MAAC Women’s Basketball Preview: A Look Around the League With Tip-off Days Away

After almost eight long months, it’s finally here. Basketball season is back and so is another year of Center Field’s MAAC basketball previews.

We all know how much of a slog it was for Marist women’s basketball last season. The Red Foxes finished second-to-last in the conference with a 6-14 record. In Atlantic City, Marist bowed out with a brutal 49-29 loss to Saint Peter’s.

Elsewhere, Fairfield finally broke through in Joe Frager’s final season, winning the regular-season title with a 19-1 record and backing it up by cutting down the nets at the MAAC Tournament.

Manhattan and Quinnipiac plugged along with consistent seasons to finish near the top and Niagara surprised some as the only other team to finish with a record above .500 in conference play in a league with plenty of parity.

Expect much of the same this season. The teams that finished near the top are expected to stay there this season, but how the middle and bottom of the league shakes out is anyone’s guess.

Here is our expected order of finish for the 2022-23 MAAC campaign, along with a short primer for every team.

1. Quinnipiac

Last Year’s Record: 21-12, 14-6 in the MAAC (tied for second place)

Key Returner: Mackenzie DeWees

Key Departure: Amani Free

One Burning Question: Does their core make them the team to beat in the MAAC?

Eight out of the 11 MAAC coaches picked the Bobcats to win the league this season, and it’s pretty easy to see why. Grad students Mackenzie DeWees and Rose Caverly came back for the extra year, while it seems like senior Mikala Morris has been around much longer than four years. These three form the core of Quinnipiac’s team and are eager to improve upon last season, which ended with a 72-59 defeat to Manhattan in the MAAC semifinals.

Cur’tiera Haywood, the team’s fourth-leading scorer, is also back. The most intriguing new name on the roster is Mary Baskerville, a 6-foot-3 transfer from Providence. Baskerville played four seasons with the Friars, winning 2019 Big East Rookie of the Year and going on to set the program record for career field goal percentage.

Under Tricia Fabbri, the Bobcats are primed to win the MAAC and secure their first NCAA Tournament berth since 2019.

2. Niagara

Last Year’s Record: 15-15, 11-9 in the MAAC (fourth place)

Key Returner: Angel Parker

Key Departure: Ally Haar

One Burning Question: Can the Purple Eagles go from dark horse to legit contender? 

Here’s where we break from the MAAC preseason poll mold. Niagara managed an 11-9 record in the league, and they return the dynamic Angel Parker, who averaged 17 points, four rebounds, and five assists per game last season. Her sister, Aaliyah, a sophomore, was the team’s second-leading scorer at 12 points per game and also grabbed six rebounds as a guard.

Maddy Yelle, the team’s best three-point shooter from last season, is back for her fifth year, and post player Sydney Faulcon is also back to provide a presence in the paint. Head coach Jada Pierce will hope that her team can find some more accuracy from behind the arc, as the Purple Eagles were the third-worst outside shooting team in the league, in front of only Saint Peter’s and Marist.

Their fast-paced, pressing style of play induced a lot of opposing turnovers, but Niagara also allowed the most points per game in the league. This Purple Eagles team is dangerous, and if they can allow fewer points, they have a shot to win the MAAC.

3. Manhattan

Last Year’s Record: 21-11, 14-6 in the MAAC (tied for second place)  

Key Returner: Dee Dee Davis

Key Departure: Courtney Warley

One Burning Question: Can the Jaspers go one step further than last year and win the MAAC Tournament? 

Heather Vulin has built Manhattan into a consistent top-tier team in the MAAC. For the past few years, the Jaspers’ identity was built around their defense. Last season, they finally managed to start scoring consistently, upping their points per game from 55.2 in 2020-21 to 66.2 in 2021-22.

As a result, Manhattan finished in a tie for second in the regular season and made it to the MAAC championship game, where it went down to the wire against Fairfield. Losing defensive stalwart Courtney Warley (who averaged a double-double last season) hurts but the Jaspers do bring back Dee Dee Davis, who averaged almost 19 points per game last season and earned MAAC Preseason Player of the Year honors.

Brazil Harvey-Carr leads a host of other experienced talents that returns to Riverdale. It feels strange to ask, but one of the questions around this team concerns how much the defense is impacted without Warley. Look for the Jaspers to contend again this season.

