NCAA – 2017 Big Sky Preview

Chris’ Big Sky Projections

1. Eastern Washington
2. Northern Colorado
3. Idaho
4. Portland State
5. Montana
6. Southern Utah

7. Weber State
8. Northern Arizona
9. Sacramento State
10. North Dakota
11. Idaho State

In short order, Chad Bodnar has turned Eastern Washington into a lean, mean Big Sky Conference contending machine. No longer one of the worst programs in DI, EWU is now a promising side on the rise. However, few probably gave the Eagles much of a chance of rising high going into last year’s Big Sky Tournament after a fifth place league finish. But EWU laughed last, beating Montana and Idaho before toppling Northern Arizona on penalties in the final to earn an NCAA Tournament bid. The key now is using last year’s dream finish as an impetus to further glory.

The Eagles look to be in great shape going into the new season, especially on offense. They return senior forward Chloe Williams, fresh off a fifteen goal season, league Offensive Player of the Year award, and a call-up to U.S. U23 camp. She should run riot against Big Sky defenses, and a twenty goal season isn’t out of the question. Also back is five goal midfielder Jenny Chaves, and solid contributors Aimie Inthoulay and Delaney Romero. Former Montana Gatorade State Player of the Year Brittany Delridge also joins up, meaning EWU should have no shortage of weapons this year.

EWU could tighten things up in the back though. They were about average in the league on the defensive end of things, but returning senior M’kenna Hayes is one of the league’s best defenders, while recruit Nia McFerrin could see major minutes early given her potential. The biggest question is in goal, with senior Mallory Taylor graduating and returnees Hadley Bezon and Emily Busselman of limited experience. Despite that concern, EWU still looks the best side in the Big Sky by some distance and will be favored to win at least one trophy this year.

2015 was always going to be a tough act to follow for Northern Colorado, after their dream run to the NCAA Tournament, but the Bears suffered a hangover from that superb season, needing a win on the last day of the season against North Dakota to just make the postseason. They didn’t last long, bowing out in the Big Sky Tournament quarterfinal to Northern Arizona. A year on, UNC will be hoping to ascend back to the top of the mountain in the Big Sky and should have one of the league’s better squads entering into the new campaign.

Having just seven starters back is one of the league’s lower figures, but they do return some tantalizing quality. The headline grabber in the bunch is junior midfielder Mariel Gutierrez, one of the best players you’ve probably never heard of. Gutierrez was the straw that stirred the drink for the offense last year, netting ten goals to lead UNC and having a hand in nearly half of all of the team’s goals. Senior Brooke Braden is a fine second option, but it’s clear that UNC’s fortunes will rise and fall with their offensive talisman’s.

There’s probably more of a worry on defense, where the Bears have to make do without one of the league’s best defenders, as Madeline Chase graduates. Senior netminder Madeline Burdick is a solid one, and she’ll have to be to keep UNC’s defense humming along. I’m not sure if the Bears will challenge for a title this year, but there’s still enough quality here for a very good finish in the league.
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NCAA – 2017 Summit League Preview

Chris’ Summit League Projections

1. South Dakota State
2. Denver
3. North Dakota State
4. Oral Roberts

5. South Dakota
6. Western Illinois
7. Nebraska-Omaha
8. Fort Wayne

2016 marked the end of an era for South Dakota State. The Jackrabbits endured a streaky regular season that saw them win just two of their first seven before rattling off six wins in a row, including their first three in the Summit League. They’d back into the postseason, winning just one of their final three but did the unthinkable and won back-to-back shootouts in the Summit League Tournament to lock up a third straight NCAA Tournament berth. Such success naturally draws attention, and head coach Lang Wedemeyer left for Liberty in the offseason, with SDSU quickly promoting assistant Brock Thompson to the top job. With an edict of keeping the Jackrabbits at the top of the league’s food chain,

Thompson will have a hard job of it right away, needing to replace six starters from last year’s side. While the losses of defender Lindsee Larson and midfielder Madison Yueill hurt, this is a team still with some impressive talent. The Jackrabbits are still probably going to hop by opposing defenses with the one-two punch of seniors Nicole Hatcher and Tori Poole in the attack. Each netted six goals, while Hatcher also had ten assists, effectively having a hand in over half of SDSU’s goals in 2016.

