Time to take a very early look at how things could turn out in 2014-15 season for women.
And, with a caveat. Again, it's very early. Much good happen between now and then. Teams are still going through the late recruiting period, so very little consideration, for now, is given to incoming freshmen/transfers.
We will make two initial judgments.
1) The women's league will be stronger overall next season. This year's bottom two teams, Siena and Saint Peter's, both have outstanding additions joining their programs and both will be significantly more competitive in 2014-15. Otherwise, there isn't another league team suffering so many graduation losses to think they'll fall very far.
2) Here's something we've never written since the blog's beginning prior to the 2008-09 season, and never harbored a thought about for the past decade: When you get to the bottom of this post (we're rating teams in reverse order), there will be a team other than Marist as the early preseason favorite.
That's not to say the Red Foxes are suddenly coming back to the pack. They'll still finish as one of the top two teams and, in all likelihood, will compete strongly for the regular-season title.
And, that's not to say that Marist won't once again be the conference's representative to the NCAA Tournament.
No league coach knows how to win key games better than Marist's Brian Giorgis. And, no team in the league, over the years, has played better defense than Marist for more than a decade.
There's a correlation. Defense wins big games, and defense wins in the MAAC Tournament. Marist will play defense.
But, for the first time in close to a decade, there's a real threat to Marist's domination.
So, here we go ... the very early 2014-15 predictions ...
11. SAINT PETER'S
Competitive at times last season, the sign that the team played hard for first-year program coach Pat Coyle, who has five seasons of coaching in the WNBA on her resume. The team loses one player of real significance, third-team all-MAAC pick post player Kaydine Bent. But, Coyle will rebuild quickly. Coming in are two eligible and very good transfers, point guard Rebecca Sparks from St. Francis, and 6-2 center Imani Martinez from Tennessee State, and Coyle thinks both will help right away. There's also some good recruits coming in. Always hard to judge incoming freshmen, but the pieces mean the program will start turning around in the not-so-distant future.
The team's best player, Jamie Ruttle is graduating, along with the team's height, Ruttle and reserve Jen Lennox, both 6-3. The Golden Griffins have some good perimeter players returning in Kayla Hoohuli, who could be one of the better off-guards in the MAAC this season, point guard Tiahana Mills and sniper Lauren D'Hont. Chrystal Porter also had a nice season, and Courtney VandeBovenkamp, at 6-1, gives the team at least something inside. But, the Griffs struggled with rebounding even with Ruttle and Lennox on the roster.
The coaching switch two years ago hasn't helped yet, as the program endured its worst conference record in its Division I history in any league (3-17) in 2013-14. And, two starters and a key reserve are graduating. Soph-to-be post player Megan Donohue and the return of another tough forward Simone Kelly (a December knee injury) will give the Saints some strong play in the post. Tehresa Coles is a superior defender on the perimeter, and swingperson Ida Krough provides a little bit of everything. But, a influx of talent is needed. The incoming freshmen class is reputed to be a good one, but freshmen rarely make major contributions at this level. The future will be better, but this year is likely to just be a step towards that.
Meghan McGuinness is an emerging standout out the perimeter, already one of the league's better scoring threats who should be even better as a senior in the coming season; and, 6-2 Victoria Rampado was the MAAC's top rookie this past season. Val McQuade also provides perimeter scoring and good ball-handling. The team does lose its most athletic player in Chanel Johnson. And, it had rebounding issues this past season. If 6-3 Sam Lapszynski and/or 6-1 Gabby Baldasare can step up, the Purple Eagles have the potential to move up a few spot in the standings.
Two players graduate, and two good replacements step in. Gone is one of the league's all-time best long-range shooters in Monica Roeder, along with solid point guard Allison Skrec. But, Kayla Grimme, a 6-2 post who might have been the best rookie early before a season ending injury, returns. And, Skrec's role at the point should be adequately filled by eligible Wagner transfer Jacqui Thompson, a two-year starter there. Otherwise, everyone else is back, including forward Ashley Stec, snipers Shauna Erickson and Nicole Isaacs and emerging Blake Underhill.
