October 31, 2011

Inside the women's Top 25

Kim Fiorentino averaged 7.7 points for Amherst last season in just 23 minutes per game.
# School Click for full poll
1 Amherst
2 Chicago
3 George Fox
4 William Paterson
5 Babson
6 Calvin
7 Washington U.
8 Rochester
9 Lebanon Valley
10 DePauw
11 UW-Stevens Point
12 Denison
13 Mount Union
14 Bowdoin
15 Greensboro
16 Colby
17 Illinois Wesleyan
18 Thomas More
19 Hope
20 Muhlenberg
21 UW-Whitewater
22 Messiah
23 Howard Payne
24 St. Vincent
25 Lewis and Clark

By Gordon Mann and Pat Coleman

Last season finally saw the breakthrough of a team from the eastern half of Division III as Amherst practically ran the table on the way to the national championship.

The Lord Jeffs remain in the top spot entering this season, with a respectable 19 of last year's final Top 25 teams finding spots in the preseason D3hoops.com women's basketball Top 25.

Where exactly they land compared to last March, though, is a lot less predictable. Here's a glance at what each of the Top 25 teams has coming back and when their key games come on the schedule.

No. 1 Amherst

Record in 2010-11: 32-1
2011-12 schedule
2010-11 results

Returning starters: Three

The Lord Jeffs were so dominant last year, the only game they lost was in overtime at Kean, in a game that might yet get an asterisk on it because of accusations of grade-fixing being investigated by the NCAA. Amherst did lose two key players from a team that was rarely challenged, Jaci Daigneault and Sarah Leyman, but Caroline Stedman averaged 10.9 points per game and scored 37 in the two games at the Final Four. Kim Fiorentino and Shannon Finucane return as backcourt starters as well and Lem Atanga McCormick is ready for a larger role after averaging 17 minutes per game last season.

When we'll know they're for real: When we see them in person at the D3hoops.com Classic on Dec. 28-29.

Other key games: Dec. 8 at Eastern Connecticut, Jan. 17 vs. Kean, Jan. 20 at Bowdoin, Jan. 21 at Colby, Jan. 25 at Williams, Feb. 10 vs. Williams.

No. 2 Chicago

Record in 2010-11: 25-4
2011-12 schedule
2010-11 results

Returning starters: Five

Chicago went undefeated in conference last year, becoming just the fifth team to finish UAA play without a loss. The Maroons carried that momentum into the tournament where they picked up impressive wins at Calvin and against Greensboro before falling to conference rival Washington U. Since all five starters are back, the expectations are even higher for the Maroons this year. Post player Taylor Simpson and guard Meghan Herrick are preseason All-Americans. Meghan's older sister Morgan and Bryanne Halfhill also averaged doube digits in scoring last season. The UAA season will be very tough, as always, with Washington U. and Rochester also ranked in the Top 10. But the Maroons have the pieces to make their first national semifinal appearance.

When we'll know they're for real: Jan. 7 at Washington U.

Other key games: Nov. 30 at Wheaton (Ill.), Dec. 3 vs. Illinois Wesleyan, Jan. 29 vs. Rochester, Feb. 5 at Rochester, Feb. 25 vs. Washington U.

No. 3 George Fox

Record in 2010-11: 25-6
2011-12 schedule
2010-11 results

Returning starters: Five

George Fox ended last season after a remarkable Illinois Wesleyan rally spoiled the Bruins' bid to return to the national semifinals. A few members of the 2009 national championship team still remain, including preseason All-American Keisha Gordon, Arianna Mohsenian and Breezy Rinehart-Young. This year's team is loaded for bear and built around junior All-American Hannah Munger who averaged 16.2 points and 10.1 rebounds per game and swatted 125 shots last year. Returning players accounted for 99 percent of George Fox's scoring last year, 99 percent of its rebounding and 100 percent of its assists.

When we'll know they're for real: Jan. 3 at Lewis and Clark.

Other key games: Jan. 31 vs. Lewis and Clark.