The defense is probably going to be more of a focus for concern with Larson’s departure and no bonafide stars to take over, though Alexa Hepner and Kyli Nelson have shown potential. Also watch the goalkeeping situation, where sophomore Maggie Smither could get a big challenge from rookie Taylor Lock. SDSU should be neck and neck with Denver for a league title this year, but losing so many starters and a head coach could make some wary over continued short-term success.

A league title may have been small solace for a Denver program seemingly in a state of flux. The Pioneers were once a mid-major superpower, more than able to hold their own against almost anyone in the country but have since receded into semi-obscurity in the shadow of the Summit League. 2016 wasn’t as bad as 2015’s disaster, and DU did win a share of a league title, but other than a win at Arizona State, there was little evidence of the program being within touching distance of its past glories. As far as 2017 goes, DU will want to erase postseason heartbreak, as they were felled on penalties in the conference tournament semi-finals last year.

At the very least, the Pioneers should have one of the league’s most talented teams. There is a big loss to overcome, as midfielder Francesca Garzelloni was probably the club’s best player last year, but beyond her, most of the rest of the team returns intact. Defense should be a strong suit for DU in 2017, with the league’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Makenzie Bothner, as well as its GK of the Year, Brittany Wilson, both back. Add in a big recruit in Taylor Parker, and this could be one of the league’s elite units.

Scoring is a worry though, with the club netting just eighteen in nineteen games last year. Hannah Adler won league Freshman of The Year honors with four goals and four assists, but nobody else had more than two goals. The task won’t get easier with Garzelloni gone, but adding highly touted recruit Maya Royston should help. Nobody will confuse this for an elite DU team of the past, but the 2017 Pioneers are still a serious league title threat. Continue reading

NCAA – 2017 Southland Conference Preview

Chris’ Southland Conference Projections

1. Central Arkansas
2. Stephen F. Austin
3. McNeese St
4. Abilene Christian
5. Houston Baptist
6. Lamar

7. Northwestern St.
8. Southeastern Louisiana
9. Nicholls St.
10. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi
11. Incarnate Word
12. Sam Houston St.

After a mostly nondescript existence in the Southland Conference, Central Arkansas shocked the hierarchy of the league by not just winning the league in 2016 but doing so with an astonishing 10-0-1 league record. There weren’t really any indications in non-conference play that UCA was about to put together one of the conference’s best league showings ever, but the Bears steamrolled most opposing defenses and looked dangerous contenders for a league-conference tournament double. But the Bears were shocked in the semi-final of the conference tournament by Houston Baptist, ending their dream season.

It’s up to head coach Jeremy Bishop and co. to now prove that 2016 was not a simple fluke. On paper, they certainly look like league favorites again. UCA’s offense was unbelievable in the league last year, netting over three goals a game in Southland matches! Unfortunately for opposing defenses, the club returns the three players that netted six or more goals last season. Camille Bassett, reigning league Player of the Year, and Ashley Smith combined for twenty-four goals, while Dayna Mounie also added six. Add in junior Alex Moore, who had eight assists, and you’ve got a potentially lethal offense, even with the loss of talented midfielder Shelby Wilson to graduation.

UCA also gave up the fewest goals in the league as well, with just seven conceded in eleven league games. Stacia Carroll and Kristen Ricks, the club’s top two players on the backline return, as do goalkeepers Anna Hughes and Lauren Mercuri, who split time in goal last year. The Bears look like clear favorites in the Southland if you believe last year wasn’t an anomaly, and given the returning talent, it probably wasn’t.

