Here's another in the series previewing conference teams.
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2012-13 RECORD: 11-7 in the MAAC, 18-14 overall.
KEY LOSSES: Guard Katlyn Linney (8.1 points, 2.6 rebounds), forward Brittany MacFarlane (3.6, 4.4).
KEY NEWCOMERS: 6-1 freshman forward Kristine Miller, 6-2 freshman forward Samantha Cooper.
EARLY STARTERS: 6-2 senior forward Katie Cizynski (11.9 points, 8.4 rebounds last season), 6-1 senior forward Brittany Obi-Tabot (10.5, 5.8), 5-9 junior guard Felicia DaCruz (3.2, 2.2, 3.1 assists), 6-0 sophomore guard Kristin Schatzlein (4.4, 2.2), 5-10 senior guard Alexys Vazquez (8.3, 2.9, 39.8 percent on three-pointers).
NOTABLE: Off to a 3-2 non-conference start with the losses both to strong mid-major opponents St. Bonaventure and Lehigh ... Four starters return from an above-average team last season, and the lone loss was Linney, the team's fourth-leading scorer a year ago ... The team also lost forward Brittany MacFarlane, the MAAC's 6th Person of the Year in 2011-12 who was severely limited by injuries last season ...Back are all the pieces required to be even better than a year ago ... Cizynski is a strong inside player, yet can also step out and has made three treys thus far. She's averaging 14.0 points and 6.8 rebounds thus far, and was a first team preseason all-MAAC pick ... Obi-Tabot, a second-team preseason pick, is a very athletic inside player, and had a break-out season last year. She's at 10.0, 5.4 so far this year ... Vazquez is arguably the league's top long-range sniper. She's 15-of-44 from long range through five games and averages 8.3/2.9 ... the fifth starter is sophomore Schatzlein, who flashed signs a year ago and will likely improve on her early 4.4, 2.2 numbers ... One other experienced returnee is guard Christelle Akon-Akech, who shared the point guard spot with DaCruz last season. She's averaging 2.2/2.6 thus far this year ... Two very good freshmen "bigs" have come aboard. Kristine Miller, a 6-1 forward, is averaging 5.6 points and 5.0 rebounds, third-best so far among the stags ... 6-2 freshman Samantha Cooper is the other front-court first-year player in the playing group and she averages 2.3 points and 1.7 rebounds ... There's also a high-level transfer in the program, 5-9 junior guard Margeaux Dupuy who saw limited action at Marquette over two seasons. The native of Texas has to sit out this season per transfer rules ...
STRENGTHS: Cizynski and Obi-Tabot have developed into two of the better front-court players in the league. The team has plenty of perimeter shooting ability. Schatzlein (10 treys thus far) joins Vazquez to form one of the better one-two long-range shooters in the MAAC. DaCruz has become a superb distributor and averages 7.0 assists per contest thus far. Plus, there's the requisite experience. Cizynski, Obi-Tabot and Vazquez are seniors.
WEAKNESSES: Have to be a little picky to find some. But, the front-court reserves are first-year/inexperienced players. And, DaCruz, while a good distributor, has not improved as a shooter (5-of-19 thus far), allowing defenses to play off her and often use five defenders to guard Fairfield's other four players. Her back-up, Akon-Akech also has limited range.
REASONABLE EXPECTATION: League coaches predicted the Stags to finish fourth in the conference this season, and they'll get no argument here. Marist, Iona, Quinnipiac, on paper, appear to be the top three teams in the conference. But, Fairfield is strong enough to crack the top three if things go right. And, it would be hard to envision a finish below fourth.