MAAC Women’s Preview: Will Marist Remain in the Upper-Tier of the MAAC?

This year’s Basketball Week features staff writers Jonathan Kinane and Christian DeBlock, diving to into MAAC history to preview the season for every team on the men’s and women’s sides. Here’s Jonathan’s conference preview, in which he also discusses just how Marist will fare in their matchups against the 10 MAAC foes.

Following a disappointing end to a thrilling season, the MAAC is back, and still very exciting. The conference race looks to be more wide-open this year, unlike the two-team race between Marist and Rider last year. The conference’s pre-season coaches poll placed Manhattan, Fairfield, and Quinnipiac tightly bunched together amongst the top with Marist running a somewhat distant fourth. In-state rivals Iona and Siena follow in the fifth and sixth spots, respectively. Rider falls to seventh with the loss of the irreplaceable Stella Johnson.

With plenty of good teams at the top and some dangerous ones in the middle, this season should be full of drama. Let’s take a look at every squad in the MAAC and how they are shaping up for this season:

1. Fairfield

2019-20 Record: 16-14 (12-8 MAAC)

Coach: Joe Frager (13th year, 213-179 record)

Key Returners: Lou Lopez-Senechal (15.5 PPG), Katie Armstrong (14 PPG), Callie Cavanaugh (7.2 PPG)

Key Loss: Sam Kramer (8.9 PPG)

The Stags are among the favorites in the MAAC this year. They return two All-MAAC players in first-teamer and pre-season player of the year Lou Lopez-Senechal and second-teamer Katie Armstrong to a roster with some international flair. Fairfield is also one of the tallest teams in the MAAC, with nine players listed at six feet or taller. The Stags will look to control the tempo as they did in their home win over Marist last season. It will be interesting to see if coach Joe Frager goes to his bench more this year after employing a seven-player rotation this year. If the Stags can score more consistently, they’ll look the part to win the conference.

Games Vs. Marist: January 15-16 @ Fairfield

2. Manhattan

2019-20 Record: 15-14 (12-8 MAAC)

Coach: Heather Vulin (5th year, 48-73 record)

Key Returners: Emily LaPointe (12.5 PPG), Courtney Warley (11.6 PPG), Gabby Cajou (8.8 PPG)

Key Loss: Julie Hoier (7.9 PPG)

Like Fairfield, Manhattan figures to be near the top of the MAAC this season. The Jaspers return All-MAAC First Teamer and defensive stalwart Courtney Warley along with last season’s unanimous MAAC Rookie of the Year, Emily LaPointe. Manhattan returns most of its bench depth that went 10-deep last season. The Jaspers also added Jenna Jordan, a transfer who averaged 6.3 points per game in her freshman year at Saint Francis Brooklyn. Manhattan held opponents under 60 points per game but struggled for consistency on offense. If LaPointe and Gabby Cajou continue to progress and Warley remains a reliable option, the Jaspers should be in the mix for a MAAC title.

Games Vs. Marist: January 8-9 @ McCann

3. Marist

2019-20 Record: 26-4 (18-2 MAAC)

Coach: Brian Giorgis (19th year, 425-160 record)

Key Returners: Willow Duffell (7.5 PPG), Sarah Barcello (6.3 PPG)

Key Losses: Rebekah Hand (18 PPG), Alana Gilmer (17.1 PPG), Grace Vander Weide (11.4 PPG)

Marist is probably the biggest question mark in the conference. Last season’s seniors from the 26-4 campaign accounted for 52 points per game, more than 70 percent of the team’s scoring output. Willow Duffell and Sarah Barcello are the only two returning starters on a team that lacks a proven scorer. Senior guard Allie Best knows how to run the offense, and sophomore Trinasia Kennedy showed flashes of brilliance mingled with the growing pains expected from a freshman. The incoming recruiting class should provide some help with five newcomers. Anabel Ellison, a guard out of Florida, averaged 27 points per game in her senior year of high school, and Caitlin Weimar, a six-foot-four forward from Westchester County, could be asked to play crucial minutes this season. Brian Giorgis has his work cut out for him if he wants to keep this team in the upper-tier of the MAAC. He has done it before, and no one is putting it past him to do it again.