Agonizing postseason finishes have become an unfortunate calling card for Stephen F. Austin over the past four seasons, and 2016 was no exception. The Ladyjacks cruised through much of the league season, winning their first five and last four with a minor blip in between that dropped them to second in the league. With Central Arkansas upset in the Southland Conference Tournament semi-final, the path appeared clear to an NCAA bid, but SFA was shocked in the final for the second time in three years by Houston Baptist to put a melancholy ending to an otherwise solid year.

At least the Ladyjacks should have a chance to right their postseason wrongs once more this year, with a strong squad returning. That’s not to say there are a few questions hanging over the club, especially on defense. The rearguard gets hammered, with standout Brooke Dunnigan graduating, along with the solid Kelly Ann Craig. Junior Bailey Bosley will need to step up into a leadership role, but strong rookies Katherine Shoffner and Lauren Prentice could be needed sooner rather than later. SFA also has to replace Lillie Ehlert in goal and could turn to another rookie, Madeline Talbot, to fill the role if she can beat out returning junior Allyson Smith.

Luckily, SFA does pack some punch going the other way despite the loss of key midfielder Amanda Doyle. Brenna Moore netted nine goals on just twenty shots, while midfielder Hanna Barker grabbed ten goals and might be a preseason favorite for one of the league’s top players overall. Add quality freshman midfielder Sophia Fondren, and the Ladyjacks should be one of the league’s best teams going forward. SFA has too many defensive questions for my projection to see them on top, but they should still be a side with a shot at silverware in 2017. Continue reading

NCAA – 2017 Atlantic Sun Preview

Chris’ Atlantic Sun Projections

1. Lipscomb
2. Florida Gulf Coast
3. Jacksonville
4. Stetson
5. Kennesaw State
6. North Florida

8. USC Upstate

A once awful program now in the role of perennial bridesmaids in the A-Sun, Lipscomb nonetheless enjoyed a third straight winning season in 2016. They’d make a huge statement early by beating SEC sides Vanderbilt and Mississippi State before diving into the meat of league play with three straight wins, all on the road. Slip-ups against Stetson and Florida Gulf Coast cost them top of the table, and once more in the A-Sun Tournament final, the Bison would fall to their mortal rivals FGCU, dropping a 2-0 result to prevent the club lifting a major trophy.

However, fingers crossed, this could well be the year Lipscomb breaks through with the aforementioned Florida Gulf Coast taking some major losses through graduation. By contrast, Lipscomb looks set to return all but two starters from last year. LU had the league’s best offense last season in conference games and bring back a three-headed monster in sophomore Olivia Doak and seniors Ellen Lundy and Natalie DuBoise who combined for twenty of the club’s thirty-five goals. Add in younger talents like Marcie McKay and Leah Cernicky who had fine seasons themselves, and opposing A-Sun defenses could be in big trouble this year.

Defensively, were decent last year, conceding a little over a goal a game in the league and do return the league’s Defensive Player of the Year in senior Niamh Rawlins. The one starter gone though is keeper Anna Buhigas, who was a very good netminder, with junior Kate Mason likely to get first chance at the #1 job after being top backup last year. It might be now or never for Lipscomb winning A-Sun silverware, as they have a very strong side, which should be the league’s best.

The bully on the block for a decade in the Atlantic Sun, Florida Gulf Coast rolled through another season, though the biggest non-A-Sun accomplishment was a win at the ACC’s Miami (FL). There were other numerous close losses to non-conference power teams, but FGCU were their usual selves in the league, with only a draw at Lipscomb blotting their copy. They’d easily win another conference tournament title, but Florida would stop their NCAA upset hopes in the first round. In short, another very good season in Fort Myers.

While FGCU is almost always the de facto favorite in the A-Sun, there could be a rare moment of vulnerability this season for the Eagles. That’s because the club loses a gigantic chunk of its offense to graduation going into the new season. The biggest of those losses is club legend Tabby Tindell, who signed off with a brilliant senior season, netting fourteen goals and eight assists, having a hand in 62.8% of the team’s goals last year. Compounding matters, FGCU loses midfielders Ali Rogers and Paulina Speckmaier, who combined for eight goals and ten assists. Much likely depends on who sophomore Emilie Olsen, the only returnee with more than three goals last year, handles a much bigger role in the attack. The club also adds intriguing newcomers in the form of freshmen Kavina Ganeshan and Hope Van Wagner in midfield as well as Albany transfer Kiana Rugar up top. Brazilian sophomore Marjorie Boilesen, a transfer from West Florida is one of DI’s most interesting transfers after an All-American freshman season at D2 level.

