Thursday, May 8, 2014

Team Report: Fairfield Women Get Good Newcomers

Here's another in the "Team Report" series looking back at the just-concluded season with a crystal-ball look ahead for conference programs.

Up now ...


2013-14 RECORD: 15-5 in MAAC play, 3rd place; 22-11 overall.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: A good deal to secure the fourth 20-victory season in the seven-year tenure of head coach Joe Frager. Included was the program's fourth trip to a national post-season tournament in the past five years when it played in the WBI (third time for that, once to the WNIT). Once there, it won two games to advance to the semifinal round before losing to Illinois-Chicago. But, it's first-round game in the event tested its resiliency. The Stags trailed by four against Bryant in that contest with 11 seconds remaining. Senior guard Alexys Vazquez then connected on a three-pointer with five seconds remaining before Bryant made two free throws to push its lead back to three. Vazquez then drained another trey at the buzzer to send the game into OT. Bryant led, again, by three late in the first OT before Brittany Obi-Tabot made a traditional three-pointer to set up the second OT where Fairfield grabbed control. There were some highs and lows along the way during the season, a relatively slow 7-4 start (two losses to Iona, one to Marist), followed by an impressive seven-game winning streak including a 72-68 victory over Marist. Then came a loss at Marist. Rider finished with a victory over Niagara, but lost in the opening round of the MAAC tournament. Katie Cizynski, a 6-2 senior, was a first-team all-MAAC pick (16.9 points, 8.7 rebounds per game), and she was at her best late, averaging 19.3 points in her last 12 contests. She also had 14 double-doubles on the season. Vazquez remained one of the best long-range shooters to ever play in the MAAC, making a school-record 94 three-pointers this season, a program record and 25th-most nationally. Obi-Tabot was solid (9.9, 6.3), 6-1 soph Kristin Shatzlein stepped up in a big way (9.7, 4.5) and Felicia DaCruz continued to develop into one of the better point guards in the conference (7.3, 2.7 and 5.4 assists). Her 3.31 assist-to-turnover ratio was fourth-best nationally, and it was a bit of an oversight that she didn't earn post-season all-star recognition. As a team, Fairfield continued to limit mistakes. Its 12.5 turnovers per contest was 16th-fewest nationally, and its 14.5 fouls committed per game was fourth fewest of all Division I teams.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Despite all the positives, the Stags couldn't have been happy with a 63-56 quarterfinal-round ouster in the MAAC tournament. But, that came against a decent Rider opponent when the Broncs' standout MyNeshia McKenzie had a huge 28-point, 16-rebound effort. Still, Fairfield led by 11 points with under nine minutes left when another Rider player, freshman guard Stephanie Mason, came off the bench to drain four-of-five three-pointers in the final nine minutes to help her team rally. As good as Fairfield was, it might have been better had promising 6-2 freshman center Samantha Cooper not suffered an early season injury. She only played in three games (2.3, 1.7). Her loss limited the team's depth. The starters were virtually an iron five, particularly DaCruz, who played 40 minutes or more in seven games.

WHAT'S AHEAD: Any team that loses its top three scorers (Cizynski, Vazquez and Obi-Tabot) is usually facing a fall-off, particularly when the only two reliable post players (Cizynski/Obi-Tabot) are among the departures. But, maybe not. Cooper should be 100 percent for 2014-15, and three other players who measure 6-0 or taller are coming in. One is 6-2 sophomore Casey Smith, a transfer from St. Joseph's who didn't play there (injury) as a freshman. She averaged 20 points/10 rebounds per game as a senior at nearby Danbury H.S. Another newcomer is 6-1 frosh Helena Orts from Spain, who looks capable (from video highlights) of providing some inside play as well as a perimeter game. Vazquez's role might be filled by another transfer, 5-6 junior Margeaux Dupuy from Marquette who didn't play much there but made 44 percent of her three-pointers as a high school senior. Schatzlein should step up even more and become one of the league's better snipers, while DaCruz is a tireless off-season worker and is likely to have a big senior season.. And, there's more height. 6-1 Krisine Miller (2.6, 2.1) and 6-0 Kelsey Carey (1.6, 1.2) should have stronger roles as sophomores in the coming season.

REASONABLE EXPECTATION: Talent is coming in with the two transfers and, possibly, Orts, ready to immediately step in. And, Cooper's presence will help out, too. The Stags will certainly go deeper into the bench next season with quality. The team will have more than enough height, a superb point guard in DaCruz and long-range shooting from Schatzlein and Dupuy. It's all part of the formula that makes Frager's half-court, precision offense works so well. It should be another above-average season for Fairfield, which will probably be in the hunt for third place. And, if everything falls into place, might be able to challenge the likely preseason top two, Marist and Iona, in 2014-15.

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