Thursday, November 13, 2014
James Madison, Liberty, Hampton 1-2-3 in LadySwish rankings
The season is upon us, which means it's time for our inaugural 2014-15 rankings. Without further ado:
1. James Madison: Can you imagine a Dukes team minus Kirby and Nikki? Yep, we know it's hard and how we'll miss watching the JMU team that advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament last season. But we expect great things from this balanced squad led by preseason CAA Player of the Year Precious Hall; Toia Giggetts, who gets better every year; and Jazmon Gwathmey, who perhaps has the most upside of anyone on the roster. Angela Mickens brings speed at the point and an emerging DeeDee Griffin should play a bigger role for the Dukes, picked to defend their CAA crown. Love, love, love the JMU nonconference sked that Kenny Brooks said was inspired by Wendy Larry. Consider the foes: UCLA, Maryland, Vandy, St. Bonaventure and Richmond to name a few.
Opener: At home vs. UCLA, Nov. 14
2. Liberty (last year 20-11)
The Flames didn't make it to the postseason last year for only the second time in 18 years, but we're betting that's not the case this season given the return of a core of vets and a healthy Jasmine Gardner and Catherine Kearney. Ashley Rininger (16 double-doubles as a sophomore) is among the state's elite, and Liberty has added transfer Karley Buer (Missouri State), who can break up the zone with her long ball. No surprise that the Flames got the nod to win the Big South.
Opener: At home vs. Charlotte, Nov. 14
The five-time defending MEAC champs were actually picked second in their own league to North Carolina A&T. Chemistry will be key for the Pirates, who will incorporate transfers Kyani White (East Carolina), Jackie Marshall (Iona College) and Kristine Rose (Xavier) into a lineup led by the reigning league Rookie of the Year, Malia Tate-DeFreitas. The 5-8 sophomore averaged 18.1 ppg as a freshman and Hampton will need her points and then some to compete in the nonconference slate that David Six put together with, are you ready? -- South Carolina (Dawn Staley's powerhouse comes to town Dec. 17), Kansas State, James Madison, DePaul and Princeton.
Joanne Boyle enters her fourth season still looking for her first NCAA Tournament appearance as head coach of the Cavaliers. The newbies are going to have to pull Virginia out of the bottom half of a loaded ACC, and 5-7 guard Mikayla Vinson is among those expected to make an immediate impact. A concussion and recurrent symptoms limited her action in high school; Venison played her last game at Yorktown High in Arlington in 2011. She's been coached by her dad, but now the reins go to Boyle, who has another potential star in Alijah Huland El, a 6-1 wing who thrives in transition. Virginia's last postseason appearance was Boyle's first year as coach when the Cavs advanced to the quarterfinals of the WNIT.
Opener: At home vs. Radford, Nov. 14
Ask us who is the best player in the state and we wouldn't shy from saying Genevieve Okoro, who's looked super in early Spiders' practices. Olivia Healy was the most promising newcomer in the state last year before an ACL tear ended her season in January. How quickly she returns to the lineup at full strength is critical for these Spiders (she will dress but not play in the opener), picked sixth in the A-10. Anticipating sophomore Janelle Hubbard, who scored in double figures in the Spiders final 12 games, to pick up where she left off and great to see Liz Brown healthy again.
Opener: At home vs. Providence, Nov. 14
6. Old Dominion
Hard to figure out how good these Lady Monarchs will be given the departure of Shea Kelley to Minnesota to play out her senior year and guard Galaisha Goodhope, gone for disciplinary reasons. We're eager to see what Jennie Simms will bring and good to see a healthy Ashley Betz-White return to action after missing all of last season with an injury. Chelisa Painter (8.9 ppg, 5.9 rpg) returns as the most productive player from last year's team that won a game in the WNIT, and we expect Odegua Oigbokie to be a bigger offensive threat. We're anxious to see whether the Lady Monarchs can surprise a Conference USA league that has picked them to finish sixth.
Opener: At home vs. Presbyterian, Nov. 14
7. Virginia Commonwealth
Beth O'Boyle is the new coach in the state, taking over a program that only belonged to Marlene Stollings for two seasons. Stollings recruited a bunch of young talent, and all have remained, but the Rams will miss Robyn Parks, the leading scorer in the Atlantic 10 who is now playing professionally in Spain and Jessica Pellechio, a viable three-point threat, who transferred to Drexel. Nonetheless, double-figure scorers Keira Robinson and Isis Thorpe return and hometown girl Ashley Pegram, a junior college transfer, make these Rams a sleeper in a league that Dayton should dominate.
Opener: At home vs. Wagner, Nov. 14
8. Virginia Tech
We're not making any assumption about the Hokies from the 93-12 exhibition win over Washington & Lee. Like Boyle at Virginia, Dennis Wolff is in his fourth year and the Hokies are still trying to make their way into the top half of the ACC. The graduations of Uju Ugoka and Monet Tellier leave the Hokies relying heavily on Vanessa Panousis and Hannah Young for points. How soon can the newcomers, Brielle Blaire and Rachel Camp among them, make a difference? If it's early, perhaps Tech can improve on last season's 14-16 record.
Opener: At George Mason, Nov. 14
9. George Mason
The Patriots open with Tech and we're eager to see the collection of talent Coach Nyla Milleson has put together in action. Two transfer, Kristi Mokube (Florida State) and Jasmine Jackson (Georgetown) add depth, though Jackson will miss the opener with an injury sustained in practice. Add in a healthy Rachel McNair and the continued development of Reana Mohamed, and the Patriots should have the depth to make Taylor Brown and Sandra Ngoie more consistent in their roles.
Opener: At home vs. Virginia Tech, Nov. 14
10. William and Mary
It's only Coach Ed Swanson's second year, but he returns a better conditioned Tribe, which for the first time had the majority of its players compete in the Norfolk summer league. Jazmon Boone and Kyla Kerstetter will captain this young team that will still likely struggle with the growing pains rebuilding. But the Tribe is on the upside, and we expect Marlena Tremba (13.2 ppg) to follow up on her CAA Rookie of the Year honors with an even better sophomore season.
Opener: Loyola (Md.), Nov. 14
It's only Mike McGuire's second season as head coach, so our expectations are in check for the Highlanders, 7-23 last season and picked to finish ninth in the Big South. Looking forward to seeing what kind of season 5-5 guard Ayana Avery can put together; she set a single-season mark with 95 3-pointers a year ago. We're expecting an impact season from Kiera McIvor, the only Highlander to play and start in all 30 games last year. Newcomer Claudia Queveedo of the Canary Islands shot high percentages from the field -- consistency that the Highlanders would welcome.
Opener: At Virginia, Nov. 14
Daeisha Brown was terrific as a sophomore, and the Lancers return plenty of experience but they'll need to find some firepower to make up for an ailing offense and a struggling defense, both near the bottom of the Big South last season. We're especially excited to see 5-10 guard Autumn Childress on the roster. The freshman received plenty of interest from bigger schools that waned after a pair of knee injuries. If healthy, Childress could be the difference maker Longwood needs.
Opener: At Wake Forest, Nov. 15
13. Norfolk State
Oh how the Spartans will miss rebounding machine Rachel Gordon, who graduated last spring. Also gone: Quineshia Leonard (5.9 ppg, 4.7 rpg) and Logan Powell (8.1 ppg, transfer to Kentucky State). The offensive burden falls on Rae Corbo who needs help from a trio of newcomer bigs -- freshman Kayla Roberts, freshman Shayla Tanner and sophomore Nia Roberts (transfer from Buffalo who is eligible second semester).
Opener: Morehead State, Nov. 14