MAAC Women’s Preview: Can Marist Pull Off a Repeat Performance?

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.

After an unpredictable 2020-21 season riddled with dozens of abrupt COVID-induced schedule changes, the MAAC returns for another exciting (and hopefully normal) year.

Last season, an ahead-of-schedule Marist team rolled through conference play and steamrolled Saint Peter’s in the MAAC Tournament Final to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time in seven years. The Red Foxes lost Allie Best, Willow Duffell, and Caitlin Weimar in the offseason, while many of the teams around them held steady.

Marist sits behind Quinnipiac, Manhattan, and Fairfield in the preseason coaches poll. Like last year, the coaches picked the Red Foxes fourth behind more experienced teams. This year, the middle of the MAAC will be much stronger, with schools like Rider and Niagara bringing almost everybody back.

Closer to the bottom of the league, there are new coaches at Siena, Monmouth, and Canisius, all looking to turn those programs around. With the traditional Thursday-Saturday schedule back in place, there will be almost no easy games for any team in the MAAC.

Here’s how I see the league shaking out this season: 

  1. Fairfield

2020-21 record: 11-5 (9-3 in the MAAC)

Coach: Joe Frager (14th year, 224-184 record)

Key Returners: Lou Lopez-Senechal (16.9 PPG), Sam Lewis (9.2 PPG), Rachel Hakes (5.6 PPG)

Key Loss: Katie Armstrong (9.9 PPG)

The coaches have the Stags finishing a close third this season, but I’m counting on a full season to allow the cream of the MAAC to rise to the top. Lopez-Senechal earned her second consecutive MAAC Preseason Player of the Year award and will hope to earn the same honor at the end of the season.

Last year, Marist held Lopez-Senechal to 12-for-45 shooting over three contests. Fairfield’s other top scorer Lewis (who dropped 33 in a game against Siena last season) will need to establish herself as a solid second option. Forwards Callie Cavanuagh and Andrea Hernangomez are dependable down low, and Hakes may be one of the most consistent point guards in the country.

Frager always fields teams with tremendous length, perfect for his matchup zone. The Stags only gave up 53.8 points per game last season and will hang their hats on the defensive end again this season. I see MAAC superiority as a coin flip between Fairfield and the next team on the list.  

2. Quinnipiac

2020-21 record: 13-8 (11-5 in the MAAC)

Coach: Tricia Fabbri (26th year, 446-297 record)

Key Returners: Mikala Morris (13.7 PPG), Mackenzie DeWees (12.5 PPG), Rose Caverly (10.4 PPG)

Key Losses: None

The Bobcats’ season ended prematurely in Atlantic City last March. Fabbri’s squad surprisingly bowed out to Rider in the quarterfinals but should look like the Quinnipiac of old this season. Morris and DeWees were both unanimous All-MAAC First-Teamers in the preseason voting. Morris was the league’s defensive player of the year last season, and DeWees proved she’s the ultimate swiss army knife and as tough as anyone.

Caverly can score and distribute from the point guard position, and supporting pieces like Amani Free, Sajeda Bonner, and Cur’tiera Haywood make this team one of the deepest in the league. The Bobcats also have a wealth of young players, and if some of them can contribute, it may be enough to send them over the top. 

3. Marist

2020-21 Record: 18-4 (13-3 in the MAAC)

Coach: Brian Giorgis (20th year, 443-164 record)

Key Returners: Sarah Barcello (12.6 PPG), Trinasia Kennedy (9.7 PPG)

Key Losses: Willow Duffell (12.2 PPG), Allie Best (7.6 PPG), Caitlin Weimar (8.6 PPG)

It feels a lot like last season for the Red Foxes. They lose a lot of production from the tournament team, including the surprise departure of last year’s MAAC Co-Rookie of the Year, Weimar, to Boston University. Perennials like Barcello, Kennedy, and Kendall Krick all return. Barcello and Kennedy both had off-season surgeries but hope to be ready by the season-opener.

Kiara Fisher, a transfer from Syracuse, should make an impact at one of the guard spots right away. She and Kennedy (both Southern New York natives) will form perhaps the most dynamic backcourt in the MAAC. Sophomore guards Emma Wax and Anabel Ellison both flashed signs of promise and will provide depth at the one and two. 

The questions lie in the frontcourt. What kind of lineups will Giorgis employ? Can Zaria Demember-Shazer improve on a solid rookie season? Will Sam Bailey establish herself as the starting center? How much of a step back will the defense take? If enough of these are answered, Marist will contend again.

4. Manhattan

2020-21 Record: 11-9 (9-3 in the MAAC)

Coach: Heather Vulin (6th year, 59-82 record)

Key Returners: Dee Dee Davis (12.8 PPG), Courteney Warley (11.9 PPG), Emily LaPointe (7.4 PPG)

Key Loss: Pam Miceus (7.6 PPG), Gabby Cajou (4.8 PPG) 

The Jaspers had a disappointing 2020-21 after getting tabbed as the preseason favorite. They played in the postseason WBI despite losing to Fairfield in the MAAC Quarterfinals. Losing Miceus and Cajou doesn’t seem like much on the stat sheet, but they were two of the team’s glue players.

Davis is a solid scorer and Warley a defensive stalwart, but I think LaPointe is this team’s difference-maker. Last season, she took a step back from her rookie of the year campaign in 2019. If she can regain her offensive form, it would go a long way in helping a team that only averaged 55 points per game.

You can always depend on the defensive end with Warley, but is Vulin’s team dynamic enough to compete with the three above?