No. 4 William Paterson

Record in 2010-11: 26-4
2011-12 schedule
2010-11 results

Returning starters: Five

Sense a pattern here? Five returning starters plus two All-Americans equals a very high preseason ranking. The Pioneers' two stars are guard BriAnna Lucas, who has an explosive first step and a great outside shot, and forward April Smith who has great footwork around the rim. William Paterson's ability to make a deep run depends on the continued development of now-sophomore Floriana Borova (7.7 ppg last season) who gives the Pioneers a potent third scoring option. Dana Jeter (5.5 rpg) adds depth in the post. Here's another equation for you: central geographic location plus a lot of wins equals a great chance to host four games in the NCAA tournament.

When we'll know they're for real: Jan. 14 at Kean. Maybe.

Other key games: Nov. 26 at Baruch; Dec. 16 at Mount St. Mary.

No. 5 Babson

Record in 2010-11: 30-1
2011-12 schedule
2010-11 results

Returning starters: Four

The Beavers have one of the best front courts in all of Division III basketball with two All-Americans and an All-Region selection returning. Start with Nicki Wurdeman, a 6-foot-1 forward who scores 18.6 points per game, grabs 8.6 rebounds and shoots over 40 percent from behind the arc. Then add center Sarah Collins (14.8 ppg, 9.1 rpg) and forward Kathleen King (15.1 ppg, 9.7 rpg) and Babson is going to punish a lot of opponents around the rim. Speaking of those opponents, the Beavers have a couple tougher foes on the non-conference schedule with No. 16 Colby and potentially Southern Maine. Even UW-Stout will be a good test for whether Babson has another deep NCAA tournament run in it. The only open starting spot will likely go to one of three players - Erin Young, Caitlin O'Connell and Rina Mallios - who will play alongside returning guard Allanah Wynn.

When we'll know they're for real: Dec. 30-31 at Southern Maine tournament (opening with UW-Stout).

Other key games: Nov. 20 at Williams, Feb. 14 vs. Colby, which is two more NESCAC teams than they played in the regular season last year.

No. 6 Calvin

Record in 2010-11: 25-5
2011-12 schedule
2010-11 results

Returning starters: Five

Last year the Knights passed arch rival and national title contender Hope in the MIAA pecking order by beating the Flying Dutchmen in the conference tournament final. This year Calvin has some distance from Hope, at least in the preseason rankings. That's because Calvin brings back all five starters, including two-time All-American Carissa Verkaik. The junior averaged 19.8 points, 9.5 rebounds and 4.1 blocks per game as a sophomore. The Knights' returning players accounted for 93 percent of the team's scoring last season and they add Danielle Kapustka, a transfer from NAIA Aquinas, and freshman Kayla Engelhard who could challenge for a starting role.

When we'll know they're for real: The first game against Hope is Jan. 7, but that's on Calvin's court. So we may have to wait until the game at Hope on Feb. 4 to see if the Knights can validate their high ranking.

Other key games: Dec. 30 at UW-La Crosse.

No. 7 Washington U.

Record in 2010-11: 25-6
2011-12 schedule
2010-11 results

Returning starters: Two

If you only look at the number of returning starters, you may be surprised that the Bears are ranked this highly in the preseason. But if you've followed Division III women's basketball at all the last 15 years, you'll understand why a lack of returning starters isn't a predictor of Washington U's potential. Coach Fahey, who was named our Coach of the Year again last season, builds a deep, talented roster that frequently beats good opponents with players lacking guady statistics. Dani Hoover and Kristin Anda are the returning starters from last year's national runner-up. Seniors Bethany Morrison and Claire Schaeperkoetter will likely start at point guard and wing respectively.

When we'll know they're for real: Feb. 3 at Rochester.

Other key games: Nov. 26 vs. DePauw or Illinois Wesleyan, Jan. 7 vs. Chicago, Jan. 27 vs. Rochester, Feb. 25 at Chicago. 

No. 8 Rochester

Record in 2010-11: 21-6
2011-12 schedule
2010-11 results

Returning starters: Four

You know the UAA is a tough conference when Rochester is third in their own conference and eighth in the country. First team All-Conference guard Melissa Alwardt is gone but the other four starters return, including All-Region center Jodie Luther. The Yellowjackets have three experienced, tall post players in Luther, Madeline Korber and Amy Woods. Laney Ming, a 5-foot-2 dynamo, returns at point guard to run the show. Kristyn Wright who picked up All-Conference honors as a reserve last year will get a look as Coach Jim Scheible's final starter.

