CENTER VALLEY, Pa. – Fresh off back-to-back Patriot League championships and with four starters returning, Navy was selected the favorite to extend its run to three straight titles in the preseason women’s basketball poll, it was announced by the League office Thursday afternoon.
In addition, junior Mid forward Jade Geif, the two-time reigning Patriot League Tournament Most Valuable Player, was named the preseason Player of the Year for the second straight time. She heads up a five-member preseason All-League team that features a pair from Holy Cross, and one each from American and Army.
Voting was conducted by the League’s head coaches and sports information directors who could not cast a ballot for their own teams and student-athletes.
Navy topped the poll with 89 points and eight first-place votes, just ahead of American, which collected 85 points and appeared on six first-place ballots. 2012 runner-up Holy Cross was third with 70 points and one first-place vote, while Army rounded out the top four with 66 points and the final remaining first-place ballot.
Lehigh was next with 58 points to capture fifth place in the preseason rankings, followed by Lafayette with 30 points. Finishing out the list of eight were Bucknell and Colgate, which tied for seventh with 25 points apiece.
The preseason All-League squad features two seniors and three juniors. Joining Geif on the team are seniors Anna Simmers (Army) and Amy Lepley (Holy Cross), along with juniors Alexis Dobbs (American) and Alex Smith (Holy Cross).
The League is looking to build on a monumental 2011-12 campaign, which saw three teams advance to the postseason for the first time in history. Navy advanced to the NCAA Tournament, American earned a berth to the WNIT and Holy Cross accepted a bid to the WBI. The Crusaders’ first-round win over New Hampshire gave the League its first postseason victory since the 1991 NCAA Tournament.
Geif started all 32 games for Navy a season ago, and finished the year as the team’s only scorer with double figures (11.1). Just as she had done in 2010-11, Geif saved her best for last, scoring 22 points with seven rebounds in Navy’s 57-48 victory over Holy Cross in last year’s Patriot League championship game televised nationally on CBS Sports Network. A clutch player in Navy’s frontcourt, Geif averaged 7.8 rebounds per game, hit over 51 percent of her field goal attempts, dished 81 assists and did not foul out of a game.
Simmers is the League’s top returning scorer from a year ago. She led all players averaging 14.8 points per contest, over a full point ahead of second place. She played in 29 of Army’s 30 contests, making 18 starts, and hit nearly 40 percent of her shots while averaging 5.1 rebounds and collecting 47 assists and 35 steals. Part of a formidable 1-2 punch for the Black Knights along with junior Jen Hazlett, Simmers’ 28-point effort last season during the first run through League play against Lehigh was the second-highest point total for any League player last season.
One of three Crusader seniors, Lepley was the League’s third-leading scorer a season ago. She averaged 13.4 points per game for Holy Cross, which advanced to the League title game for the first time since 2008. Also a force up front, Lepley was Holy Cross’ top rebounder a season ago, averaging 6.4 boards per game, the ninth-highest among League players. She sank her field goals at 49.9 percent clip, good for third in the League in 2011-12.
Dobbs enters her junior season at American as the reigning Patriot League Women’s Basketball Scholar-Athlete of the Year. She was a main a contributor in the backcourt as well, starting 30 of 31 games for an Eagles team that became the first to go a perfect 14-0 in League play during the current eight-team era. In just over 32 minutes per contest, Dobbs averaged 11 points and just under three assists while grabbing 59 steals. A threat anywhere on the floor, Dobbs was the fourth-best shooter from beyond the arc last season at 36.7 percent.
Smith earned All-League honors a season ago and finished the year fifth in the League in scoring (12.9), first in assists (5.5), second in steals (2.1), first in 3-point field goals made (85), third in 3-point percentage (37.1) and first in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.5). The point guard helped the Crusaders average a League-best 63.1 points per game a season ago, while their 16.9 assists per contest finished the season ninth in the nation.
Navy (18-14, 8-6 PL in 2011-12) came into 2011-12 in unfamiliar territory as the defending Patriot League champion, and experienced an up and down regular season, ultimately settling for the No. 3 seed. The Mids drew on the previous year’s experience to win at Lehigh in the semifinals of the League tournament before defeating Holy Cross in the title game. Navy loses just one starter from last year’s championship squad, and though the 2012-13 roster features no seniors, there is no shortage of experience. One of the Mids’ strongest aspects last season was their defense, as they held opponents to a League-low 52.5 points per game, good for 10th nationally. Head coach Stefanie Pemper, who won her 300th career game last season, enters her fifth year in Annapolis.
American’s quest for a Patriot League title came to a disappointing end at the hands of Holy Cross in the semifinals of the League tournament. The Eagles (23-8, 14-0) had wrapped up the top seed after going unbeaten in League play, but lost to No. 5 Holy Cross a round shy of advancing to the title game. American earned a berth to the WNIT, but once again the Eagles are seeking more this season. While Matt Corkery’s club graduated a pair of major award winners from last season in Lisa Strack (Player of the Year) and Ebony Edwards (Defensive Player of the Year), Dobbs has company returning in senior center Stephanie Anya (4.8 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 47 blocks) and sophomore guard Jen Dumiak (7.1 ppg). According to win percentage, Corkery is the League’s all-time winningest coach both in League contests (.821) and all games (.688).
