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Delaware is conference favorite as women's basketball season nears

By Joe Pantorno, Sports Editor

 

Teams listed in order of coach's preseason poll

Delaware

Fightin' Blue Hens

Head Coach: Tina Martin (sixteenth season)

Last Season:20-14 (10-8 CAA, seventh place)

Martin has a team that is returning all five of its starters, including one of the best in the nation, junior All-American forward Elena Delle Donne, who was named to the Wooden Award's Top-30 preseason list of players to watch this season. Delle Donne was also named preseason CAA Player of the Year after averaging 25.3 points per game last season between injuries.

If Delle Donne stays healthy, she will be able to put this team on her back and carry them to their projected first place finish.

X-Factor: With all eyes on Delle Donne, look for junior guard Lauren Carra, who averaged 10.8 points per game last season, to provide another threat for the Blue Hens' offense.

 

Virginia Commonwealth Rams

Head Coach:Beth Cunningham (ninth season)

Last Season: 19-12 (13-5 CAA, fourth place, WNIT)

VCU will be rolling out as much, if not more, firepower than Delaware this season with two preseason CAA first-teamers, senior guard Andrea Barbour and senior forward Courtney Hurt. Like Delle Donne, Hurt was also named to the Wooden list.

Hurt will be VCU's main threat, returning from a season where she achieved All-American honorable mentions after she led the nation in rebounding (12.4 per game) and double-doubles (25).

Looking for its fifth consecutive postseason berth, the Rams return two more starters along with Barbour and Hurt to round out a very athletic squad that is one of the best rebounding teams in the nation (41.2 per game as a squad).

X-Factor:Senior guard Jennifer Lane not only provided support under the basket (6.3 rpg), but is also a distribution specialist, ranking third in the conference last season with 4.6 assists per game. It will be up to her to recognize the changing defenses around Hurt and Barbour and put the ball where the defense is not.

 

James Madison

Dukes

 Head Coach:Kenny Brooks (tenth season)

Last Season: 26-8 (16-2 CAA, first place, NCAA Tournament)

The reigning CAA Champions have lost the conference's top scorer (23.1 points per game)and player of the year Dawn Evans, creating a new challenge for the Dukes.

Two other starters graduated (Lauren Jimenez and Courtney Hamner), leaving junior Tarik Hislop as James Madison's main scoring threat after averaging 10.8 points per game last season. This team still has experience and a winning pedigree from two consecutive conference championship teams, but the Dukes will not be able to keep up with Delaware or VCU.

X-Factor: Junior guard/forward Nikki Newman will have to be one of James Madison's most versatile players if the Dukes are to win a lot of games. Averaging 5.6 rebounds per game last season and racking up 27 total blocks, Newman will need to keep that number up to compete with some of the better rebounding teams in the conference.

 

Hofstra

Pride

Head Coach: Krista Kilburn-Steveskey (sixth season)

Last Season:19-12 (10-8 CAA, fifth place)

There might be something very special brewing in Hempstead this season with Hofstra returning four starters and eight of last year's nine leading scorers. The Pride is led by junior forward Shante Evans, who finished third in the CAA with 18.4 points per game and second in rebounding with 11 boards per game.

Accompanying Evans are senior guards Candice Bellocchio and Nicole Capurso whose leadership and experience will be much needed as Hofstra looks to blend in a group of young talent headed by stand-out freshman guard Andreana Thomas.

A tough out-of-conference schedule to begin the season that includes a trip to nationally ranked Gonzaga and the Big East's St. John's will be an early gauge on how well Hofstra will fare this year.

X-Factor: Returning from injury for her senior season, forward/center Marie Malone will add some force under the basket to help out Evans with a very impressive post game. With Malone manning the block, Evans will have the opportunity to roam a bit more freely picking her spots to get open and attack. In her 4 games healthy last season, Malone averaged 12.3 points and 6.8 rebounds per game.

 

Drexel

Dragons

Head Coach: Denise Dillon (ninth season)

Last Season:  19-13 (10-8 CAA, sixth place, WNIT)

Returning four starters, Drexel will be looking for its fourth straight postseason tournament appearance. The Dragons return junior guard Kamile Nacickaite, who led the team in scoring (17.6 ppg), rebounding (6.3 rpg), total blocks (16), total steals (38) and three-point percentage (47.8 percent) on her way to second team All-CAA honors.

X-Factor:Senior forward Tyler Hale was voted Drexel's defensive player of the year last campaign by her teammates. She will need to anchor Drexel's defense exceptionally well against a high scoring conference in order for the Dragons to succeed.

