Friday, May 30, 2014

Team Report: Iona Women To Contend For Top Again

Here's another in the "Team Report" series, looking back at the 2013-14 season with a crystal-ball look ahead for conference programs.

Up now ...


2013-14 RECORD: 18-2 in MAAC play, tied for first; 26-6 overall.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Plenty in the program's first-ever regular-season MAAC title. It was shared with perennial conference power Marist, but Iona had the tie-breaker and was the league's first No. 1 seed that didn't wear a Marist uniform entering the MAAC's post-season tournament in 10 years. Things started well, although didn't finish that way (more on that later). There were only two early non-league losses, one to mid-major power Bowling Green, the other to high-major St. John's. Then came an 18-game winning streak that was among the longest nationally before an upset loss to Rider. In the midst of that winning streak was a last-second victory over Marist (on a jumper by Damika Martinez with three seconds remaining) to break a string of 29 consecutive losses in meetings with the Red Foxes. After the Rider loss came seven more wins in a row before Marist got a measure of revenge for the earlier loss with a decisive 79-67 win on the Gaels' Senior Night game. Iona recovered to win a MAAC tournament quarterfinal round game but then lost in the semis to Quinnipiac, sending it to the WNIT. First-year head coach Billi Godsey took a veteran cast, mostly assembled by previous coach Tony Bozzella, and made a few tweaks without making drastic changes. Her guiding hand worked to the tune of a 26-victory season and Godsey was named the national Rookie Coach of the Year by the Women's Basketball Coaches' Association., Individually, the Gaels had arguably the league's two best players in Martinez and forward Joy Adams. Martinez, a rising senior, led the league in scoring for the third straight season (24.9 points per game) and was the league's Player of the Year for the second consecutive season. Adams led the conference in rebounding (13.8 per game) and was third nationally in that statistic. Martinez was the nation's No. 8 scorer. Graduating point guard Haley D'Angelo's 2.8 assist-to-turnover ratio was 14th best nationally. As a team, Iona ranked sixth nationally in FT percentage (78.5), and third nationally in 3-point shooting percentage (38.0). And, Martinez and Adams will eventually surpass more than team milestones. Martinez already has 1,866 career points, which is already the 11th best total in the league. If she matches the 771 points she scored this past season she'll finish with 2,643 career points, shattering the previous MAAC record of 2,467 held by former Loyola standout Patty Stoffey. Adams, heading into her junior year, already has 795 career rebounds. If she matches this past season's total of 442 rebounds, she'll finish her junior season with 1,237 over her career, surpassing the league record of 1,217 (former Manhattan standout Rosalee Mason) with another full year to play.

WHAT WENT WRONG: The end of the season. Iona got overwhelmed by Marist in its final home game, trailing by 21 midway through the second half and never seemed to recover. It did get a first-round MAAC tournament victory over Monmouth, but then lost in the semifinal round to fourth-seeded Quinnipiac. In that game the Gaels were tied at halftime, but were down by double digits midway through the second half and weren't close again after that. Then came the WNIT against Harvard. Iona's Aleesha Powell made an old-fashioned three-point play with six seconds left that gave Iona a one-point lead. And, then, Harvard scored on a layup at the buzzer to secure the one-point victory. In all, Iona lost three of its last four games putting a bit of a sour ending on an otherwise superb season. The team's 6-4 senior center Sabrina Jeridore led the conference in blocked shots, but the team otherwise struggled to stop opponents. Most league teams tried to run with Iona, knowing they could score points on the Gaels (who allowed 67.7 points per game, 185th of 343 Division I teams nationally).

WHAT'S AHEAD: Gone will be the starting center (Jeridore), the starting point guard (D'Angelo) and the team's third-leading scorer (Powell, who is transferring to Seton Hall). But, the Gaels don't exactly have an empty cupboard for the 2014-15 season, not with Martinez and Adams returning along with fourth-leading scorer Aaliyah Robinson (8.4 ppg.), who made four key second-half three-pointers in the mid-season victory over Marist. Rising junior Cassidee Ranger (2.5) adds another returning shooting threat, but no other returnee averaged more than 8.1 minutes of playing time this past season. And, there's a more-than-capable replacement for Jeridore. Karynda DuPree, a 6-4 post player, is eligible after sitting out this past season as a transfer from La Salle. Dupree, a sophomore, started 15 games at La Salle in the 2012-13 season, averaging 2.7 points and blocking four shots in three different games. The program also has four recruits coming in, two forwards and two guards. With Martine, Adams, Robinson and Dupree, the Gaels have as good a top four as any MAAC team. All it needs is to develop three or four more players within the playing group.

REASONABLE EXPECTATION: Had Powell returned, your scribe would have installed Iona as the slight favorite to earn a second straight league. Still, we'll call the Gaels a co-favorite along with Marist right now. If Dupree's higher-level talent emerges and one of two of the freshmen become at least solid contributors the Gaels have a legitimate chance to capture another MAAC championship.

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