By Dylan Manfre
New season, new players and new highlights will descend upon Atlantic City, New Jersey, for the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) tournament in March. But first, here are my women’s basketball predictions for the upcoming season.
1. Rider Broncs (20-9, 17-3 MAAC) Key Player: senior guard Stella Johnson
Unlike Quinnipiac, which are three-time defending MAAC champions and winners of its last 43 consecutive — not a typo — regular season conference games, Rider returned a majority of its scoring from last season. Best part of that? Johnson, who is the 2019-2020 Preseason Player of the Year and unanimous Preseason All-MAAC First Team selection, returns for her senior season. She leads a highly experienced senior class who might be enough to withstand Quinnipiac’s strong group of underclassmen and returning leaders along with Marist’s returners. The Broncs took a blow with senior forward Lea Favre being out with an ankle injury, but Head Coach Lynn Milligan is optimistic she will not miss too many games. Rider will have the edge over the Bobcats this winter — just barely. Spots one through three can, and likely will change throughout the season.
2. Quinnipiac Bobcats (22-7, 17-3 MAAC) Key Player: senior guard Taylor Herd
The Bobcats graduated a plethora of seniors who provided the bulk of their scoring. Jen Fey and her 12.5 points per game are no more. So are Aryn McClure, Edel Thornton and Paula Strautmane, who ranked second in the MAAC in blocked shots with 1.9 a game. Heard is the reigning MAAC Sixth Player of The Year and will provide valuable minutes and leadership. Head Coach Trica Fabri has a clear reputation of producing a winning culture over in Hamden, Connecticut, so maybe she can pull something out of thin air with the group of underclassmen she recruited. The Bobcats’ 43 game conference winning streak will come to an end this season. The question remains — to who?
3. Marist Red Foxes (18-11, 15-5 MAAC) Key Player: senior guard Rebekah Hand
The leading scorer for the Red Foxes in 2018, Rebekah Hand, was lethal in the postseason tournament as they advanced to the championship round where they would eventually lose to Quinnipiac. Along with Stella Johnson, Alana Gilmer was the only other unanimous selection for the Preseason All-MAAC Team. Although Marist lost to Quinnipiac in the MAAC tournament by single digits, it can have a lot of success if it runs the offense through Hand. Preseason All-MAAC Second Team selection Grace Vander Weide will be a big threat as well in her senior season. She led the MAAC in assists averaging 4.9 a game last season.
4. Manhattan Jaspers (13-16, 10-10 MAAC) Key Player: junior center Courtney Warley
After a second-round exit as the No. 5 seed in the MAAC tournament, the Jaspers lost one player to graduation and it was not preseason All-MAAC First Team selection Courtney Warley. She was the MAAC leader in blocks per game in 2018 with 1.8 per game. Can 2019-2020 be the year Manhattan makes a decent push? The coaches seem to think so. It was picked fourth in the MAAC Preseason Coaches’ Poll. Manhattan could be a very fun team to watch with Warley on the floor, but alas, the Jaspers are still a middle-of-the-pack team and need a bit more to crack the top five and make a run in the postseason.
5. Fairfield Stags (15-14, 10-10 MAAC) Key Player: sophomore forward Lou Lopez Senechal
Fairfield rounds out the top five due to one of its young returners, Lou Lopez-Senechal, who was an absolute threat to the Broncs and many other teams last season. Heading into the 2019-2020 season, Senechal was named to the Preseason All-MAAC Second Team. The rising sophomore started all 22 of her games and averaged a team-best 11.8 points per game. She was also named MAAC Rookie of the Week a league-high four times in 2018. A key loss for the Stags is Khadidiatou Diouf and her ability to use her 6-foot-3 frame to spread the floor.
6. Monmouth Hawks (10-19, 9-11 MAAC) Key Player: senior guard Sierra Green
Sierra Green was fifth in the MAAC in scoring last season at 13.4 points per game. Green and fellow senior forward Alexa Middilton, who was third in the MAAC in rebounding at 7.9 per game, both provide leadership on the court. Monmouth cannot afford to lose winnable games. That is what plagued the Hawks in the 2018-2019 season. They split the series with Siena, who finished eighth in the standings, as well as Iona which three conference wins were its only wins all season.
7. Canisius Golden Griffins (11-18, 8-12 MAAC) Key Player: senior guard D’Jhai Patterson-Ricks
Replacing Sara Henricksdottier will be a monumental task to handle. Look for senior forward Tiana Pugh to inherit those minutes and play a bigger role. Will that be enough though? Absolutely not. Canisius still has senior guard D’Jhai Patterson-Ricks who was a very big scoring threat. Her ability to drive and get to the basket was second to none. Canisius is still one of those bottom-of the-pack teams because strong seasons from Patterson-Ricks and Pugh will not be enough to withstand a top-heavy conference.
8. Niagara Purple Eagles (10-19, 6-14 MAAC) Key Player: senior guard Jai Moore
Jai Moore was named to the Preseason All-MAAC First Team and was a true scoring weapon for Niagara in her junior season. Like Canisius, Moore will not be enough to be competitive in the conference. Defensively, the Purple Eagles were fifth in steals in 2018 with 8.4 a game. Something they should look to capitalize on is their rebounding. Junior forward Emerald Ekpiteta was sixth in the league in rebounds.
9. Iona Gaels (7-22, 5-15 MAAC) Key Player: Sophomore guard Juana Camilion
Last season the Gaels were in the basement of the MAAC in scoring offense. It is hard to believe any of that will change this year so putting them at No. 9 is a stretch. In addition to the four freshmen they recruited, they gained 6-foot-3 forward Aiste Vaitekunaite and 5-foot-10 forward Paulla Weekes off of their redshirt freshman years. Both players who will be utilized to add a lot of height to the lineup. Camilion will also provide valuable scoring to the rotation as well.
10. Siena Saints (7-22, 4-16 MAAC) Key Player: Senior guard Sabrina Piper
Siena is another one of the bottom half teams which had no sympathy when it came to making its MAAC schedule as the Saints start out with Fairfield and Quinnipiac. Piper will be good this season and average double-digit scoring again but as a team, Siena will not get far.
11. Saint Peter’s (3-26, 2-18 MAAC) Key Player: Sophomore guard Briyanah Richardson
In 2018 Saint Peter’s was in the basement of the conference. That is where the Peacocks will end up at the end of the 2019-2020 season. Like most of the bottom half of the MAAC, one person doing the scoring will not cut it. Saint Peter’s will have to find other options than Richardson, who was tied for sixth in the league in scoring in 2018. Senior forward Zoe Pero was fourth in the MAAC in free throw percentage so maybe that is where the Peacocks get some of their points.
Predicted MAAC Tournament Winner: Marist Red Foxes