By Stephen Neukam
As the women’s basketball season approaches, so do the conversations. Which team is the best? Who is the best player? Who will host the championship? There is no better time than the preseason for teams and fan bases alike to feel optimistic about the upcoming campaign. This excitement has found its way to the MAAC conference. New faces will emerge while fan-favorites continue to shine and top-ranked teams face off against hopeful underdogs. With tip-off for the women’s basketball season less than a week away, it’s time to examine how this year’s season will play out.
1. Quinnipiac (28-6, 18-0 MAAC): Key Player: Senior guard Aryn McClure
There is not much to debate with this prediction. Since joining the MAAC in 2013, defending-champion Quinnipiac has posted an 86-12 record, easily the best mark since then. Senior guard Aryn McClure was named the Preseason Player of the Year for the second consecutive season. Given the talent surrounding McClure, with senior forward Jen Fay unanimously selected to the Preseason All-MAAC First Team and senior forward Paula Strautmane receiving Second Team honors, the Bobcats are the obvious favorite to top the MAAC.
2. Marist (20-14, 14-4 MAAC): Key Player: Junior guard Rebekah Hand
The dominance of Quinnipiac should not take away from the team that Marist has assembled. Under the 17-year leadership of Head Coach Brian Giorgis, the Red Foxes have amassed a record of 376-148. The seven-time MAAC coach of the year has a talented roster to work with this season, including a conference-leading four players named to All-MAAC Preseason teams.
3. Rider (14-17, 10-8 MAAC): Key Player: Junior guard Stella Johnson
Following a trip to the conference semifinals, Rider will be looking to improve on last year’s fifth-place finish. With the Broncs returning four starters from last season, they seem to have the recipe to climb behind the two elite teams in the conference. Junior guard Stella Johnson was selected to the Preseason All-MAAC Second Team and was not the only Bronc to receive preseason honors.
Senior guard Lexi Posset was selected to the Third Team. Rider should be able to rely on the veteran leadership of Johnson and Posset to finish in third.
4. Siena (17-14, 11-7 MAAC): Key Player: Junior forward Maddie Sims
Ranked third in the MAAC preseason coaches poll, Siena also returns a number of players to its starting lineup. Junior forward Maddie Sims and senior guard Aaliyah Jones will lead the Saints, with each being named to the Preseason All-MAAC Second and Third Team respectively. Once the postseason rolls around, Siena will once again have a home-court advantage, with the MAAC tournament being held in Albany for the 16th time.
5. Fairfield (13-17, 10-8 MAAC): Key Player: Senior Forward Khadidiatou Diouf
Fairfield will have a tough task ahead to replace former standout forward Samantha Cooper, who led the team in points last season. The players set to fill her shoes are the team’s leading returning scorer, junior guard Sam Kramer and senior forward Khadidiatou Diouf, who was a Preseason All-MAAC Third Team selection. Diouf, a Senegal native, stands at 6-feet-3-inches and will be asked to play a significant role on both ends of the floor.
6. Manhattan (13-18, 9-9 MAAC): Key Player: Sophomore guard Gabby Cajou
While Manhattan may finish in the middle of the pack this upcoming season, the future remains bright for the Jaspers. Sophomore guard Gabby Cajou is the reigning MAAC Sixth Player of the Year and was named to the Preseason All-MAAC Second Team. Her offensive output will undoubtedly progress this season but the supporting cast may not propel Manhattan further. Regardless, Cajou will be a ton of fun to watch and Jaspers fans can look to the future with a sense of hope.
7. Canisius (10-20, 8-10 MAAC): Key Player: Senior forward Sara Hinriksdottir
Senior forward Sara Hinriksdottir joined the 1000 point club in her junior season. She posted a dominant stat line of 14.9 points per game and 5.6 rebounds a game last season, earning her preseason All-MAAC Second Team honors. However, the Golden Griffs will be headed by a new face this season, with Scott Hemer named the head coach in April. This season will almost certainly be a learning curve for Hemer and his squad.
8. Monmouth (10-21, 7-11 MAAC): Key Player: Junior forward Alexa Middleton
Both of Monmouth’s top scorers from last season will not be on the court for the Hawks this year. Third leading scorer junior forward Alexa Middleton will be asked to shoulder a larger load offensively. She will not be alone in taking on a new role, as the team will rely on multiple newcomers to make a difference. Notably, Head Coach Jody Craig had said she expects freshman guard Alexa Wallace to have an immediate impact on the team.
9. Iona (2-28, 2-16 MAAC): Key Player: Freshman guard Sara Krumpholcova
The players on the basketball court for Iona this campaign will look drastically different than last season. The Gaels will be without their top four leading scorers from last year. However, this overhaul will be welcomed by the Iona faithful, after suffering through a miserable display of conference action last season. Freshman guard Sara Krumpholcova from the Czech Republic will be an exciting player to watch for the Gaels. Her efforts overseas garnered her international recognition.
10. Niagara (13-18, 9-9 MAAC): Key Player: Junior guard Jai Moore
Victoria Rampado and Kaylee Stroemple led Niagara to a .500 record in the MAAC last season. Unfortunately for the Purple Eagles, neither of these players will be on the floor for them this season. Following a standout sophomore season, junior guard Jai Moore, who was named to the Preseason All-MAAC Third Team, will be asked to lead Niagara forward. This will be a developmental season for the Purple Eagles.
11. St. Peter’s (4-26, 1-17): Key Player: Junior forward Zoe Pero
Last season was one to forget for St. Peter’s. In fact, the Peacocks have finished at the bottom of the conference each of the last three seasons. After losing last year’s leading scorer, they will look to junior forward Zoe Pero to fill the void.
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