FGCU will likely be leaning much more on defense this year. Senior Ashley Parks should be one of the league’s best defenders, while sophomore Lindsey Patton had a strong rookie year here as well. FGCU will be fine in goal as well, with sophomore Melissa Weck back after impressing as a freshman. The Eagles deserve a massive amount of the benefit of the doubt given their track record, but the turnover on offense is worrying. They may need some time to gel, meaning this might be the year the club falls from it’s A-Sun perch, though if they do, it probably won’t be far.
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NCAA – 2017 Horizon League Preview

Chris’ Horizon League Projections

1. Northern Kentucky
2. Wisconsin-Milwaukee
3. Illinois-Chicago
4. Wright State
5. Detroit
6. Youngstown State

7. Oakland
9. Wisconsin-Green Bay
10. Cleveland State

Sweet dreams were made of this for Northern Kentucky in 2016, as the Norse made their first NCAA Tournament at DI level at the very first opportunity following becoming a full member of the division at the beginning of the athletic year. NKU had been a solid DII program before making the transition and had acquitted themselves well in DI heading into last season. Despite losing their first three, the Norse made a real statement of intent in their final non-conference match before beginning league play, beating Vanderbilt in Nashville. A steady showing would earn NKU third place in the Horizon, but few could’ve envisioned them winning three games to earn their first pace of DI silverware, taking down league champs Wisconsin-Milwaukee on the road to earn an NCAA Tournament berth.

Encore? It certainly looks possible with seven starters back, including most of last year’s stars. The calling card last year for the Norse was a twin-headed attack, with league Offensive Player of the Year Macy Hamblin (9 G, 9 A) and conference tournament MVP Jessica Frey (10 G, 6 A) gutting opposing defenses. The club does lose third leading scorer, midfielder Katelyn Newton, but sophomores Ally Perkins and Shawna Zaken could be next in line to make an impact after fine rookie seasons.

NKU were pretty good on defense as well despite not having any big names. Taylor Spaulding has been a two-year workhorse here and is probably the name to watch on the backline. It’s difficult envisioning anyone in the Horizon stopping this attack, meaning NKU might add more trophies to the mount at season’s end.

2016 brought more postseason agony for Wisconsin-Milwaukee after another successful regular season. The Panthers had shown what they were made of early in the season when they drew at Big Ten foe Wisconsin and local rival Marquette before breezing to a league title by four points. After toppling Oakland in the Horizon League Tournament semi-final, the Panthers, with home advantage, looked like sure bets for a double but were shocked by Northern Kentucky, blowing a 2-0 lead in the staggering defeat.

The question for head coach Troy Fabiano and co. is if that devastating loss will have any kind of effect on the Panthers heading into 2017. Realistically, it shouldn’t, as Milwaukee scored the most goals and conceded the fewest in the league last year and returns much of last year’s squad. It’s the offense that faces some questions though, as it takes a double blow with the loss of midfielder Maria Stephens and forward Callie O’Donnell, who combined for twelve goals and twenty assists in 2016. The goals aren’t going to dry up completely though, as the Panthers do return senior Anna Smalley, who netted eleven goals on just thirty-six shots. Milwaukee figures to be a defensive stalwart again this year.

