Women’s Atlantic 10 Preview: Dukes have sights set on NCAA Tournament

Saúl Berríos-Thomas and Carly Theriet | The Duquesne Duke

Aaron Warnick | Photo Editor
Aaron Warnick | Photo Editor

1 Dayton

2012-2013: 28-3 overall, 14-0 Atlantic 10
The defending Atlantic 10 regular season champion Flyers return as one of the strongest teams in the conference. A team that was ranked as high as 11th in the AP and USA Today Coach’s Top 25 last season is currently ranked 14th in the AP Top 25 Media Poll. Dayton has earned NCAA tournament berths every year since 2010. The Flyers will look to build upon their perfect 14-0 conference record from 2013. Key returning players include Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year Amber Deane and Atlantic 10 First Team selection Andrea Hoover.

2 St. Joseph’s
2012-2013: 23-9 overall, 11-3 Atlantic 10
After their first round departure from the NCAA tournament St. Joe’s is looking to build on a successful campaign in 2012-13 that saw them win the school’s first Atlantic 10 title since 1999. Picked to finish second in the Atlantic 10 in the preseason coaches’ poll, the Hawks have high expectations. The team’s leading scorer Chatilla van Grinsven graduated. Her departure will hurt the program, but they hope to fill her shoes with an experienced group of upperclassmen and a few talented freshmen. The Hawks will look to the talented backcourt of Natasha Cloud, junior guard, and senior guard Erin Shields to lead the way.

3 Fordham
2012-2013: 26-9 overall, 12-2 Atlantic 10
After finishing the season with a 26-9 record in 2013, the Rams look to dominate in the conference circuit this year. They were chosen to finish fourth in the Atlantic 10 preseason poll, only one vote behind Duquesne. Key returners include redshirt senior guard Erin Rooney, a first team selection in 2013 and sophomore forward Samantha Clark, a five-time Rookie of the Week selection in 2013. The squad also features four freshmen including Slovenian National Team member Alina Gjerkes. Fordham will look to continue their success from 2013, a year in which they doubled their conference win total from 2011-2012.

4 Duquesne
2012-2013: 24-8 overall, 11-3 Atlantic 10
The Dukes head into the year under new head coach Dan Burt. Seniors Wumi Agunbiade, Orsi Szeci and Reagan Moore have the team focused on winning the conference championship and notching the NCAA berth they’ve been chasing since their freshman years. Sophomore April Robinson, who started at point guard very early in her freshman season on the Bluff, will run the offense and looks to be more vocal in the backcourt. While last year’s squad relied on quickness and defense, this year’s team touts much more size and length, which will help on the boards when the conference schedule rolls around.

5 Virginia Commonwealth
2012-2013: 11-19 overall, 4-10 Atlantic 10
VCU had the best recruiting class in the Atlantic 10 and the 38th in the nation, according to Blue Star Basketball. The young group adds to an already talented roster. VCU finished last season with a disappointing 4-10 conference record, but that season of struggle could have marked the end of a rebuilding process as they look to make an impact in their conference this year. They are led by Atlantic 10 Preseason All-Conference team standout Robyn Parks, senior guard, who led the Atlantic 10 in scoring a year ago. Parks averaged 2.3 more points a game than the next best scorer in the conference.

6 Richmond
2012-2013: 16-16overall, 6-8 Atlantic 10
Richmond finished last year with a second round exit from the WNIT Tournament. The Spiders are a young team that has only three seniors. Overall last season Richmond finished 16-16, going 6-8 in the Atlantic-10. They will be led by Kristina King, a senior guard, but the loss of senior guard Becca Wann for the season could put additional pressure on King. That said, the Spiders may be okay under King’s watch – she scored in double digits a team-high 19 times and recorded five double-doubles last season as a junior.