How their season ended: At home, 74-69 to Muhlenberg in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Key games: Jan. 27 at Washington U., Jan. 29 at Chicago, Feb. 3 vs. Washington U., Feb. 5 vs. Chicago.

No. 9 Lebanon Valley

Record in 2010-11: 28-3
2011-12 schedule
2010-11 results

Returning starters: Four

Why is it surprising that the Flying Dutchmen are ranked in the preseason Top 10? After all, they only lost two starters off last year's national quarterfinalist team. It's a surprise because one starter was Mid-Atlantic Region Player of the Year Andrea Hoover, the school's all-time assist leader, and the other was Suzie Noyes who finished as Leb Val's fifth leading scorer all-time. Plus, all eight first place votes in the Commonwealth Conference preseason coaches poll went to No. 22 Messiah. Still, the Flying Dutchmen bring back four starters including Eryn Schultz, the program's all-time leader in three-pointers, who missed last season due to injury. Leb Val also gets Lauren Ruhl, the Conference rookie of the year, back from injury for her sophomore season.

How their season ended: Home loss in the Elite Eight, 62-50 to Christopher Newport.

Key games: Nov. 30 vs. Messiah, Feb. 1 at Messiah.

No. 10 DePauw

Record in 2010-11: 25-4
2011-12 schedule
2010-11 results

Returning starters: Three

The Tigers are hoping to have the same success in their new conference that they did in their old one. After going 15-1 in the SCAC last season, DePauw shifts to the NCAC where the Tigers will have a lighter travel budget and two games with No. 12 Denison. DePauw returns its top scorer from last year, forward Katie Aldrich, but loses its two top scorers at guard. Forward Ellie Pearson, who averaged 8.7 points and 8.7 rebounds per game last year, brings toughness on the glass. She may have to score more this year to lighten Aldrich's burden. Once the Tigers get through their usual tough non-conference slate, they'll have some time to build a new identity in the NCAC and prepare for an NCAA tournament run.

How their season ended: A 77-65 loss in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at Hope.

Key games: Nov. 26 vs. Illinois Wesleyan at Wash U., potential Nov. 27 matchup with Wash U., Dec. 3 vs. Denison, Jan. 18 at Denison.

No. 11 UW-Stevens Point

Record in 2010-11: 27-3
2011-12 schedule
2010-11 results

Returning starters: Three.

Like No. 2 Chicago, UW-Stevens Point completed an undefeated run through a very tough conference last year. Unlike Chicago, UW-Stevens Point loses key starters off last year’s WIAC championship team. The two losses aren’t just starters. They are All-American Britta Petersen and All-Region selection Andrea Flease. Even without Petersen, the Pointers will still have scoring punch in the paint. Ashley Averkamp averaged 10.3 points per game and led the team in blocks last season. Christin Coles, who started every game last year, and Cassie Bandow, who played 25 minutes per game, return as starters and Sam Barber could claim one of the open spots.

How their season ended: 71-63 home loss to George Fox in the Sweet 16.

Key games: Dec. 10 at Illinois Wesleyan, Dec. 14 at UW-Whitewater, Jan. 4 at UW-River Falls, Jan. 21 vs. UW-River Falls, Jan. 25 vs. UW-Whitewater, Feb. 18 at UW-Eau Claire.

No. 12 Denison

Record in 2010-11: 28-1
2011-12 schedule
2010-11 results

Returning starters: Four.

The Big Red will have a new big challenge in their conference in the form of DePauw, which will provide Denison with at least a measuring stick, if not instant credibility. The loss of Shaina Kaiser (16.3 points per game) is significant, but Serafina Nuzzo (11.6 points, 5.6 assists per game) returns to run the offense and Nicole Coggins (36 percent from beyond the arc) continues to be a scoring threat.

How their season ended: 71-55 loss to Washington U. in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at Hope.

Key games: Nov. 18 vs Baldwin-Wallace at Manchester, Dec. 3 at DePauw, Jan. 18 vs. DePauw.

No. 13 Mount Union

Record in 2010-11: 26-4
2011-12 schedule
2010-11 results

Returning starters: Four.

