Monday, May 19, 2014

Team Report: Qunnipiac Women Will Survive Losses

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

Up now ...


2013-14 RECORD: 14-6, fourth in the MAAC; 21-13 overall.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: A difficult transition to a new and better league after a 16-0 conference finish the previous season, and an NCAA Tournament berth, in the Northeast Conference. But, the Bobcats handled it well enough to almost get back to the NCAA's again (more on that below). One of the toughest non-league schedules nationally toughened the team up for MAAC play where there were no surprises. Quinnipiac finished fourth in conference play and had a perfect 14-0 record against team that finished below it in the final standings and an 0-6 record against the top three team. Along the way were victories over non-league opponent UAlbany, an NCAA Tournament team, and close contests with MAAC co-champ Marist (a six-point loss) and third-place Fairfield (a one-pointer) ... Senior forward Brittany McQuain proved to be one of the best low-post players in the MAAC (13.5 points, 9.3 rebounds), her rebound average 67th-best nationally. She was also Quinnipiac's first player to ever record 1,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 100 career blocks. And, point guard Gillian Abshire, a junior, was one of the best pure distributors the MAAC has seen in many years. Her 6.6 assist average was 10th nationally, and her 3.5 assist-to-turnover ratio was third bet on the Division I level. Junior 6-1 forward Samantha Guastella (11.7, 4.5) was another solid inside player, while leading scorer 5-6 junior guard Jasmine Martin (15.1, 2.0) was a very effective offensive weapon. There was alsoe depth as considerable the Bobcats had 10 players average at least 2.4 points per contest, with junior forward Nikoline Ostergaard (6.8, 2.3) and senior forward Camryn Warner (6.7, 4.8) the top reserves. And, Quinnipiac got a little revenge in the post-season vs. co-champion Iona, knocking off the Gaels, 78-68, in the MAAC Tournament's semifinal round. And, then, in the MAAC event's championship game, Quinnipiac couldn't have played much better for about 18 minutes, holding a 17-point lead over Marist.

WHAT WENT WRONG: And, now (as Paul Harvey used to say), the rest of the story ... After running out to that 17-point championship game lead over the Red Foxes, Marist turned things around and earned a 70-66 victory over Quinnipiac that clearly left the Bobcats devastated. The "consolation" prize was a trip to the WNIT (a good thing), but there the team lost, 74-66, against a tough Villanova opponent. Quinnipiac was more than competitive in the MAAC, yet did have that 0-6 record against the league's top three teams. The team didn't have a good ballhandler when Abshire wasn't in the game (McQuain was No. 2 on the team in assists), and didn't have a real effective rebounder besides McQuain. Overall, the Bobcats got outrebounded by an average of 1.9 per game. It also relied heavily on three-pointers, and its 7.9 per game was 27th nationally, but it's long-range shooting percentage of 32.0 was only 132nd nationally.

WHAT'S AHEAD: The loss of McQuain is a big one, literally as she was by far the program's best inside player in many years. Also graduating is 6-2 Camryn Warner, the team's second-leading rebounder (4.8 per game) and effective reserve guard Elloen Cannon. It will probably mean the team will be even more perimeter oriented next season, with things centered around Abshire, Martin and Guastella, whose 72 three-pointers made this season was a program record. Having the league's best point guard (Abshire), the MAAC's third-leading returning scorer (Martin) and the versatile 6-1 Guastella, all seniors in 2014-15, is a strong nucleus. Rebounding, though, will be an issue but 6-1 freshman Morgan Manz (2.4, 0.9) seems poised to help out a year from now. And another 6-footer, junior Nikoline Ostergaard (6.8, 2.3) is also likely to be more effective next season. Otherwise, the team has plenty more, particularly at the guard spot with effective reserves 5-8 sophomore Adily Martucci (3.8, 1.0) and 5-9 Maria Napolitano (4.6, 1.5) also coming back. Plus, veteran mentor Tricia Fabri is among the best, not only in the league but at any mid-major level program. Recent reports indicate that 6-foot-4 post player Val Driscoll is transferring from Michigan as a grad student, and would be immediately eligible. She started 29 of the Wolverines' 34 games this past season and averaged 5.8 points and 5.8 rebounds and blocked 70 shots. If the reports are true, she will literally add a big dimension to the squad. More height is coming in with 6-1 Sara Shewan, a native of Canada who played at St. Thomas Aquinas prep school this past season. Don't expect Quinnipiac to drop off much, if at all.

REASONABLE EXPECTATION: All the upper-level programs of 2013-14 face significant graduation losses, some moreso than Quinnipiac's. But, the expected addition of Driscoll, who had some success at the high-major level at Michigan, makes up for the loss of McQuain. Expect another top-four finish next season with the Bobcats making a serious run at the regular-season title.

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