 

Old Dominion

Monarchs

Head Coach: Karen Barefoot (first season)

Last Season:20-11(14-4 CAA, third place, WNIT)

Old Dominion will be returning just one starter, but six other contributors are back as well. Senior forward Tia Lewis is the lone returning starter, but brings a resume where she led the team last season in points (12.1), rebounds (7.8), and blocks (1.1) per game.

Inexperience will be the main problem for Old Dominion, including on the bench, where the Monarchs have to replace Wendy Larry, who led the team for the previous 25 seasons, including 20 NCAA Tournament appearances.

X-Factor:Junior guard Jackie Cook appeared in 31 games last season, making six starts. Her experience will be vital to this team in the early stages of the season. A rocky start could put hopes of a good season in doubt.

 

 

UNC Wilmington

Seahawks

Head Coach:Cynthia Cooper-Dyke (second season)

Last Season:  24-9 (14-4 CAA, second place, WNIT)

It seems that last year's successes will not be making their way to this season for the Seahawks. A loss of three starters including Brittany Blackwell and Martha White, first and second team All - CAA, respectively,leaves UNC-W in a tough situation with some unproven names.

Sophomore guard and last season's CAA Rookie of the Year Alicia Andrews is one of the bright spots for the team as she leads an inexperienced team.

X-Factor:Junior guard Jessica Freeman is one of two returning starters for UNC-W. She must improve on her game in order to lead some of the younger players on the team and become another threat next to Andrews.

 

George Mason

Patriots

Head Coach: Jeri Porter (fourth season)

Last Season:13-17 (7-11 CAA, eighth place)

Last year's eighth place CAA finish was the program's best since the 2003-2004 season. The Patriots have their leading scorer returning in senior guard Taleia Moton, who averaged 12.2 points per game.

Lacking experience, someone will have to step up. Many upperclassmen have not had significant playing time, which means that some freshmen will need to adjust to the college game without much help from teammates.

X-Factor:Sophomore guard Christine Weithman is sure to see an increase in playing time. At 5'9", Weithman not only can help under the basket, but she can also be added as a reliable three-point threat. Look to her to carry the George Mason offense at times.

 

William & Mary

Tribe

Head Coach: Debbie Taylor (thirteenth season)

Last Season:3-26 (2-16 CAA, twelfth place)

Things are looking up for William & Mary after a last place season in 2010. What was a young roster, has gained a year of vital experience.

Senior guard Taysha Pye will lead the Tribe again this year. Pye averaged 16.7 points last year and was named second team All-CAA this preseason. Junior forward Emily Correal also returns with hopes of creating a dynamic duo with Pye.

X-Factor: Senior guard Katherine DeHenzel will be commanding the offense this year. She'll look to build on her 3.7 assists per game, as well as her 7.7 points per game. If she can add to those totals, William & Mary might have three players to watch out for.

 

Georgia State

Panthers

Head Coach:Sharon Baldwin-Tener (second season)

Last Season:12-19 (6-12 CAA, ninth place)

Georgia State is a team that consists of 4 transfers and 5freshmen (including redshirts). Because of that, this team could place anywhere from a mid-standings finish to the bottom of the league -- they are that unknown.

Senior forward Chandra Harris, who was voted to the second team All-CAA preseason team, headlines the experience Georgia State does have. She led the team in scoring and rebounding last season and will be responsible for leading this team.

X-Factor: Junior guard Jerlisa Taylor managed to come off the bench last season and contribute big time, leading the team with 2.2 assists per game last year.

 

Towson

Tigers

Head Coach: Joe Mathews (eleventh season)

Last Season:9-21 (3-15 CAA, tenth place)

Despite returning three starters from last season, things still do not look too great for Towson. A very tough out-of-conference schedule that includes a matchup against UConn might derail the team before conference play even begins.

Among the returning starters, senior guard Krystal Parnell will be the leader of the team with her offensive talent.

X-Factor:Senior guard/forward Deree Fooks has shown instances of being a complete player. She has the ability to score, play defense and rebound. If she is able to be consistent, Towson might have a better season than expected.

Northeastern

Huskies

Head Coach: Daynia LaForce-Mann (sixth season)

Last Season:8-22 (3-15 CAA, eleventh place)

A team that is lacking depth, Northeastern's roster consists of four freshman and two sophomores. The upperclassmen do not have the skill to mold the underclassmen.

Junior guard Deanna Kerkhof led the team with 1 1 points per game as the rest of the Huskies had trouble finding ways to put the ball in the basket.

X-Factor: Junior forward Kristine Huber should be able to play a full season this year. If Northeastern still has its problems scoring, Huber will need to be a force down low on defense. She had 33 blocked shots in 22 games.

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