5. Rider

2020-21 Record: 8-18 (5-13 in the MAAC)

Coach: Lynn Donovan-Milligan (15th year, 178-247 record)

Key Returners: Mikayla Firebaugh (11 PPG), Raphaela Touissant (7.5 PPG)

Key Loss: Daija Evans (7.4 PPG)

For a team that lost 12 of their first 13 games, eight wins and a trip to the MAAC Semis was impressive for a very young Broncs team last season. Firebaugh and Touissant emerged as freshmen and should continue to trend upward this year. Amanda Mobley provides senior leadership for a team that has a similar roster makeup to Marist.

If Victoria Toomey takes a step forward inside and other players like Maya Hyacienth and Lenaejha Evans remain consistent, Rider will be a tough out. Remember, they beat Quinnipiac twice last season and came tantalizingly close to the MAAC Championship Game. 

6. Niagara

2020-21 Record: 4-7 (4-6 in the MAAC)

Coach: Jada Pierce (7th year, 55-110 record)

Key Returners: Angel Parker (15.3 PPG), Ally Haar (12.6 PPG), Maddy Yelle (9.1 PPG)

Key Losses: None

Niagara joins Rider in the second tier of the league, the kind of team that can beat anyone on a given night. They return Parker, who is a player of the year candidate and preseason first-teamer in the MAAC. Haar and Yelle, and Olivia Mason are a solid supporting cast, and Sydney Faulcon has a nice touch around the rim.

Pierce, a one-time Giorgis disciple, has a scrappy, tough team. The one thing the Purple Eagles need is shooting. Haar should improve on her 28 percent clip; and keep an eye on freshman Lexie Roe, who has sharpshooting in her blood (her dad Matt starred at Syracuse and Maryland). Niagara is my dark horse team this season.

7. Iona

2020-21 Record: 6-9 (5-6 in the MAAC)

Coach: Billi Chambers (9th year, 104-130 record)

Key Returners: Juana Camilion (12.7 PPG), Olivia Vezaldenos (9.8 PPG), Ketsia Athias (9.1 PPG)

Key Losses: None

The Gaels always seem to have the most international flare out of the 11 MAAC teams. Camilion is crafty and one of the better guards in the league, but Iona hasn’t won at least ten games since the 2016-17 season. After Camilion, they return their next two leading scorers—Vezaldenos and Athias.

Last season, they picked up their wins against the bottom of the league. This year, they need to show visible improvement because the MAAC is much stronger in the middle. If Chambers can get some new faces into the mix, the Gaels could be a wild card this year.  

8. Siena

2020-21 Record: 4-9 (3-8 in the MAAC)

Coach: Jim Jabir (first year in his second stint at Siena)

Key Returners: Rayshel Brown (10.8 PPG), Margo Peterson (10.2 PPG), Amari Anthony (7.6 PPG)

Key Loss: Isis Young (18.8 PPG)

Losing Young hurts, there’s no doubt about that, but the Saints return the rest of their core from last year. Brown and Peterson are quality players who are capable of leading the offense. Six-foot-eight Chantell Gonzalez is an intriguing prospect, but LaLa Watts should anchor the team in the paint.

Jabir, with his 514 victories, becomes the winningest coach in the MAAC, which is saying something considering Giorgis and Fabbri. He has successfully led rebuilds at several different stops. His Siena team probably won’t be ready to challenge for a top spot in the league this year, but expect the Route 9 Rivalry to heat back up in the coming seasons.

9. Monmouth

2020-21 Record: 2-16 (2-11 in the MAAC)

Coach: Ginny Boggess (first year)

Key Returners: Jen Louro (9 PPG), Jania Hall (8.2 PPG), Belle Kranbuhl (7.2 PPG)

Key Losses: None

The Hawks are the most offensively challenged team in the league. They failed to score 40 points five times last season, including a 21-point performance against Fairfield. Kranbuhl is a defensive force in the middle, leading the MAAC in blocked shots last season.

If Louro and Hall show some much-needed signs of life on offense, the team can make some strides. Northeastern transfer Stella Clark averaged 14 points per game last season and should inject a spark. Also, keep an eye on Brianna Livingston, a Cincinnati transfer who has endured back-to-back season-ending injuries and finally seems primed to play. A not-so-bold prediction: they will win more than twice this season.  

10. Saint Peter’s

2020-21 Record: 13-15 (10-9 in the MAAC)

Coach: Marc Mitchell (4th year, 28-60 record)

Key Returners: Kendrea Williams (11.8 PPG), Binta Salawu (7.4 PPG)

Key Losses: Taiah Thornton (13.9 PPG), Ajia James (8.6 PPG)

I could see the Peacocks slipping down the standings this year. They took advantage of a COVID-weakened last season, earning the three-seed in Atlantic City and coming within one win of the NCAA Tournament. They lost their star in Thornton and had James, fresh off a strong rookie season, transfer to Elon.

The burden will fall on Williams, who proved a stellar second option to Thornton, finds herself as the main option. Chicago State transfer Kourtney Crane and Salawu will also need to shoulder the scoring burden. If Mitchell keeps this team in the top half of the league, he deserves a raise. 

11. Canisius

2020-21 Record: 0-5 (0-4 in the MAAC)

Coach: Sahar Nusseibeh (first year)

Key Returners: Dani Haskell (11.4 PPG), Shaunae Brown (9.6 PPG)

Key Losses: None

Scott Hemer is out after an abbreviated winless season. The Griffins opted out after five games, and haven’t won since late February 2020, their last victory of a 5-25 campaign. The good news: there’s nowhere to go but up. Local product Haskell is someone good to build around. Other players like Brown, Anndea Zeigler, and Erika Joseph will all look to step forward. Double-digit wins this season would be a great start for Coach Nusseibeh.

Edited by Ricardo Martinez and Bridget Reilly

Graphic by Gabby Bean

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