Thursday, July 11, 2013

Team Report: Rider Women Capable of Even More

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

Up now ...


2012-13 RECORD: 10-8 in MAAC play (4th place), 15-15 overall.

2012-13 RECAP: A 15-15 record ... pretty average? Not to Rider, which finally reversed a long line of losing seasons. The Broncs didn't get over the .500 level, but the record was the program's best since the 1994-95 season. And, it got better as the year went on. a 7-10 start to regular-season play, which included an impressive early win over Pittsburgh of the Big East, was followed by an 8-3 late-season run before Rider lost its final regular-season game and, then, had its season ended with a 59-54 setback vs. Niagara in the MAAC tournament's semifinal round.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: For sure, a measure of success. Finishing fourth in league play marked the program's highest finish in the MAAC standings in its 16-year affiliation with the league. The 15 overall victories was Rider's fifth-best total in the program's history. Forward MyNeshia McKenzie, a rising senior (14.7 points, 9.7 rebounds) became the first Rider women's player to gain first-team all-MAAC recognition, and senior forward Caitlin Bopp (9.9, 9.1) was a third-team pick. Bopp, a rugged 6-2 inside player, finished off her college days on a positive note, averaging 12 rebounds over her final seven games. And, all that happened with the team missing one of its standouts, swingperson Shereen Lightbourne (knee injury) for the second straight year. Freshman guard Mikal Johnson was an all-rookie team selection, and senior Sironda Chambers (13.0, 3.9) didn't make an all-star team, but probably should have been picked. Emily Fazzini, a guard, shot well from the floor and the Browns, Carleigh and Dior, both contributed veteran leadership off the bench.

WHAT WENT WRONG: For the second straight season, Lightbourne went down with a knee injury. The last time she played (2010-11), as a sophomore, she was the team's MVP. The team never found a real point guard, rotating the position. And McKenzie, primarily a forward, wound up leading the Broncs in assists. The team also struggled to produce points from the perimeter, making just 26.9 percent from three-point range. And, there was some early inconsistency. The team's non-league schedule wasn't overly difficult, yet it lost games to Mount St. Mary's and NJIT ... and, then, beat a Pittsburgh team populated with Big East-level athletes.

WHAT'S AHEAD: There are major losses to overcome. Chambers, the second-best scorer, along with Bopp and the two Browns have all graduated. That means only three of the team's top seven scorers from this past season (McKenzie, Fazzini, Johnson) return. But, there's a nice influx of talent that should fit well into the starting lineup. Lightbourne is expected to be back, and if she can avoid yet another injury ... well, she was one of the MAAC's better players before missing the past two seasons. And, Lashay Banks, a 5-10 junior guard who transferred in from Cincinnati, is eligible. Although she didn't play much at Cincy, she was Philadelphia's Public League Player of the Year as a high school senior. There's also a considerable lack of height. McKenzie, at 5-11, is the tallest player of anyone expected to log key minutes for the coming season. But, Marritt Gilcrease, a 6-3 center, could fill that if she can step up as a junior this coming season. Then, there's the issue at point guard. France product Manon Pellet, a talented guard, missed most of her freshman season with an injury and was inconsistent as a sophomore as she struggled to adjust to the U.S. game. But, she's capable of contributing. And, Kornelija Valiuskyte, a native of Lithuania, has also shown signs at the point in her two seasons at Rider.

PREDICTION FOR 2013-14: As usual, everyone is playing for second place, behind Marist. Newcomer Quinnipiac looks to have a good returning class, too. But Rider, barring injuries, has a chance to at least match last season's relative success. If it can overcome its height disadvantage, and come up with better point guard play, the upcoming season could be one of the best in school history and a finish between second and fourth in the MAAC standings is a real possibility.

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