Senior Cassidy Blanchard should be one of the league’s best defenders again this year, while the club also boasts reigning league Freshman of the Year McKaela Schmelzer amongst their ranks on the backline. My projections have the Panthers a few ticks behind Northern Kentucky, but they should be in the mix if they can replace Stephens and O’Donnell in the attack.
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NCAA – 2017 Big South Preview

Chris’ 2017 Big South Projections

1. High Point
2. Liberty
3. Radford
4. UNC Asheville
5. Longwood
6. Campbell
7. Gardner-Webb
8. Presbyterian

9. Charleston Southern
10. Winthrop

High Point enjoyed a very successful 2016 season, but the Panthers are likely sick of the sight of Liberty in the postseason at this point after the Flames ended HPU’s season for the third time in four seasons. Up to that point, the Panthers had done quite well for themselves, even with a murderously difficult non-conference slate at times. Outside of a small two game blip in the middle of league play, High Point would show themselves as the class of the Big South, and wrapped up a league title with four straight wins. A win away from a double though, HPU would be upended by Liberty in the conference tournament final, though thirteen overall wins was still a program high.

The bad news for Big South rivals is that HPU still looks stacked in 2017, with eight starters and a lot of talent returning. The loss of Big South Attacking Player of the Year Kelsey Perrell is a massive one though, as the led the club with nine goals last season. Nobody else here had more than four goals last year, and though she’s not a big scorer, senior midfielder Becca Rolfe is now the top dog on offense. Others like Alex Denny impressed as rookies last season, but someone needs to step up into Perrell’s big shoes as the leader in front of goal.

If HPU scores regularly, they’re going to be hard to beat, as they shipped just three goals in nine league games last year and return most of that defense for this season. Senior Paige Lloyd is an early favorite for league Defensive Player of the Year, while sophomores Kyle Levesque and Allie Reagan are among the league’s most promising defensive prospects. Add in strong senior goalkeeper Alex Hank, and you’ve got a defense that’s the envy of the rest of the league. The Panthers top my Big South projections and have a great shot at more silverware come season’s end.

For the third time in three seasons, Liberty will enter a season with a new head coach. Far from being a struggling program, the Flames have been awash in success over the past decade, only to see the unexpected resignation of Jessica Hain after 2015 followed by Nate Norman departing this offseason to return to Notre Dame as an assistant. Losing Norman hurts, as in his sole season in charge, he was able to lead the Flames to second in the league and a Big South Tournament title, the club winning eight straight before the NCAA Tournament.

Again though, Liberty appear to have done well for themselves in filling a void, as they poached Lang Wedemeyer from South Dakota State when the now former Jackrabbits boss probably could have left for a bigger job by now. He inherits a team that should again be a title contender. Though most associate the Flames with defense, it was their offense that dominated last year, netting almost two and a half goals a game in the league. The Flames should scorch most opponents again this season with four players returning that had seven or more goals. Louisville transfer Isabella Habuda shone brightest with ten goals and five assists, but last year’s Freshman of the Year Gabrielle Farrell as well as senior Jennifer Knoebel and junior Devon Jones were also outstanding.

The Flames were very good defensively last year but have a massive hole to fill with club legend and Big South Defensive Player of the Year Holly Van Noord’s graduation demanding someone new inherit the gloves. Senior Tori Collar got backup minutes last year but also faces three challengers for time this season. The backline should be solid again, led by senior Sami Santos and may need to be a brick wall while the new keeper finds her footing. My projections have Liberty a tick behind High Point, but they’re still legitimate title contenders again in the Big South.
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NCAA – 2017 NEC Preview

Chris’ Projected 2017 NEC Standings

1. Saint Francis (PA)
2. Central Connecticut State
3. Fairleigh Dickinson
4. Bryant

5. Sacred Heart
6. Robert Morris
7. Mount Saint Mary’s
8. Long Island
9. Wagner

Their overall record may not reflect it at times, but Saint Francis (PA), has turned into one of the NEC’s most reliable sides in terms of league results. The Red Flashes have now reached seven straight NEC Tournaments, an astonishing feat when you consider the league takes just four teams to the postseason. And last year, SFPA were as good as gold after a rough non-conference slate, winning six of their last seven in the league and then sweeping aside Fairleigh Dickinson and Central Connecticut State in the NEC Tournament to do the league/conference tournament double. They were out of their depth in the NCAA Tournament, but it was still another successful season here.

