Friday, June 13, 2014

Team Report: St. Peter's Women Ready To Move Up

Here's another in the "Team Report" series looking back at the 2013-14 season and taking a crystal-ball look at what might be ahead for conference teams.

Up now ...


2013-14 RECORD: 2-18 in MAAC play, 11th place; 3-27 overall.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Not much either on the scoreboard or in the won-loss column in coach Pat Coyle's first season with the program. The league win total matched the previous season's (2-16), but with two more losses. The 3-27 overall record was only a one-game improvement over a 2-28 finish the previous year. But, Coyle came aboard late and didn't have much time to bring in players to a program that had reached rock bottom. Probably the best freshman from this past season, guard Marcia Senatus (4.8 points, 1.1 assists) was hurt and only played 10 games. The lone real bright spot was senior forward Kaydine Bent (12.7, 9.0), a third-team all MAAC selection who enabled the Peacocks to stay competitive in the post with most opponents. Junior guard Antonia Smith (9.4 ppg.) was an explosive, yet inconsistent, scorer and another senior, guard Aziza May (8.7) was the team's third-leading scorer. Saint Peter's got a nice early season victory over Fairleigh Dickinson in non-league play and, then, added league wins over Monmouth and Niagara as well as playing league co-champion Iona close (65-61) at midseason. But, there were nothing but losses after that. Whatever positives came about from this past season mostly went on behind the scenes where Coyle began instilling more determination and effort within her players. Included was skill development that while not always on display this past season will benefit the team in future years. The addition of Coyle alone was something that went right. She has coached at the highest level (five years as a head coach in the WNBA) and formerly rebuilt the Loyola program when it was in the MAAC and twice took the Greyhounds to the NCAA's. She is one of the better coaches at this level.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Plenty, including the continuation of sub-.500 overall records since a 19-12 finish in 2007-08. The last four years have seen Saint Peter's produce a 16-106 overall record, by far the worst of any MAAC team. Bent, strong inside, got little help in the post. May and Smith, the next two best players statistically, were woefully inconsistent. Senatus, expected to be a good backcourt addition, only played 10 games. The team's other post players, 6-2 sophomore Neechelle Ingram (3.0, 3.6), 6-1 Hola Mostafa and 6-2 Kaycee DeVoogd weren't physically up to the rigors of inside play at the college level. The team's offense struggled all year long, averaging just 49.5 points per contest. Only one team of 343 nationally scored fewer points in 2013-14. After a small mid-season surge the Peacocks lost their last 15 games, including their first-round MAAC tournament game, scoring just 45.3 points per contest. They did very little well on the court, but chalk the past season up to Coyle doing at least some experimenting with playing time as she tried to find out not only what she had but what she could have in the future.

WHAT'S AHEAD: It would be easy to discount the team and predicting more of the same of past years, particularly after the loss of two of its three top scorers. But, there's light at the end of the proverbial tunnel and it should start showing up this coming season. Coyle is terrific at developing players, so expect the offseason to result in significant improvement over a decent nucleus of young players returning. Then, there's considerable help on the way, mostly in the form of 6-2 forward Imani Martinez and 5-6 point guard Rebecca Sparks. Martinez is a transfer from East Tennessee State and Sparks from St. Francis. Both sat out this past season and are eligible for 2014-15. Martinez only played for games at East Tennessee in 2012-13, but Coyle expects her to be a key inside player. Sparks was a starter as a freshman at St. Francis, is a "scoring" pint guard and had 27 points in the last game she playerd there in an NEC tournament game against Quinnipiac. Ingram (3.0, 3.6) and Mostafa (5.5, 2.9) could join Martinez to form a good front-court trio if the two returnees add some off-season strength. Smith, Senatus, Bridget Whitfield (3.7, 3.2) and current freshman 5-8 Kylee Garrett (2.9) should all be in the playing group. And, watch out for Garrett, who we witnessed staying on the court for more than an hour after games, an almost unheard of dedication, to work on her skills. If nothing else, Saint Peter's will have plenty of depth.

REASONABLE EXPECTATION: The Peacocks will almost assuredly be picked, in the coaches' preseason poll, for another last-place finish. But, this scribe thinks the team could be one of the positive surprises in the MAAC. If Martinez and Sparks can be strong contributors and the returning depth improves, as would be expected under Coyle's direction, Saint Peter's almost assuredly will avoid the cellar. They won't contend, and probably won't get into the top five this coming season. But, seventh or eighth place isn't unlikely with even better things in future years.

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