Sunday, April 29, 2012

Siena Women's Report: Talent There For More

Here's another in the series looking back and ahead at conference programs.

Up now ...


2011-12 RECORD: 9-9 in MAAC play, 12-17 overall.

2011-12 RECAP: The biggest news was the firing of head coach Gina Castelli after 22 years in that position. The school called it a "mutual" agreement (but, it wasn't). Record-wise, it was the once-dominant program's eight straight year of sub-.500 finishes overall. Yet ... it went 11-7 in the MAAC in 2010-11, 9-9 this past season (both fourth-place finishes) and won a conference tournament game both years. This season started poorly with the loss of starting point guard, sophomore Allison Mullings, who suffered a knee injury in the season's first game. Highly touted freshman Ida Krogh (planter fasciitis) barrely played and wound up red-shirting. Another freshman (Kim Lysius Cote) was injured and didn't play. Sounds like the Siena men's team, considering the unexpected personnel losses, although the women's team actually had a better conference record. The team had a slow non-league start against quality opponents (1-7) and, was 4-12 at one point before going 8-5 down the stretch as players matured and improved. It says here that coaching had something to do with that. Junior post player Lily Grinci had arguably the best season, at least statistically, of any MAAC player (15.2 points, 7.8 rebounds), finishing second in the conference in scoring and third in rebounding. Senior guard Cristina Centeno moved to the point when Mullings went down for the year, and became effective there. The team noticeably improved as pieces came together and, then, upset Manhattan in the post-season tournament's first round and, then, held a second-half lead over Fairfield in the semifinals before faltering down the stretch.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: The 8-5 record in the last 13 games, and some strong individual peformances. Grenci, whose foot and ankle woes severely limited her effectiveness in her first two seasons, became the league's top inside player. She was the only player to score double figures in all 18 conference regular-season games. Centeno, who struggled in auditions at the point in previous years, did better this time finishing fifth in the MAAC in assists and becoming just the 11th playerr in conference history to have career totals of more than 900 points, 400 rebounds, 300 assists, 100 steals and 100 three-pointers. Picked to finish eighth in the preseason, the team exceeded expectations (finishing in a tie for fourth) for the second straight season. Clara Sole Anglada, a 6-1 sophomore forward (7.9, 6.0) was one of the conference's most-improved players after barely playing as a freshman. Tehresa Coles had a nice freshman season, including getting 1.9 steals per game. The team got a first-round conference victory over No. 3 seed Manhattan in a game that resulted in the lowest score by two teams in the history of the post-season event 34-33. And, then, it had a one-point lead early in the second half against No. 2 seed Fairfield before the Stags rallied.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Losing the starting point guard (Mullings) at the eight-minute mark of the season's first game is a recipe for disaster. Then, too, the Saints played, basically, the entire season without its top freshman and another first year player (injuries). Those woes helped precipitate the 1-7 and 4-12 starts. The team also let a couple of close ones get away, losing by four at Fairfield (after leading late in the game) and missing a wide-open three that would have sent a loss at Manhattan into overtime. Some might consider scoring 34 points in a post-season tournament game a cause for concern, but that total came in a game the team actually won (the 34-33 semifinal-round contest vs. Manhattan). Defensively the team was solid except defending the trey, finishing 333 of 336 Division I programs nationally in 3-point field goal defense. And, then, there was the eighth-straight sub-.500 overall record. Even though the bottom never dropped out ... the team was always competitive in conference play (37-35 over the past four seasons), and never had fewer than 10 overall wins in any season ... school officials aspire to a return to the pre-Marist era days when Siena was the conference's dominant team and perceived a change in coaches was the way to go. Still, Castelli was more than a competent coach and was likely to stay with the program for many, many years. Now, that position (not so dissimilar from the men's) is likely to become a revolving door.

WHAT'S AHEAD: Some very good seasons on the immediate horizon, if several of this past season's injured players return to full health. And, success was coming no matter who coaches the Saints. It's all about talent, and Siena will have more of it in the coming season than at any time in recent years. Grinci will be a strong Player of the Year candidate. The team lost senior perimeter players Centeno and long-range shooting specialist Maja Gerlyng, but the likely replacements (Davis at the point, and Krogh at off-guard) have the potential to be even better. But, health is the key. Davis, a transfer from George Washington, is dealing with a knee issue and Krogh had off-season foot surgery. There's also a strong freshman coming in, 6-2 post player Simone Kelly, who is expected to be in the playing group. If the health holds up Siena could legitimately go 10 deep with quality players next season. Grenci will be the team's only senior, so the 2013-14 season should be a good one, too.

PREDICTION FOR 2012-13: Despite the loss of two solid players, the team is poised to be much better in the coming season. Right now, only Marist appears better set for next season. Niagara is expected to be a contender, too, despite finishing with the same league record and a worse overall mark than the Saints this year. Otherwise, every other program suffered more graduation losses of key players than Siena. It's not hard to envision Siena finishing in the top half of the standings, potentially as high as second. However, if the key players who battled injuries this past year aren't at their best then the Saints won't finish that high.

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