The scary thing about this program is that last year’s triumph might have been a year ahead of schedule, as ten starters return from last year’s double winners. SFPA has always been an offense-first type of team, and the return of league Player of the Year Gabi Morales (6 G, 7 A) and NEC Tournament MVP Sara Suler should ensure the offense keeps coming.

But the Red Flashes weren’t bad on defense either and could have one of the best units in the league, even if losing Casey Gallaher hurts. Senior Allison LaDuke is one of the league’s best defenders, while rookie Erica Carpenter has also been tipped for big things here. This SFPA looks like a juggernaut again and will be favored to claim more silverware in 2017.

Central Connecticut State added another piece of silverware to their rather large NEC trophy case by winning a share of the league title last season. In a wildly tight conference race, CCSU shared the crown with rivals Saint Francis (PA) but ended up as #2 seeds after losing the head-to-head tiebreaker. That tiebreaker proved especially important, as top seeds host the conference tournament, and despite advancing to the tournament final, the Blue Devils fell for a second time in just over a week to their fellow co-champs, ending hopes of a second NCAA Tournament bid in three seasons.

CCSU look like favorites to repeat their title triumph in 2017 as well, as they return an absolutely stacked squad for the new campaign. Nine starters return from last year’s co-champs, including some very talented veterans. Top billing has to go to Swedish senior defender Jennifer Cafferky, a three-time NEC Defensive Player of the Year and quite likely one of the best players ever in the conference. She’ll be an overwhelming favorite for a fourth straight major award and will need to be at her best with goalkeeper Nicki Turley’s graduation.

Offensively, the Blue Devils are strong as well, with league Rookie of the Year Carla Jackson back, along with veteran English midfielder Kelly Halligan, with the pair combining for seven goals and seven assists last year. It likely won’t be a runaway, but the Blue Devils look like one of the NEC title favorites once more.
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NCAA – 2017 WAC Preview

Chris’ Projected WAC Standings

1. Seattle
2. Cal State Bakersfield
4. Grand Canyon
5. Texas Rio Grande Valley
6. Utah Valley

7. Chicago State
8. New Mexico State

The very definition of a big fish in a small pond, Seattle had very little trouble cutting right through an underpowered WAC in 2016. There were some non-conference struggles, as evidenced by a stretch of five straight without a win, but the Redhawks were a wrecking ball in league play, going a perfect 7-0-0 before two more wins to win the WAC Tournament. They’d be well beaten by UCLA in the NCAA tournament, but SU left no doubt as to their status at the top of the WAC’s food chain.

However, there is a bit of evidence that SU could get knocked off that perch this year by the aforementioned Cal State Bakersfield side. The Redhawks have had plenty of weapons on offense over the last decade but lose two of their top three scorers from last year, with Brie Hooks, the reigning WAC Offensive Player of the Year, graduating and Karli White transferring to Western Washington. However, the cupboard isn’t completely bare, as WAC Tournament MVP Natasha Howe returns after netting seven goals last year. SU will hope for more from junior Isabelle Butterfield and senior Rosalie Sittauer.

The biggest excitement though might be from rookie additions Leahi Manthei and English youth international Laura Hooper, both midfielders. SU should be in good shape defensively, with the highlight being the return of senior and WAC Defensive Player of the Year Stephanie Spiekerman. The Redhawks also add a prized recruit in Port Orchard’s Mikaela Morey. My projections have Seattle again in the mix to lift WAC silverware.

It’s been relatively slow going for Cal State Bakersfield in their brief life as a DI program, as the Roadrunners have shuttled from independent status to WAC member, all with only modest success. But the California club may be beginning to grow into its potential if 2016’s results are to be believed. While there was little to shout about in non-conference play, CSUB came into their own in the league, managing a second place finish in the WAC, albeit eight points behind champions Seattle. The program’s youth still showed in the postseason though, as they were humbled in the WAC Tournament semi-final by UMKC, 4-0.