Mount Union’s last two seasons have ended in the NCAA tournament with losses to host teams – at Washington U. in 2010 and at Thomas More in 2011. So it would be nice to not just make the NCAA tournament this year, but land some home games in it.  Mount Union brings back the top three scorers from last year’s OAC championship team – Kori Wiedt (12.3 ppg), Rosa Lamattina (12.0 ppg) and Amanda Rose (9.1 ppg). Given the Purple Raiders’ up-tempo style, depth on the bench is equally important. So Erin Schmidt and and Tierney Allen, who averaged more than 10 minutes per game last season, will have key roles again this season.

How their season ended: Second round NCAA Tournament loss at Thomas More, 76-63.

Key games: Jan. 11 vs. Baldwin-Wallace, Feb. 15 at Baldwin-Wallace

No. 14 Bowdoin

Record in 2010-11: 24-6
2011-12 schedule
2010-11 results

Returning starters: Three.

The Polar Bears haven't ruled the NESCAC since G.P. Gromacki arrived at Amherst, but they are still plenty dangerous. Coach Adrienne Shibles has three starters and six of her top eight minute earners back from last year. Jill Henrikson is the top returning scorer (11.0 ppg) in a balanced Bowdoin attack. Nicole Coombs will move into the starting rotation after posting very solid numbers (8.5 ppg, 6.4 rpg) as a reserve last year. The NESCAC has become a very deep league so the Polar Bears are fortunate to host Amherst and the game against Colby that counts in the conference standings.

How their season ended: NCAA Tournament sectional semifinal loss at Amherst to Babson, 61-58.

Key games: Dec. 3 at Colby; Jan. 14 at Bates; Jan. 20 vs. Amherst; Jan. 28 vs. Colby; Feb. 4 at Williams.

No. 15 Greensboro

Record in 2010-11: 28-3
2011-12 schedule
2010-11 results

Returning starters: Four.

Greensboro is ranked No. 15 in the preseason, wedged between the two Maine rivals. Unlike last year when the Pride and Christopher Newport were clearly the top two teams in the USA South Athletic Conference, it's not clear who, if anyone, will challenge Greensboro this year. Christopher Newport lost its coach, national Player of the Year Chelsie Schweers and two more senior starters. Ferrum was picked second in the conference preseason poll. Coach Randy Tuggle cites experience as the Pride's biggest asset. That and All-American center Danielle Duncan (21.8 ppg, 9.3 rpg) make the Pride the highest ranked South Region team in the preseason.

How their season ended: NCAA Tournament sectional semifinal loss at Thomas More to Chicago, 87-61.

Key games: Jan. 11 at Ferrum; Feb. 11 at Christopher Newport.

No. 16 Colby

Record in 2010-11: 22-6
2011-12 schedule
2010-11 results

Returning starters: Four.

This is the White Mules' second consecutive preseason ranking and the first under new coach Julie Veillieux. The Division I Maine graduate and former Bowdoin assistant replaced Christine Clancy who led Colby to a 22-6 record as an interim coach last year. Veilliuex has four starters back, including Rachael Mack who led the White Mules in scoring and rebounding last year. Point guard Aarika Ritchie averaged 10.5 points per game last year and 6-2 center Jil Vaughn gives Colby another scoring threat down low. Colby plays a home-and-home against CBB rivals Bowdoin and Bates, but only one of those games counts in the conference standings. Colby gets those two key NESCAC games on the road. The White Mules also travel to Williams, Southern Maine and No. 5 Babson late in the season. Ouch.

How their season ended: Second round loss in the NCAA Tournament at William Paterson, 58-53.

Key games: Dec. 3 vs. Bowdoin; Jan. 13 at Bates; Jan. 21 vs. Amherst; Jan. 28 at Bowdoin; Feb. 14 at Babson

No. 17 Illinois Wesleyan

Record in 2010-11: 27-6
2011-12 schedule
2010-11 results

Returning starters: Two.

When Illinois Wesleyan's six seniors finished their basketball careers last season, they left as national quarterfinalists and four time defending conference champions. Did they take the high expectations for national success with them? No, though the preseason bar is a little lower than it was last season when the Titans were ranked fourth in the country. Olivia Lett, a talented forward with a nice shooting touch, and tough point guard Brittany Hasselbring will have to lead a young team that was narrowly picked second in the preseason CCIW poll behind Carthage. Illinois Wesleyan has just one freshman, Kasey Reaber, but nine sophomores.