7 George Washington
2012-2013: 14-16 overall, 7-7 Atlantic 10
George Washington looks to continue to rebuild a program that finished the 2013 season with a 14-16 overall record with a .500 record in conference play. Under first year head coach Jonathin Tsipis, the Colonials recorded the most wins in a season since 2009. Key returners include Danni Jackson, a redshirt senior who has been the leading scorer for the past three seasons. Jackson recorded a team best 10.1 points per game and 4.5 steals. From a defensive standpoint the Colonials will look to junior Chakecia Miller, who is one of only three players in Division I to record 10 steals in each game the last two seasons.

8 St. Bonaventure
2012-2013: 10-19 overall, 3-11 Atlantic 10
St. Bonaventure had a tumultuous offseason. Head coach Jim Crowley sent players CeCe Dixon and Tatiana Wilson away from the team for a violation of team rules, in addition to Doris Ortega’s departure with a year of eligibility remaining. After the dust settled, the top three scorers from a year ago are now gone. They will have to turn to Chelsea Bowker and Ashley Zahn for leadership. Bowker didn’t play a game for the Bonnies last year due to injury, while Zahn started 17 of 29 games last year and scored 19 points in 20 minutes against Buffalo last December.

9 St. Louis
2012-2013: 12-19 overall, 5-9 Atlantic 10
St. Louis is a scrappy team that snuck their way into the Atlantic 10 quarterfinals last year. The Billikens were devastated by graduations and transfers. They lost three of their four leading scorers from a year ago. They only have two seniors heading into the season and could struggle if their cast of underclassmen doesn’t step up. With only two players who stand above six feet, it could be a tough year for the Billikens in the Midwest.

10 Rhode Island
2012-2013: 6-23 overall, 1-13 Atlantic 10
Rhode Island is in full rebuild mode. With only two seniors and nine underclassmen, the team lacks experience. Head coach Cathy Inglese was forced to make some changes to her staff thanks to Stephanie Tobey’s departure to Bryant. Inglese promoted Chris Passmore from director of operations to assistant coach and added Danielle Parks to fill the gap Passmore left. They will once again be led by sophomore guard Tayra Melendez. Rhode Island only managed one victory in conference play last year, and with a lack of experience and transition on the coaching staff could very likely do the same this year.

11 UMass
2012-2013: 3-26 overall, 1-13 Atlantic 10
A team that finished the 2013 season with one conference victory, UMass looks to rebuild as a young team with only one senior, much like Rhode Island. The squad returns four of its five starters, including leading rebounder Rashida Timbilla. Along with returning four starters, the team also welcomes its five top scorers back from last season. Adriana Johnson, a sophomore who showed she can shoot the ball last year, is projected to fill out the starting lineup. They’ll face Western Michigan in their home opener on Friday.

12 George Mason
2012-2013: 9-21 overall, inaugural season in Atlantic 10
2013 marks the first year in which George Mason will compete in the Atlantic 10. Not only is it an inaugural year in a more competitive and nationally acclaimed conference, it’s also the beginning of a new era on the coaching. Nyla Milleson will begin her first season as head coach after a six year stint at Missouri State University. The Patriots return Janaa Pickard, their only starter from last year’s 9-21 campaign. Coach Milleson welcomes six newcomers expected to make an immediate impact on the program, including Georgetown transfer Taylor Brown and Georgia State tranfer Sandra Ngoei.

13 La Salle
2012-2013: 8-21 overall, 4-10 Atlantic 10
The Explorers look to improve from a season in which they did not qualify for the Atlantic 10 tournament. Pitt transfer and graduate student Leeza Burdgess will be a key addition to the team. She was the Panthers’ leading rebounder last year, pulling down 7.2 boards per game. Along with Burdgess, Providence transfer Alicia Cropper will be eligible this year to help mentor incoming freshmen Lisa Mintzer, Micahya Owens, Deja Bullock and Jasmine Alston. With a number of new faces this year, the Explorers will look to rebuild and make a run in the conference tournament in Richmond – this year everyone qualifies.