By Carlos Toro
Last season, the MAAC enjoyed a two-horse race between Iona and Quinnipiac, with the Gaels advancing to the NCAA Tournament and playing in a close game against No. 2 Maryland. This season, there are more teams looking to break into the conference’s elite class than ever before. Here are my predictions on how the MAAC will shape up for women’s basketball.
1. Iona (23-12, 16-4 MAAC last season)
Key Player: Senior forward Karynda Dupree
The Gaels did not win the regular-season title in 2015, but they asserted their dominance in the conference when they defeated top-seeded Quinnipiac in the MAAC Tournament finals by 16 points. The team no longer has forward Joy Adams, who was an All-MAAC first-team selection. This year, the attention will turn to preseason first team All-MAAC Marina Lizarazu and expect defensive stalwart DuPree to have more of an offensive presence than she had last year in order to offset the absence of Adams.
2. Quinnipiac (25-9, 17-3 MAAC)
Key Player: Sophomore guard/forward Aryn McClure
Quinnipiac has run the show in the MAAC for the past few years, and this year’s team expects more of the same success. The Bobcats expect McClure to have an even better season than last year, when she won MAAC Rookie of the Year. The team’s core remains largely intact except for 2015 second team All-MAAC selection Maria Napolitano.
3. Siena (14-18, 10-10 MAAC)
Key Player: Senior guard Denisha Petty-Evans
Siena has hovered around the .500 mark in conference play the past couple of seasons, but last year was Petty-Evans’ first as a Saint and she finally came into her role in the team. Junior guard Kollyns Scarbrough should also put Siena into the upper echelon of teams in the MAAC conference.
4. Fairfield (16-15, 11-9 MAAC)
Key Player: Redshirt senior guard Casey Smith
Losing Lizzy Ball and Kristin Schatzlein is a huge blow to this Fairfield squad, but thankfully, those were the only two real losses the team had. Fairfield’s late-season collapse, which saw the team drop five straight losses to end the season, should give it a chip on its shoulder, as it tries to come back to conference supremacy.
5. Marist (16-16, 14-6 MAAC)
Key Player: Junior guard Allie Clement
Like Fairfield, Marist lost two important seniors from last year’s team: Tori Jarosz and Sydney Coffey, who were responsible for more than half of the team’s total average points per game. Clement is the next woman up as she was the only other player from last year’s team to average at least nine points per game. Her excellent three-point shooting (37 percent from beyond the arc) will keep Marist in a lot of games.
6. Manhattan (15-16, 11-9 MAAC)
Key Player: Junior guard Amani Tatum
Tatum is about as close to a complete player the conference has to offer, but it will take more than Tatum to make Manhattan a serious contender. The team could not string wins together in the last month of the season and now it has six less seniors on the team. It will be up to the younger players to step up and carry the rest of the squad.
7. Canisius (13-17, 8-12 MAAC)
Key Player: Junior guard Margret Halfdanardottir
To Canisius’ credit, they are not a team that solely relies on one player. The program had a lot of depth that played well collectively toward the end of last season, but most of that depth is gone, so it is back to the drawing board. Halfdanardottir is one of the best offensive players on this year’s team and she’ll be looked at as the leader of what is certainly a rebuilding year for the Golden Griffins.
8. Rider (8-22, 5-15 MAAC)
Key Player: Senior guard Robin Perkins
Rider showed signs of great play last year when it started 2-0 and won four of its last seven regular season games. But inconsistency doomed the Broncs as they finished with a 5-15 conference record. Perkins is the team’s offensive powerhouse, but the rest of the team needs to step up if it hopes to contend for a spot in the top half of the conference.
9. Monmouth (14-17, 11-9 MAAC)
Key Player: Senior guard Tyese Purvis
It almost doesn’t do justice placing Monmouth in the bottom half of the MAAC, considering they had a massive hot streak toward the end of the season. However, the team has to replace six seniors, most of whom were the reason the Hawks played so well. This year’s team has eight freshmen and sophomores to try and fill that void and build for the future, as well as transfer Purvis, who had a short but successful career at Monroe Community College.
10. Niagara (8-23, 5-15 MAAC)
Key Player: Redshirt junior forward Victoria Rampado
Don’t let the 8-23 record last season be an indicator of how good or bad the team is. The Purple Eagles have Rampado back from injury and she is expected to get the team back to a more stable state. Unfortunately, the program has not had a winning conference record since the 2004-05 season.
11. Saint Peter’s (4-26, 2-18 MAAC)
Key Player: Junior forward Sajanna Bethea
A four-win season in 2015 was only a sign of how much the program still needs to improve. Combine that with an insane non-conference road schedule (Maryland, South Carolina, Penn State), and this may be another year where the program will finish last in the conference. Bethea is the lone bright spot on the team, being selected as a preseason second team All-MAAC honoree.