4. Quinnipiac

2019-20 Record: 15-14 (12-8 MAAC)

Coach: Tricia Fabbri (25th year, 433-289)

Key Returners: Shaq Edwards (12.5 PPG), Mikala Morris (9.7 PPG), Mackenzie DeWees (8.7 PPG)

Key Loss: Taylor Herd (9.9 PPG), Paige Warfel (8.3 PPG)

By their lofty standards, Quinnipiac had a down year in 2019-20. Their 15 wins were the fewest since 2010-11 when they were still members of the Northeast Conference. Diminutive guard Shaq Edwards is back, as are Mikala Morris and Mackenzie DeWees. The Bobcats lost some role players but have more than enough firepower on the roster to remain competitive in the conference. Quinnipiac led the conference in rebounding margin last season, and they look poised to repeat, with four players standing six-foot-two or taller. Their rivalry with Marist should be the most competitive it has been in the last five years. The Bobcats have a chance to be one of the best teams in the MAAC if all goes well.

Games Vs. Marist: January 1-2 @ Quinnipiac

5. Iona

2019-20 Record: 9-21 (8-12 MAAC)

Coach: Billi Chambers (8th year, 98-121 record)

Key Returners: Juana Camilion (11.5 PPG), Shyan Mwai (8.8 PPG)

Key Loss: Morgan Rachu (12.3 PPG)

This is an important year for the pride of New Rochelle. The Gaels have not won more than ten games since the 2016-17 campaign when they went 18-13. Like Fairfield, there is a significant international presence with six players from outside the United States, including their best player, Juana Camilion, the crafty guard who averaged 11.5 points per contest and led the team in assists last season. Iona has an even mix of youth and experience, and if freshmen like six-foot-four Sydney Avoletta can contribute, the Gaels may have a chance to finish conference play with a winning record.

Games Vs. Marist: February 12-13 @ Iona

6. Saint Peter’s

2019-20 Record: 9-21 (6-14 MAAC)

Coach: Marc Mitchell (3rd year, 15-45 record)

Key Returners: Taiah Thornton (14.4 PPG), Kendrea Williams (12.9 PPG)

Key Losses: Gabrielle Harris (11.4 PPG), Briyannah Richardson (11.3 PPG)

The Peacocks return their two top scorers from the second-best scoring offense in the MAAC. The five-foot-five Taiah Thornton, an All-MAAC Third Team selection from last year, looks poised for a breakout season. Kendrea Williams, a dangerous three-point shooter, should be a reliable second option. Saint Peter’s did lose some depth from last year and will need some newcomers to step up. Sacred Heart transfer Jessica Woods may provide a spark the Peacocks sorely need in the frontcourt. The six-foot-two forward should provide a boost to a team that finished last in the MAAC in rebounding margin, losing the battle of the boards by almost 12 per game. This may be the year for Saint Peter’s to make a jump, and they have a decent chance to finish in the top half of the MAAC.

Games Vs. Marist: February 19-20

7. Siena

2019-20 Record: 11-20 (8-12 MAAC)

Coach: Ali Jacques (8th year, 112-137 record)

Key Returners: Rayshel Brown (9.9 PPG), Amari Anthony (9.7 PPG), Margo Peterson (8.4 PPG)

Key Loss: Sabrina Piper (13.3 PPG)

Siena has been a middling MAAC team for the last two seasons. The Saints lost Sabrina Piper, the best player from last year’s 11-win team. They do return the next three leading scorers, including three-point threat Margo Peterson, who shot 40 percent from long range last season. Sophomore Julia Hauer should improve on a promising rookie campaign that saw her average 6.3 points per game. Isis Young, a seventh-year (yes, you read that correctly) player, who spent time at Syracuse is very intriguing at point guard. The Saints should be a fairly deep team, but do they have the offensive firepower needed to contend with the frontrunners in the MAAC?