How their season ended: With two losses on their home court during Final Four weekend.

Key games: Too many to count. The Titans could play five consecutive Top 25 teams between Nov. 23 and Dec. 3. The games against Carthage are Jan. 14 at home and Feb. 11 on the road.

No. 18 Thomas More

Record in 2010-11: 30-1
2011-12 schedule
2010-11 results

Returning starters: Two.

This year’s Thomas More team will look pretty different from the one that entered the 2011 NCAA tournament undefeated and No. 1 in the country. Jeff Hans is the Saints’ new head coach, moving from nearby Division II Northern Kentucky after Brian Neal took an assistant position at Division I Xavier. The Saints lose two first team All-Conference selections, Nicole Dickman and Chelsea Tolliver. But they still have conference all-star juniors Allison Long (8.9 ppg, 88 assists) and Katie Kees (7.5 rpg, 64 blocks).

How their season ended: NCAA Tournament Sectional semifinal loss at home to Washington U., 72-53.

Key games: Dec. 30 vs. Simpson in the D3hoops.com Classic; Jan. 14 at St. Vincent; Feb. 15 vs. St. Vincent.

No. 19 Hope

Record in 2010-11: 27-3
2011-12 schedule
2010-11 results

Returning starters: One.

This is Hope’s lowest preseason ranking in a while, but it’s still a testament to the program coach Brian Morehouse has built. He only has one starter back from last season, Liz Ellis, who was the conference defensive player of the year. Yet the pollsters still expect Hope to win a lot of games. It helps that the Flying Dutchmen have dominated so many MIAA opponents that their reserves play a lot of minutes. Six returning players logged at least 10 minutes per game last year. Keep an eye on Meredith Kussmaul (7.0 ppg, 3.8 rpg) who may get some of the low post touches that previously went to departed forwards Carrie Snikkers and Erika Bruinsma.

How their season ended: Second round loss in the NCAA Tournament at home to Washington U., 56-52.

Key games: Jan. 7 at Calvin; Feb. 4 vs. Calvin.

No. 20 Muhlenberg

Record in 2010-11: 23-6
2011-12 schedule
2010-11 results

Returning starters: Three.

The Mules start this season right where they finished the last one: ranked 20th in the country. They bring back three starters led by preseason All-American Alexandra Chili who is the Centennial Conference’s all-time leader for made three-pointers (253). She also led the conference in scoring last season (18.8 ppg). Six-footers Kathleen Naddaff and Leeann Lanza give coach Ron Rohn size around the rim. Freshman Hannah Rush will get a chance to start at point guard.

How their season ended: NCAA Tournament sectional semifinal loss at Amherst, 79-60.

Key games: Dec. 5 vs. DeSales; Jan. 16 vs. Johns Hopkins; Jan. 28 at Johns Hopkins.

No. 21 UW-Whitewater

Record in 2010-11: 21-7
2011-12 schedule
2010-11 results

Returning starters: Three.

The rest of the Top 25 is comprised of teams that bring a lot back from squads that had early exits from last season's NCAA Tournament. Coach Keri Carollo has seven Warhawks back who played at least 10 minutes per game last year. The three returning starters are all guards -- Kaitlyn Thill, Mary Merg and Katie Burton -- who help generate a lot of steals. Chantel Burg could fill one starting forward spot after finishing second on the team in scoring (8.2 ppg) and rebounds (5.7) last season. Junior Cortney Kumerow logged the most minutes (13.8 per game) among returning centers.

How their season ended: First round NCAA Tournament loss at Thomas More to Mount Union, 69-55.

Key games: Nov. 23 vs. Illinois Wesleyan; Dec. 14 vs. UW-Stevens Point; Jan. 7 vs. UW-River Falls; Jan. 25 at UW-Stevens Point; Feb. 18 at UW-River Falls

No. 22 Messiah

Record in 2010-11: 19-8
2011-12 schedule
2010-11 results

Returning starters: Four.

