Friday, August 16, 2013

Team Report: Manhattan Women Moving Upwards

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

Up now ...


2012-13 RECORD: 4-14 in MAAC play (9th), 8-23 overall.

2012-13 RECAP: Only three conference victories until a season-ending upset of Niagara, followed by a play-in round victory over Loyola in the MAAC tournament before the Jaspers' season ended with a 72-50 setback to tournament winner Marist in the conference event's quarterfinal round.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: A mostly young roster exhibited glimpses of talent that bode well for the coming year and, even, beyond. Current senior Monica Roeder (12.1 points, 4.5 rebounds) had a solid year, despite being the primary focus of every opponent's defense. Another current senior, 5-7 point guard Allison Skrec, led the conference in assists (5.0 per game) and ranked 43rd nationally in that statistic. Sophomore forward Shayna Erickson (6.7, 6.0) was one of the conference's better freshmen, and junior forward Ashley Stec (5.6, 3.2) continued to develop. Manhattan might have lost 23 games overall, but it was competitive on most nights with 11 of its setbacks by eight points or less. And, things did come together at the end when Manhattan beat Niagara and Loyola in back-to-back games, the only two-game winning streak of the season. Toni-Ann Lawrence (9.9, 6.2) also had a very good senior season and is the only starter lost from this past season. Then there was the always difficult to solve zone defense that was again effective. Manhattan allowed 58.6 points per game, fourth best among MAAC teams.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Offensively, there just wasn't enough. Roeder is an above-average scorer, but was double-teammed in every game. Lawrence, mostly an undersized post player, was the second scoring option, but didn't average double figures. Erickson had her moments, but looked like she needed to add a little strength to her game. Skrec is a good point guard, but not much of a scorer. As a team the Jaspers only averaged 51.3 points per outing, the bottom figure among last season's 10 conference squads. And, the 7.3 point-per-game differential was second-worst in the league. Depth was also a factor, as was the fact that only two players in the rotation (Lawrence and Maggie Blair) were starters, and Blair was a role player and Lawrence just a little better than that. Then, there were just too many "specialists." Skrec was a pass-first point guard. Nicole Isaacs, a reserve guard, was almost entirely a 3-point shooter (she made only two baskets inside the bonus stripe all year). And, the youngsters who did contribute (Erickson and Stec) weren't quite ready to compete against the better players in the league.

WHAT'S AHEAD: Better days, for sure. Head coach John Olenowski is among the best in the league and that a team that didn't match up most nights in terms of overall team talent was so competitive this past season was testament to his coaching ability and a team-wide positive attitude. Other than Lawrence, every key player returns. Roeder should see fewer defenses designed to stop her as players like Erickson and Stec develop and a strong freshman class chips in. Erickson could eventually become one of the league's better players and that should start to show this season. Stec, with her height and athleticism, should be a very solid player over the next two seasons. Skrec returns as the league's best distributor. The team has five freshmen coming in and Olenowski claims that, after seeing them work out this summer, they should all help out right away. The best of them might be 6-1 guard Maeve Parahus, a dynamic long-range shooter whose on-court work goes beyond just her shooting stroke. But, she'll eventually become a nice second offensive option (to Roeder). There's also incoming height in 6-2 center Kayla Grimme, a dynamic shot-blocker on the high school level at Altoona (Pa.) Area H.S., and 6-1 center Mikki Guiton, who averaged 15.1 points per game at Perkiomen Valley H.S. this past season. The other freshmen are guards Nicole Anderson and Alex Cohen, and they'll  have the luxury of playing behind solid upperclassmen (Roeder/Skrec) and have the year to develop. Looking ahead, the program also has incoming transfer Jacqui Thompson, a dynamic and hard-nosed 5-3 point guard who was a starter at Wagner for most of the past two seasons. She'll become eligible for the 2014-15 season, will have two seasons to play at Manhattan, and will almost certainly get plugged in as the team's floor general after Skrec graduates.

PREDICTION FOR 2013-14: Probably not a real championship contender this year ... then again, who is with Marist dominating things? And, probably will be hard-pressed to finish in the top five (thus, avoiding a MAAC tournament play-in game). But, there's a lot more talent in place than there was this past season, although a good deal of it remains very young. Still, if players like Erickson and Stec can make strides off solid years of this past season, and a couple of the freshmen can contribute ... things could be significantly better than a year ago and the Jaspers could legitimately approach a .500 season. A top five finish might be a bit or a reach, but not entirely out of the question.

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