Here's another in the series previewing conference teams for this season.
Up now ...
2012-13 RECORD: 9-9 in the MAAC, 15-16 overall.
KEY RETURNEES: Val McQuade (5.5 points, 3.6 rebounds last season), Meghan McGuinness (9.6, 4.3, 57 three-pointers), Sylvia Maxwell (2.3, 2.4), Chanel Johnson (5.2, 3.2).
EARLY SEASON STARTERS: 6-2 freshman center Victoria Rampado, 5-10 junior guard Meghan McGuinness, 5-9 junior guard Kelly VanLeeuwen, 6-0 junior forward Val McQuade, 5-10 sophomore guard Taylor McKay.
KEY NEWCOMERS: Rampado, 6-4 junior center Danisha Watson.
NOTABLE: Two years ago Niagara finished 9-9 in MAAC play and extended Marist to overtime in the league's post-season tournament. Better things were expected last season, but the Purple Eagles were once again 9-9 in conference play ... Better things are not expected this year, not after the unexpected early losses of 6-2 center Lauren Gatto, 5-10 forward Shy Britton and point guard Kayla Stroman, all of whom left for a variety of personal reasons with remaining eligibility. All three would have been likely starters this season ... It leaves the Purple Eagles to rely on younger players and returning role players ... Niagara is off to an 0-3 start with the losses by 20, 32 and 17 points ... Rampado, a very good 6-2 front-courter, looks like the best freshman and she's averaging 10.7 points and 2.3 rebounds through three games ... newcomer Danisha Watson, a 6-4 junior center and a transfer from Monroe Community College, started the first two games (5.5, 5.0), but did not play in the third game ... Chanel Johnson, an athletic 5-10 senior forward, missed the first two games, but came back for game No. 3 and had three points and six rebounds ... Niagara needs her for more than statistics; she's the only senior on the roster ... McGuinness, primarily a long-range sniper in the past, has expanded her scoring. She's averaging 12.7 ppg. this season, but is still a specialist. Ten of her 12 field goals are from beyond the stripe ... Van Leeuwen is the assist leader so far with 10 through three games ... Sylvia Maxwell, a sophomore guard who played limited minutes a year ago, has stepped up and is averaging 8.0 points thus far ... McQuaide, a 6-0 junior guard, is 5-for-11 from three-point range this year and averages 10.7 ppg. ... Taylor McKay, another sophomore guard, is averaging 8.0 pp as well ... There's plenty of depth in the backcourt and at the small forward spot. Unfortunately, much of it is either specialized or young and inexperienced.
STRENGTHS: Long-range shooting, particularly with McGuinness, who is one of the best in the MAAC. Van Leeuwen and McQuaide are also good from long range. The backcourt legitimately goes five deep. The frontcourt, though, is another story. Rampado is a good one, albeit young. Watson looked effective in the team's first two games.
WEAKNESSES: Losing the trio of expected-to-return starters set the program back at least a season. Stroman would have been the starting point guard and Gatto might have been the best "big" in the league ... Now, Niagara's post players have little or no past experience at this level. Van Leeuwen looks to be the point guard but isn't the distributor Stroman had been.
REASONABLE EXPECTATION: Niagara was picked to finish eighth in the 11-team league by coaches in their preseason poll, and that is likely to be the ceiling this year, and it wouldn't be a surprise if the Purple Eagles even finished a spot, or two, lower. But, there are better days coming. With only one senior this year's team will get plenty of experience and be significantly better a year from now.