Sunday, July 14, 2013

Team Report: Coaching Change Gaels' Only Question

Here's another in the series looking back and ahead at conference teams.

Up now ...


2012-13 RECORD: 13-5 in MAAC play (2nd), 20-13 overall).

2012-13 RECAP: A third 20-victory season in coach Tony Bozzella's time with the program. Iona advanced to the MAAC tournament's championship game, losing there to Marist, 72-48. The Gaels did receive a bid to the WNIT where it lost a first-round game, 59-50, to Drexel. Shortly after the season ended, Bozzella accepted a job as head coach of the Seton Hall women's program.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Much, particularly after a slow start that included a 4-6 stretch at one point, concluding with a lopsided 70-54 loss against sixth-place Siena. After that, though, things turned around with the Gaels running off a 10-1 stretch (the lone loss was to unbeaten Marist), and dominating play in the first two rounds of the MAAC's post-season tournament before yet another loss to the Red Foxes in the title game. And, it was done with a youthful team. The team's top four scorers were two sophomores (Damika Martinez and Aleesha Powell) and two freshman (Joy Adams and Aaliyah Robinson). Martinez, a 5-foot-7 guard, became just the MAAC's second sophomore to be the conference's MVP (joining former Marist standout Rachel Fitz). She also led the MAAC in scoring, becoming the conference's first player to be the league's top scorer in her first two seasons. Adams, a 5-11 forward, led the MAAC in rebounding (10.7 per game) and was its Rookie of the Year. Aleesha Powll averaged 9.8 points and probably should have been a third-team league all-star, but was overlooked. Sabrina Jeridore, a 6-3 center, began to emerge and was the conference's leading shot-blocker (102 in 33 games). And, both Aaliyeh Robinson and Cassidee Ranger had solid freshmen seasons. Nationally, Jeridore ranked 7th in blocked shots, Adams was 25th in rebounding, point guard Haley D'angelo was 38th in assist-to-turnover ratio and Martinez was 45th in scoring and 8th in 3-point shooting percentage. The Gaels were 8th as a team in 3-point shooting percentage.The team's trip to the WNIT was its fourth national post-season appearance under Bozzella in his 11 seasons.

WHAT WENT WRONG: A bit of a slow start (2-4), but that included losses to nationally ranked Duke and St. John's. And, then, there was an up-and-down MAAC season. The Gaels slogged their way to a 6-5 start in league play, looking spectacular some nights and mediocre on others. Was it a sign of inexperience? Probably. But, good coaches find a way to get their teams, particularly young ones, to improve as a season progesses. And, Bozzella did that. After the 6-5 MAAC start the Gaels went 7-0 down the stretch and, then, won their first two MAAC tournament games before losing to Marist. Not that losing to Marist is a surprise. Bozzella's 11-year tenure at Iona coincided with Marist's 11-year stranglehold atop the MAAC standings, and Iona was 0-29 against Marist during Bozzella's tenure. If Iona was truly to contend with Marist, this coming season looked like it might be the time. But, then, Bozzella made the move to Seton Hall, robbing the program of arguably its second-best coach in recent years (only to Brian Giorgis of Marist), meaning there's a transition ahead.

WHAT'S AHEAD: Couldn't ask for a better situation on the court. The team's top seven players all return, and that cast includes just about everything that's needed: A big-time scorer (Martinez), a big-time rebounder (Adams), a big-time shot-blocker (Jeridore), a second backcourt scorer/ball-handler (Powell), an experienced point guard (red-shirt senior Haley D'Angelo, who had 119 assists against just 59 turnovers this past season), and two other sharpshooters off the bench (Robinson, Ranger). All that appears lacking is some depth. But ... Bozzella's loss is a big one. He took a downtrodden program (one winning season over its first 21 in the MAAC) and turned it around. While his teams were 0-20 vs. Marist over the past 10 regular seasons, it had a 98-62 MAAC record against the rest of the league over that time. New coach Billi Godsey, just 10 years removed from her own playing days at Hofstra, walks into a nice situation with every key player returning. Godsey had been an assistant at Virginia Tech prior to coming to Iona. If she can make a smooth transition to being a head coach, it could be another very good year for the Gaels.

PREDICTION FOR 2013-14: Had Bozzella remained in place, a second-place prediction for Iona would have been a lock, and the Gaels might have even threatened Marist for league supremecy. A coaching change, though, brings a little uncertainty. But, there's too much talent in place to expect a coaching chance to be any real distraction. And, we've heard enough positive reaction about Godsey's hiring to believe the program remains in good hands. Iona is likely to continue to be near the top of the league standings, probably competing with newcomer Quinnipiac to see who finishes second behind strong-as-ever Marist.

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