4. Fairfield

Last Year’s Record: 25-7, 19-1 in the MAAC (first place, won title)

Key Returner: Callie Cavanaugh

Key Departure: Lou Lopez-Senechal

One Burning Question: Will the Stags have enough firepower to stay in the conversation for the MAAC title?

Several important figures departed from the Stags’ program during the offseason. Long-time head coach Joe Frager ended his career on a high note, while standout Lou Lopez-Senechal is off to the brightest collegiate stage of all at UConn, and Rachel Hakes opted to take her final year at Tulane.

Sydney Lowery and Sam Lewis are other key contributors who departed, leaving Callie Cavanaugh and Andrea Hernangomez as the team’s top returning weapons. Cavanaugh and Hernangomez both averaged a shade under 10 points per game last year, and both play at forward, leaving questions at the guard spot.

Expect Janelle Brown to step in at point guard, but after that, there seems to be a lot of uncertainty. One intriguing recruit the Stags brought in was Kate Peek, a guard from Poughkeepsie who played at The Millbrook School. With plenty of opportunities in the backcourt, Peek could potentially play her way into minutes.

This year should be a step back for Fairfield under first-year head coach Carly Thibault-DuDonis.

5. Marist

Last Year’s Record: 8-21, 6-14 in the MAAC (tenth place)

Key Returner: Kiara Fisher

Key Departure: Trey Kennedy

One Burning Question: How much will Marist’s offense improve in 2022-23?

Ah yes, the Red Foxes. We’ll spare you the dissertation on what went wrong last year and focus on the upcoming season. Brian Giorgis had to deal with losing key contributors Trey Kennedy and Anabel Ellison to the transfer portal but brought in a host of recruits and two transfers to re-tool the roster.

Dynamic point guard Kiara Fisher is back for year two in Poughkeepsie after going out for the season in January with a shoulder injury. She’ll provide a much-needed spark to the offense and will look to re-establish her partnership with her fellow Southern Tier native Zaria Shazer, whose numbers took a dip after her teammate’s injury.

Kendall Krick is back for her graduate year after a strong end to last season, and Sam Bailey and Julianna Bonilla will look to take their games up a level in their senior seasons.

Donnelly, another Southern New Yorker, could provide an intriguing option at center at 6-foot-5. She is the commanding presence the Red Foxes lacked with the departure of Caitlin Weimar after the 2020-21 season.

We’ll cover Marist in much greater detail in our season preview and roundtable, but if the team can get the offense back to somewhere near normal, they could be the MAAC’s wild-card squad.

6. Rider

Last Year’s Record: 9-21, 7-13 in the MAAC (ninth place)

Key Returner: Mikayla Firebaugh

Key Departure: Lenaejha Evans

One Burning Question: Does returning experience equal success for the Broncs?

It seems like yesterday when Rider was 26-4 and headed for a MAAC heavyweight clash with Marist, who had the same record. That, of course, was in the spring of 2020. In addition to going through a global pandemic, the Broncs went through a rebuilding year in 2020-21 and didn’t make as big of a jump as head coach Lynn Milligan would have liked last year.

Lenaejha Evans, who led the team with 14 points per game last season is gone, but after that, pretty much everyone is back. Mikayla Firebaugh and Raphaela Touissant were the other double-digit scorers on that team which has four starters back this year.

Keep an eye on Rider’s shooting numbers this season. The Broncs had four players who shot 32 percent or better from deep, led by Jessika Schiffer, who was accurate 37 percent of the time. If the Broncs can have some of their more experienced players take a step forward this season, they could be in the race for a first-round bye in the MAAC Tournament.

7. Iona

Last Year’s Record: 11-16, 8-12 in the MAAC (eighth place)

Key Returner: Juana Camilion

Key Departure: Olivia Vezaldenos

One Burning Question: Who else besides Camilion steps up for Iona?

Consistently the roster with the most international flair in the conference, Iona returns most of its production from last season, a somewhat disappointing 11-16 campaign with an 8-12 record in the MAAC.

Crafty point guard Juana Camilion averaged 13.3 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 3.7 assists last season and was named to the All-MAAC Preseason First-Team ahead of her senior season. Forward Ketsia Athias posted near double-double numbers with 11.3 points and 8.5 rebounds per game last season and offered a commanding presence down low.

