prior to his arrival. This year's end result was another national tournament berth, one that included a home-court victory (over St. Francis). It was the Stags third national post-season invitation in the past four seasons.

WHAT WENT WRONG: The highs (the 5-1 start to non-league play, the 6-1 MAAC start) were balanced by the lows (7-12 otherwise). The loss, as a No. 3 MAAC tournament seed to No. 6 seed Siena in the league's post-season event was a disappointment, as was the abrupt end to its overall season when Penn made a last-second three-pointer to pull out a 49-48 victory over the Stags in the WBI tournament. There were physical issues, too. Brittany McFarlane, the 2011-12 season's Sixth Player of the Year in the MAAC, battled painful rheumatoid arthritis in her hips all season and played at far less than her best. That she played at all this past season was a tribute to her desire. Obi Tabot also missed three late-season games with an injury and probably wasn't at her best in the tournament loss to Siena. And, the team never found a suitable replacement for Pina, who had been one of the league's best point guards who not only ran the team but also contributed with outside shooting. The Stags went with sophomore Felicia DaCruz and junior Christelle Akon-Akech splitting the role. DaCruz struggled to guard quicker opponents and with her outside shooting (25.3 percent, including just 14.0 percent on three-pointers) and Akon-Akech rarely looked to shoot from the perimeter (she averaged 3.3 points per game) and opposing defenses were able to leave her open on the perimeter and help out on other Fairfield players.

WHAT'S AHEAD: Probably yet another good season in what is now a nice six-year run. The team's top three scorers (Cizynski, Obi-Tabot and Vazquez) and six of the top eight all return. The losses are Katelyn Linney, essentially a long-range shooter (8.1 ppg.) and McFarlane, who struggled physically as a senior. They aren't devastating losses. There's still strong perimeter play returning, particularly if either DaCruz and/or Akon-Akech can improve their perimeter shooting skills. Cizynski and Obi-Tabot combine to be one of the conference's better front-court duos. And, there looks to be good front-court help coming via recruiting. Samantha Cooper, a 6-2 forward from Ontario, Canada is the biggest recruit. She is joined by two 6-footers, Kelsey Carey (2,174 career high school points) and Kristine Miller, a strong inside player.

PREDICTION FOR 2013-14: Another typical Fairfield season, that is one that approaches 20 victories overall and has the Stags finishing among the top three in the final MAAC standings. It's probably a given that Marist will capture yet another conference crown, but Iona (second place this past season) will be adjusting to a new coach. It means Fairfield could certainly contend for second place in the coming season.

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