Games Vs. Marist: March 5-6 @ Siena

8. Rider

2019-20 Record: 26-4 (18-2 MAAC)

Coach: Lynn Donovan-Milligan (14th year, 170-229)

Key Returner: Amanda Mobley (9.2 PPG)

Key Losses: Stella Johnson (24.8 PPG), Lea Favre (11.9 PPG), Amari Johnson (11.6 PPG)

Last year’s co-champion is going to come back to reality this season. The explosive Stella Johnson is now with the Washington Mystics of the WNBA. Marist killers Lea Favre and Amari Johnson have also moved on, meaning junior guard Amanda Mobley is the only key contributor from last year’s 26-win squad. No other players on the roster averaged more than four points per game. Daija Moses is the only other returner who had much of a role on last year’s squad. The Broncs do have an influx of new international talent. Forwards Anna Ekerstedt and Sofie Bruintjes could fill the gaps in the frontcourt. It looks to be a tough year for Rider, who may take a precipitous fall in the MAAC standings this year.

Games Vs. Marist: January 29-30 @ McCann

9. Monmouth

2019-20 Record: 9-22 (5-15 MAAC)

Coach: Jody Craig (4th year, 31-53 record)

Key Returner: Lucy Thomas (9.2 PPG)

Key Losses: Sierra Green (11.1 PPG), Alexa Middleton (9.3 PPG), Akilah Jennings (8.2 PPG)

Monmouth is a similar case to Marist. They lost four starters from last year, and they have a very inexperienced roster. The main difference: they won 17 fewer games. Lucy Thomas is the only returning player who scored over five points per game on a nine-win Hawks team that barely cracked 50 points per game on offense. Monmouth needs contributions from experienced players like Jen Louro and Brianna Livingston, the Cincinnati transfer that missed most of last season with an injury. The Hawks also need some help from the eight freshmen and sophomores on the roster. It may be a rebuilding year for coach Jody Craig.

Games Vs. Marist: February 5-6 @ McCann

10. Niagara

2019-20 Record: 10-21 (7-13 MAAC)

Coach: Jada Pierce (6th year, 51-103 record)

Key Returners: No returning players averaged over five points per game

Key Losses: Jai Moore (16 PPG), Emerald Ekpiteta (9.3 PPG), Maggie McIntyre (9.3 PPG)

The Purple Eagles figure to take a step back after winning 10 games last year. Electric scorer Jai Moore is gone, so are solid starters Emerald Ekpiteta and Maggie McIntyre. Returning players like Angel Parker, Valentina Pepic, and Sydney Faulcon, none of whom averaged more than four points per game last season, are going to see bigger roles. Niagara struggled on defense last season, giving up 73.4 points per game, second-worst in the MAAC. The Purple Eagles are going to need to improve on that side of the court because it looks like points may be difficult to come by this season.

Games Vs. Marist: January 22-23 @ Niagara

11. Canisius

2019-20 Record: 5-25 (4-16 MAAC)

Coach: Scott Hemer (3rd year, 16-44 record)

Key Returners: No returning players averaged over five points per game

Key Losses: D’Jhai Patterson-Ricks (14.4 PPG), Danielle Sanderlin (13.5 PPG), A.J. Timbers (9.9 PPG)

Last year was a struggle for Canisius, and this year does not look much better for coach Scott Hemer. The Golden Griffins lost each of their main threats on an offense that only managed 61 points per contest and shot only 39 percent from the field. Canisius is going to need to find some new scoring options and find them fast. Anndea Zeigler, who only played five games before a season-ending injury, and Anna Sweny, who was third on the team in three-point shooting, are breakout candidates. The Golden Griffins project to be near the bottom of the conference, but if enough of the players on the unproven roster step up, they could better their MAAC win total from last season.

Games Vs. Marist: December 11-12 @ McCann

Edited by Dave Connelly and Bridget Reilly

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