When the Falcons have made their deepest runs in the NCAA Tournament, they've been keyed by one All-American, like Christine Vouriotis in 2001 and Nikki Lobach in 2008. Is junior forward Dori Gyori that player this season? She led the team in scoring, rebounds and blocks last year. That doesn't mean she'll have to go it alone. Taylor Miller, who scored 10.1 points per game and hit 46 three-pointers, is back at guard. Kira Maier and Nicky Hess, who each averaged 8.4 points per game last season, are the other returning starters. They also get a significant Division I transfer, with Katelyn Vanderhoff joining the team from the University of Maine. She led the Bears in minutes last season, playing nearly 36 minutes and averaging 8.3 points and 5.4 rebounds per game.

How their season ended: First round NCAA tournament loss at Kean to Western Connnecticut, 65-44.

Key games: Nov. 30 at Lebanon Valley; Jan. 7 vs. DeSales; Feb. 1 vs. Lebanon Valley

No. 23 Howard Payne

Record in 2010-11: 22-8
2011-12 schedule
2010-11 results

Returning starters: Four.

Sophomore Kalin Hanna was third in the conference in blocks last season and is expected to take over at center. Returning are conference tournament MVP Brittany Roberson (14.4 points per game), Jasmin Thomas and Tresta Donahoo in the backcourt, with Roshonda Gayden back in the frontcourt. One key addition could be Dana Marrs, who started her career at Division II Wayne State (Neb.), where former Howard Payne coach Chris Kielsmeier moved after the 2008 title season. She was also at a Texas junior college.

How their season ended: Second round NCAA Tournament loss at Coe, 79-56.

Key games: Dec. 1 at Louisiana College; Jan. 12 vs. McMurry; Jan. 14 vs. Hardin-Simmons; Feb. 16 at McMurry; Feb. 18 at Hardin-Simmons.

No. 24 St. Vincent

Record in 2010-11: 24-5
2011-12 schedule
2010-11 results

Returning starters: Four.

Freshman Elle Collins is expected to move into the starting lineup at the point guard, with returner Emily Fenton moving to the two guard. The Bearcats didn't have a true point guard last season, but Fenton filled the role and was the team's leading three-point shooter (52-for-159). Senior Brittany Sedlock will anchor the inside as the defending PAC player of the year and is a preseason D3hoops.com All-America selection after leading the team with 16.8 points and 9.0 rebounds last season. Devin McGrath also averaged in double figures last season and Melissa Mansur returns as one of the team's most opportunistic defenders.

How their season ended: First round NCAA Tournament loss at Juniata to Greensboro, 83-66.

Key games: Nov. 26 vs. Juniata; Jan. 14 vs. Thomas More; Feb. 15 at Thomas More.

No. 25 Lewis and Clark

Record in 2010-11: 21-7
2011-12 schedule
2010-11 results

Returning starters: Four.

The Pioneers return 14 players from their first NCAA Tournament team, losing only Christina Herring (9.3 points, 4.0 assists per game). Leading scorer Kristian Williams, a fourth-team D3hoops.com preseason All-America pick, poured in 16.2 points per game last year and shot 86 percent from the foul line. Post player Megan Spence also scored in double figures last year (12.4 points per game) with Margaret Dowling and Neva Hauser joining her in the frontcourt.

How their season ended: First round NCAA Tournament loss at Coe to Howard Payne, 84-66.

Key games: A potential matchup with Kean on Nov. 20 at the Cougars' tourney, Jan. 3 vs. George Fox; Jan. 31 at George Fox.

Sleepers

Nobody has any real idea who will take the floor for Kean when the season actually starts because of their situation with the NCAA (see Amherst capsule for a little more). ... Baldwin-Wallace returns four starters but loses a bunch of key contributors off the bench. ... UW-Eau Claire and UW-River Falls each return a bunch of players from middle-of-the-pack WIAC teams and could make a jump up. For River Falls, the returning players include guard Tiffany Gregorich (13.9 points per game) and forward Brittany Gregorich (7.1 points per game). ... Randolph-Macon returns five players who averaged more than 15 minutes per game and another two who averaged between 10 and 15 minutes. Maggie Roy is back after scoring 13.8 per game and shooting 87 percent from the line.

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