They lose MyNeshia McKenzia, one of the MAAC's best players in recent memory. And, Shereen Lightbourne will also be missed for her inspirational leadership. But, everyone else returns, along with two prospective starters who missed just about all of last season, guards Taylor Wentzel and Emily Fazzini. The Broncs will legitimately go five or six deep on the perimeter with returning point guard Manon Pellet, off-guard Kornelija Valiuskyte and freshman sniper Stephanie Mason, who had two huge games in the MAAC tournament. Swingplayer Lashay Banks should also be better after playing much of last year with an ankle issue. And, 6-1 post Julia Duggan was one of the league's top young players this past season. Rider is probably one more good rebounder away from seriously contending for a top-five position.
This is your scribe's pick as the team most likely to be a positive surprise this season, and picking it fifth might be a little low. The Hawks will have the biggest front-line rotation not only in the MAAC, but maybe of just about any mid-major level team anywhere. It has three 6-foot-4 post players, and all of them are above average in terms of ability. Sarah Olson is returning senior-to-be starter in the post and she'll be joined by rising sophomores Christina Mitchell and Sophie Beaudry. The two 6-4 youngsters both are fairly athletic and talented, and head coach Jenny Palmateer often used two of the three together last season. There's also a emerging point guard in rising soph Helena Kurt, an all-Rookie team pick from this past season. The Hawks lose glue-senior Chevannah Paalvast, but have rising senior Jasmine Walker back, along with soph-to-be Mia Hopkins, who showed some signs last season.
The Stags are always tough with a thick offensive playbook that is hard to defend, particularly with a good point guard in charge. And, they have a good one in senior-to-be Felicia DaCruz. There are significant losses, though, in all-MAAC player Katie Cizynski and solid Brittany Obi-Tabot, as well as long-range bomber Alexys Vazquez. But Samantha Cooper, a very promising 6-2 post who only played three games as a freshman before a season-ending injury, should help up front. She'll get support from 6-2 Casey Smith, an eligible transfer from St. Joseph's. And, another returnee, Kristin Schatzlein should step into a bigger role as a capable scorer. Coach Joe Frager's "system" usually brings good results, and there's enough talent here to finish this high, at least.
Losing a post presence like Brittany McQuain is a sizable setback. But four other key players are back from the team that gave Marist all it could handle in this season's MAAC Tournament championship game. The Bobcats had a 17-point lead late in the first half in that contest, and still had a late-game three-point shot to tie the contest that fell short. Rising senior point guard Gillian Abshire was among the national leaders in assists this past season and is as good at the position as it gets in the conference. Jasmine Martin is an effective perimeter scorer and returning forwards Samantha Guastella and Nikoline Ostergaard will help ensure Quinnipiac stays close to the top of the upcoming season's standings.
Point guard Casey Dulin, do-everything guard Leanne Ockenden and first-team all-MAAC forward Emma O'Connor are gone, and they were probably Marist's top three players from this past season. Tough to endure losses like that and maintain. But, Marist has done it before, and there are reasons to believe they'll endure it again. Back are emerging all-stars Madeline Blais and Sydney Coffey, both capable of major offensive contributions. And, 6-3 center Tori Jarosz, who was never 100 percent this year after suffering a preseason Achilles injury, should be better in the coming season. Then, Giorgis has a knack for having young players make major strides, meaning the expectations will be high for rising sophs forward Kat Fogarty, guards Brittni Laiy and Sydney Rosales. Then, there appears to be a solid freshman class coming in, led by Maine's Player of the Year, guard Allie Clement. And, Giorgis is still head and shoulders the top coach in the conference, and that counts for something.
The Gaels became the first team to displace Marist as the top seeded team entering the MAAC's post-season tournament in nine seasons, after sharing the regular-season title with the Red Foxes and earning the No. 1 seed on tiebreakers. Iona had every starter from the previous year still in place for 2013-14, and first-year head coach Billi Godsey knew the team didn't need a lot of change, just a few tweaks which she capable installed. It will be much of the same in the coming season with three key starters still around. The biggest loss is defensive-minded post player/shot-blocker Sabrina Jeridore, and there's a replacement on hand in 6-4 eligible transfer Karynda Dupree, a part-time starter as a freshman at La Salle where she blocked four shots in three different games. Also back are arguably the league's top two players for 2014-15 in two-time Player of the Year guard Damika Martinez and reigning rebound leader forward Joy Adams. Also gone is steady point guard Haley D'Angelo, but Aleesha Powell is capable of moving into that role and Aaliyah Robinson, who has been instant perimeter offense off the bench in the past, is likely to join the starting lineup.