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Season Preview: Women’s basketball

Season Preview: Women’s basketball

Photo Credit: Rosie Black/Photo Collective 

Head coach Megan Gebbia discusses game strategy with her team during a game last season. The Eagles will look to defend their conference title this year. 

The AU Women’s basketball team put together a historic season in 2014-2015, amassing a 24-9 overall record and a record of 16-2 in the Patriot League. Although the team started the season 6-6 in its initial non-conference contests, the Eagles won 16 of their final 19 games, including a winning streak that spanned the entire month of February. The Eagles won the Patriot League regular season and tournament title to clinch their first NCAA bid in program history and earned a No. 14 seed for the tournament. The team then traveled to Iowa City and fell 75-67 to the University of Iowa in the first round of the tournament to close out the year.

The Eagles lost three-fifths of their starting lineup from 2014-2015, and had been picked to finish fifth in the 2015-2016 preseason Patriot League coaches poll. Jen Dumiak, Shaquilla Curtis and Arron Zimmerman have all graduated, leaving major voids in the roster. Dumiak, the 2014-2015 Patriot League Player of the Year, averaged 17.1 points per game, 6.2 assists per game and 5.5 rebounds per game. Curtis, the Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year, averaged 7.5 points per game, 4.8 rebounds per game and 1.7 steals per game, and Zimmerman averaged 10.2 points per game and 4.6 rebounds per game. In addition to their individual success, Dumiak, Curtis and ZImmerman also averaged the most minutes per game among the players on the 2015-2016 roster. Dumiak logged a full 40 minutes in 21 games, and head coach Megan Gebbia will depend on her returners to help fill the gap left by her graduates.

Gebbia, the reigning Patriot League Coach of the Year, however, has a strong recruiting class and is looking to reload, not rebuild, the defending conference champion Eagles. With Zimmerman’s graduation, Gebbia lost a 6-foot forward, but she said she plans to bring in three freshman over 6 feet to join senior Michelle Holmes and junior Lauren Crisler in the frontcourt. Also among the freshmen class are two guards, Elina Koskimies and Kaitlyn Lewis, who will join veterans Jordan Light, Ari Booth and Emily Kinneston in a backcourt that will look the match the offensive production and defensive disruption Dumiak and Curtis achieved in tandem last year. Light and Booth enter this season will little game time under their belt compared to the graduating seniors, and the guard position could prove to be a weaker position in the Eagle’s lineup. However, by the time the team enters Patriot League play, the Eagles hope the young players will have played enough minutes to have enough comfort playing as a unit to compete for their second straight Patriot League title.

In the preseason polls, only 44 votes separate the preseason conference favorite Army from the fifth-ranked AU, displaying the depth of the Patriot League and lack of a clear favorite. Five teams received first place votes.

A new NCAA rule changes to the women’s game will take effect this season, changing the organization of the game from two 20-minute halves to four 10-minute quarters. Two media timeouts will also be removed as a result. In each quarter, a team will shoot two free throws after five team fouls, and teams have the opportunity to advance the ball to halfcourt after timeouts made with under a minute on the clock.

Players to Watch

Senior forward Michelle Holmes

After featuring as a role player her first two seasons, Holmes started every game last year for the Eagles and emerged as the second most efficient shooter, connecting on 51 percent of her field goal attempts. Holmes also averaged 10.7 points per game last season, the highest among returning AU players. The senior forward brings strong rebounding to the lineup this year, and recorded three double-doubles in 2014-2015. Holmes is entering her third season under Gebbia and is familiar with her coach’s motion offense and the pack-line man-to-man defense, which will prove helpful as the freshman adjust to the speed and style of collegiate play. Holmes finished in the top 15 among Patriot League players in points, field goal percentage and rebounding. If Holmes can build on her breakout season and improve on the impressive numbers she posted a year ago, the Eagles have a strong chance to defend their title in the highly competitive Patriot League

Junior guard/forward Jordan Light

Light was the first player off the bench for the Eagles in the 2014-2015 season and seems likely to slide into the starting lineup as either a shooting guard or small forward. Her size, 6”0’, and shooting ability, a 25 percent three-point shooter, will make her a tough matchup for defenders. Teams will either have to commit a guard to defend Light, making her a threat to shoot over the smaller defenders, or guard her with a taller forward and risk stretching the defense and providing too much space for AU’s post players. As one of the Eagles’ more consistent outside shooters, Light may have the opportunity to take more shots this season in Gebbia’s motion offense, which frequently runs off-ball screens to free up shooters.

Sophomore guard Emily Kinneston

As Dumiak’s primary backup last season, Kinneston average less than fourteen minutes per game. However, when Dumiak ran into foul trouble or when the Eagles had secured big leads, Kinneston proved capable of stepping into the point guard position with prowess. She scored a career-high 15 points against Boston University in January and earned praise from Gebbia for her play in the Patriot League championship game against Lehigh University. Kinneston might be Gebbia’s starting point guard when the Eagles tip off on Nov. 13 against Princeton. While Kinneston cannot be expected to single-handedly match the individual numbers Dumiak tallied in 2014-2015, her ability to run the Eagles’ offense efficiently without turning the ball over will be key to AU’s success this season.

Games to Watch

December 22 at Pittsburgh, 2 p.m.

AU plays a tough non-conference schedule in November and December, including games against Princeton, who finished the 2014-2015 season undefeated and earned a No. 25 in the preseason polls, and ACC conference member Wake Forest. The game against Pittsburgh comes at the end of the non-conference slate, at which point Gebbia will hope her young roster can find their footing in the post-Dumiak era and develop an identity with Patriot League play looming. The Panthers were picked to finish 10th in the ACC in the preseason polls, and the game provides the Eagles a chance to measure themselves against a Big 5 conference member who reached the round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament in 2014-2015.

January 16 vs. Army 2 p.m.

Army earned distinction as the preseason favorite in the Patriot League this year, and the team also boasts the preseason player of the year, senior guard Kelsey Minato, who averaged 22.5 points in two games against AU in 2014-2015. The game against the Black Knights offers a benchmark for AU’s early season progress in Patriot League play. Army was one of two Patriot League opponents to defeat the Eagles in 2014-2015 but missed the chance to play AU in the Patriot League championships after being upset by Lafayette in the semifinals. Army will be looking to validate their place in the top of the preseason polls, while AU hopes to prove they were overlooked by the coaches in the preseason rankings.

January 23 at Holy Cross 1 p.m.

The Crusaders were the only Patriot League team to leave Bender Arena victorious in 2014-2015, and they return with the majority of their roster from a season ago, including preseason All-Patriot League selection Raquel Scott. The 6-foot senior forward dominated the matchup against AU in Bender last year, finishing with 31 points and eight rebounds. Holy Cross should be expected to challenge the Eagles, but the game also offers the chance for Michelle Holmes to go toe-to-toe with the best post player in the Patriot League. A victory in Massachusetts would be a statement to the rest of the league that the Eagles were not a one-off champion.

All AU stats were taken from aueagles.com

vsalandro@theeagleonline.com


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