But the pieces are in place for the Roadrunners to be a giant for 2017 and perhaps beyond. Gary Curneen’s team brings back nine starters from last year’s WAC runners-up, and there’s plenty of talent to go around. Defensively, CSUB might have the league’s best defender in senior Swede Maja Green while also having a great netminder in junior Jen Padilla. The attack is loaded as well with the return of ace forward Aminah Settles and midfielders Sabrina Delgado and the reigning league Freshman of the Year Sophie Freeman.

But the biggest statement of intent for Bakersfield might be in signing Washington transfer Kamari Hines, potentially the best player to ever sign with the program and a former U.S. youth international. This is a team with a ton of potential for 2017 and beyond. A WAC title could and, perhaps, should be within their grasp.
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NCAA – 2017 MAAC Preview

Chris’ Projected MAAC Standings

1. Monmouth
2. Rider
3. Siena
4. Quinnipiac
5. Manhattan
6. Marist
7. Niagara
8. Canisius
9. Iona
10. Fairfield
11. Saint Peter’s

Monmouth finished the job in 2016. After a great league season in 2015, the Hawks lost in their first MAAC Tournament match in a shocking result and one that ensure the club would not be short of motivation going into last season. Monmouth was perhaps a little disappointing in the non-conference season but rolled over their MAAC opponents, nearly winning the title with a perfect conference record. They’d destroy Marist and Quinnipiac in the MAAC Tournament to seal a double before seeing their season end at Virginia in the NCAA Tournament.

With eight starters set to return, the Hawks again look like the class of the league. By the numbers, Monmouth had both the best offense and defense in league play last year, but the Hawks’ numbers in attack were truly absurd, scoring thirty-nine goals in ten MAAC matches. While the Hawks lose Rachel Ivanicki and Alexis McTamney, who combined for fourteen goals and fifteen assists, they do return their top two scorers. Sophomore Maddie Gibson was the league Rookie of the Year with twelve goals and nine assists, while senior Rachelle Ross added ten goals herself. Add in some great supplementary pieces in midfielders Allison DeLuca and Miranda Konstantinides and you’ve got a frightening offense.

The defense gave up just four goals in the league as well and returns mostly intact with the exception of top backline member Julie Spracklin. While that’s a blow, the unit still returns Gabriella Cuevas for another season, along with sophomore Anna Lazur. Sophomore keeper Amanda Knaub should also be a big asset again after a nice rookie season. The Hawks look like the top of the food chain in the MAAC again, though the gap to challengers Rider and Siena might be a bit narrower. Continue reading

NCAA – 2017 SWAC & DI Independent Preview


Projected Order of Finish:

1. Howard
2. Alabama State
3. Mississippi Valley State
4. Arkansas-Pine Bluff
5. Alcorn State
6. Prairie View A&M
7. Southern
8. Texas Southern

9. Jackson State
10. Alabama A&M
11. Grambling

Howard have simply been a class apart since joining the SWAC and reemphasized that point for much of 2016. The Bison even managed to rack up three wins against non-conference opponents, a feat that has become almost impossible for most of their conference brethren. Once league play began, Howard simply steamrolled most of their opponents, with the lone blemish on their copy being a 2-2 draw at Mississippi Valley State. HU won the SWAC title at a canter, making what happened in the SWAC Tournament so stunning. The Bison eased into the semi-finals but were shutout for the first time since mid-September by Arkansas-Pine Bluff and lost on spot kicks to see their season end cruelly. If the Bison don’t have lingering psychic damage from that setback, it’s hard to see them get knocked off their perch at the top of the league this season. Eight starters look set to return, and their talent advantage over the rest of the league looks as evident as ever. The defense should dominate again with league Defensive POTY Kendall Hamilton and GK OTY Gabrielle Emilien both back. Goals shouldn’t be an issue either, as Kela Gray and Noelle McCullom combined for nineteen of them last year and both return. It’d be a major surprise if Howard doesn’t win at least one trophy this season and could easily do the SWAC double in 2017.
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