Head coach Billi Chambers has seen her program drop toward the lower-middle tier of the MAAC in the past few seasons, and some of the other names on the roster will have to step up and make contributions so defenses can’t just key in on Camilion and Athias. The Gaels had the league’s second-best defense last season but also the MAAC’s second-worst offense. The ball will need to go into the hoop a bit more if Iona wants to finish in the top half.

8. Mount Saint Mary’s

Last Year’s Record: 16-13, 11-7 in the NEC (won conference tournament)

Key Returner: Michaela Harrison

Key Departure: Kendall Bresee

One Burning Question: How will the Mount adjust to life in a new league?

The new kids on the block will probably be the league’s biggest mystery as the season begins. The Mountaineers finished their stint in the Northeast Conference with a run through the NEC Tournament as the 3-seed, securing a place in the Big Dance. Unfortunately, they could not progress past the play-in game between 16-seeds, losing to Bryant.

Michaela Harrison, the team’s second-leading scorer from last season (11.2 PPG) figures to be the Mount’s biggest scoring threat this season and earned a MAAC Preseason Third-Team selection. Aryna Taylor, who averaged just over nine points per game also returns as does undersized forward Isabelle Hunt.

The Mount wasn’t overwhelmingly deep last season and the team saw two starters depart from last year’s roster. If some recruits and transfers can plug those gaps, the Mount may make some noise this season. Let’s give them some time to adjust to the MAAC before making our final judgment on the league’s newest addition.

9. Canisius

Last Year’s Record: 6-25, 3-17 in the MAAC (last place)

Key Returner: Dani Haskell

Key Departure: Erika Joseph

One Burning Question: How much better will the Golden Griffins be after a six-win season in 2021-22?

Sahar Nusseibeh had a rough go of things during her first season in Western New York but there was some light at the end of the tunnel toward the end of 2021-22. The Golden Griffins won their final game of the season and upset 6-seed Monmouth in the first round of the MAAC Tournament before bowing out to Manhattan.

Hometown product Dani Haskell returns for her junior year after averaging better than 14 points per game last season and garnering a selection to the MAAC Preseason Second Team ahead of 2022-23. Athina Lexa (8.6 PPG) is the only other starter from last year who is back for this season.

With several players departing via graduation or the transfer portal, some new faces have to step up to fill the spots in the rotation. There are a lot of question marks surrounding this team after Haskell, who will need to elevate her game to an even higher level if Canisius wants to elevate itself to the middle of the pack. There are four juniors or older on the roster. Inexperience could prove to be a major concern. 

10. Siena

Last Year’s Record: 10-19, 10-10 in the MAAC (fifth place)

Key Returner: Rayshel Brown

Key Departure: Valencia Fontenelle-Posson

One Burning Question: Who becomes Siena’s go-to player?

Speaking of inexperience, Jim Jabir’s roster is filled with freshmen and sophomores. The complete starting lineup from last season is gone. Rayshel Brown, Margo Peterson, and Selena Philoxy all scored in double-digits in 2021-22 and now they will have to replace all of that production.

Valencia Fontenelle-Posson and Ahniysha Jackson are the players that got the most time on the floor last season and still only combined to average 10 points per game. Some of these new recruits and less experienced players will have to come out of the woodwork and contribute, or else it will be a long season in Loudonville.

11. Saint Peter’s

Last Year’s Record: 13-18, 9-11 in the MAAC (tied for sixth place)

Key Returner: Kalia Dawkins

Key Departure: Kendrea Williams

One Burning Question: How can Saint Peter’s avoid falling off completely?

The theme of roster turnover continues with the Peacocks, who saw former head coach Marc Mitchell depart for the University of Indianapolis in the Division II ranks. Kalia Dawkins and Rachel Kuhl are the only prominent players from last season who return to Jersey City.

First-year head coach Jennifer Leedham has a complete rebuild on her hands. It was only a couple of years ago that the Peacocks found themselves in the MAAC Championship against Marist. That will seem like a distant memory this season as Saint Peter’s will struggle to emerge from the bottom of the MAAC.

Edited by Ricardo Martinez and Isabella Cicinelli

Photo from Marist Athletics

Author: Jonathan Kinane

I'm a senior from Syracuse, NY, studying sports communication and journalism. I consider myself a die-hard Syracuse University sports fan, but I also follow the Knicks, Giants, and Yankees in the professional ranks. Sports and writing have long been my passions and I am excited for another year with Center Field.

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