Holy Cross (19-15, 7-7) had three players average in double figures a season ago, and all three are back for head coach Bill Gibbons, who enters season No. 28 in Worcester, Mass. In fact, the Crusaders return their top five scorers from a season ago, led by Lepley and Smith at the top, along with sophomore Emily Parker (10.1 ppg, 6.0 rpg), junior Brisje Malone (8.7 ppg) and junior forward Christine Ganser (6.2 ppg). Despite falling in the finals of the Patriot League tournament, the Crusaders made League history by accepting a berth to the WBI and defeating New Hampshire in the first round. Gibbons was one of several League coaches to achieve a major milestone in 2011-12 as he secured career victory No. 500 early in the season.
2011-12 was a season of adjustment for Army (14-16, 8-6). The Black Knights had graduated star forward Erin Anthony, so it was Simmers and 5-foot-11 guard/forward Jen Hazlett who stepped up for head coach Dave Magarity. Army grabbed the fourth seed in the League tournament, where the Black Knights suffered a quarterfinal loss at home to eventual runner-up Holy Cross. Hazlett was responsible for the League’s best offensive game of the season when she scored 30 points against Colgate during League play, and she finished second on the team and fourth in the League averaging 12.9 points per contest, while her team-leading 7.5 boards per outing were fifth in the League. Magarity earned career victory No. 400 last season, and his focus this season is to get the Black Knights in position to win their first League crown since 2006. He’s coached Army to a 99-80 mark in his six years at West Point.
Lehigh (17-13, 9-5) won back-to-back League titles in 2009-10, but the Mountain Hawks have suffered home losses in the semifinals of the League tournament in both years since. Last season Lehigh boasted the most experienced frontcourt of any League team, but it bids farewell to Alexa Williams and Emily Gratch, who both graduated last spring. Head coach Sue Troyan, in her 18th season in Bethlehem, will rely on a senior class of four headed up by 6-foot guard/forward Kelly Peterson, the team’s top returning scorer (9.5 ppg). A hand injury limited her to 25 games and just 12 starts, but she expects to have a bigger senior season. Junior guard Hilary Weaver (4.9 ppg, 3.2 apg) is expected to run the point.
Hopes are high in Easton where Lafayette (8-22, 2-12) returns reigning Rookie of the Year Emily Homan (11.8 ppg, 7.1 rpg), who was an excellent complement up front to 6-foot-7 center Danielle Fiacco (10.5 ppg, 8.3 rpg), who set the League’s single-season record with 112 blocks. After her freshman season ended early because of an elbow injury, Fiacco played in all 30 games with 28 starts last year. Four of the Leopards’ top five scorers from last season are back for head coach Dianne Nolan, who enters her third season at Lafayette. The Leopards will try to build off their final two games of the season, in which they led American late in the regular-season finale and went toe-to-toe with the Eagles again in the tournament quarterfinals.
Colgate (8-22, 5-9) and Bucknell (5-25, 3-11) tied for seventh in the preseason poll, but both return plenty of talent and are aiming upward. The Raiders started last season slow under new head coach Nicci Hays Fort, but they recovered during League play, including going 5-2 in Hamilton, N.Y., against League foes. 2009-10 Rookie of the Year Jhazmine Lynch (13.5 ppg) leads the Raiders into her senior season, but there are a trio of sophomores ready to step up too in Mariah Jones (6.9 ppg), Missy Repoli (6.2 ppg) and Kelly Reid (4.1 ppg).
There’s a fresh start in Lewisburg, Pa., where Aaron Roussell takes over as the head coach of the Bison. Roussell comes to Bucknell after building the University of Chicago into a national power in Division III, and he’s no stranger to marrying academic with athletic success. Bucknell graduated just one senior last year, so there’s plenty of experience returning for the Bison, led by junior guard Shelby Romine (10.0 ppg) and senior forward Lindsay Horbatuck (7.5 ppg, 8.4 rpg).
Six teams will open the 2012-13 on Friday, Nov. 9, and it will be the two-time defending champions to hit the court first. Navy opens on the road at 11 a.m. when it visits Iona in New Rochelle, N.Y. Also beginning on the road that evening will be Army (7 p.m. at Wagner) and Lehigh (10 p.m. at California). Three clubs will open at home, including Colgate hosting Cornell (6 p.m.), Lafayette entertaining Loyola Chicago (6:30 p.m.) and Holy Cross welcoming Yale (7 p.m.).
The remaining two schools will pull the curtain back on the season a day later. Bucknell visits Xavier Nov. 10 at 1 p.m., while American hits the court at Western Michigan at 2 p.m.
Currently three League contests are scheduled for national television, all on CBS Sports Network. The first features Navy hosting Lafayette Sunday, Jan. 13, 2013, at Alumni Hall for a noon tip, while Holy Cross will visit Lehigh Sunday, Feb. 10 at 2 p.m.
The Patriot League Women’s Basketball Tournament will be contested on the campuses of the higher seeds for all three rounds. The quarterfinal round is set for Thursday, March 7, the semifinals on Monday, March 11, and the championship game on CBS Sports Network on Saturday, March 16 at 6 p.m.
2012-13 Preseason Patriot League Women’s Basketball Poll