Patriot League Women's Basketball Release - 11.11.11

PATRIOTLEAGUEDOTORG Danielle Fiacco begins her sophomore season Friday when Lafayette travels to Rider to open the 2011-12 slate.
Danielle Fiacco begins her sophomore season Friday when Lafayette travels to Rider to open the 2011-12 slate.

Nov. 11, 2011

CENTER VALLEY, Pa. — It seems like it wasn’t all that long ago that the eight teams were gearing up for the Patriot League Tournament. It doesn’t feel as though it’s been eight months since Navy won three games, captured its first Patriot League title in program history and advanced to the NCAA Tournament, where it put forth a valiant effort against third-seeded DePaul.

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Yet it was eight months ago that the last Patriot League Women’s Basketball season came to a close. Since then, there’s been one new coach to enter the League, as Nicci Hays Fort takes over at the helm at Colgate. For the other seven schools, the main voices on the sidelines remain unchanged, though the personnel on the court has undergone its usual turnover with graduation and incoming freshmen.

All eight Patriot League teams open their 2011-12 slates Friday, kicking off a busy weekend to start the new campaign. There will be 14 contests over the first four days of the season. After everybody plays Friday, all will take off Saturday, with six returning to the court Sunday, one playing Monday and a pair in action Tuesday.

Lehigh, which was picked second in the League’s preseason poll last month, will be the first to hit the court Friday afternoon with a 3 p.m. tip at La Salle. American, which captured the top spot in the poll, opens on the road against George Mason in one of seven 7 p.m. tipoffs for League teams Friday evening. Fourth-year head coach Matt Corkery has guided the Eagles to back-to-back appearances in the Patriot League championship game.

Defending champion Navy, which took third in the preseason rankings for the second year in a row, is one of four teams opening its 2011-12 campaign at home. The Mids play host to Richmond. Army, Bucknell and Colgate are the other three squads opening at home Friday, with Hays Fort making her coaching debut on the Raider sideline against Bryant.

Lafayette and Holy Cross will hit the road to start their seasons Friday. The Leopards head to Rider, while the Crusaders open at Yale. Holy Cross will finish its season-opening two-game trip to the Nutmeg State when it visits No. 4/4 Connecticut Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. in a game that will be broadcast on Connecticut Public Television. The Leopards will play at home Monday night against two-time defending Ivy League champion and preseason favorite Princeton.

American, Army, Bucknell, Lehigh and Navy will be in action again Sunday. The Eagles play James Madison in their home opener, while Army welcomes Seton Hall. Bucknell heads to Rider, while Lehigh stays in Philadelphia to visit Saint Joseph’s. Navy will take the short trip to Baltimore for a contest at Loyola (Md.)

The slate continues Tuesday with American at home again for Oakland, while Colgate plays at Cornell.

Patriot League Notebook

With 94 points and 11 first-place votes, American topped the 2011-12 Patriot League Preseason Women’s Basketball Poll. The Eagles will aim to capture their first League crown in program history after reaching the title game in each of the last two seasons. American finished ahead of second-place Lehigh, which totaled 83 points and three first-place votes. Defending League champion Navy took third with 74 points and the last two remaining first-place ballots. Bucknell finished fourth in the poll, the same position in which the Bison ended the regular season a year ago. They collected 58 points, followed by Holy Cross in fifth with 52. Rounding out the poll were Lafayette (38 points), Army (26) and Colgate (23).

Navy’s Jade Geif got better and better as the 2010-11 season went on, and the hardware began adding up quickly. She was named Patriot League Rookie of the Year at the end of the regular season and added Patriot League Tournament Most Valuable Player honors after helping lead the Midshipmen to their first League crown in program history. Geif was recognized again by the League’s eight head coaches and women’s basketball sports information directors with the Preseason Player of the Year honor and a spot on the Preseason All-League team. In nearly 30 minutes per game a season ago, Geif was second in the League averaging 7.9 rebounds per game and is Navy’s top returning scorer (9.6 ppg). Geif became the first player named Rookie of the Year and Tournament MVP in the same season since Bethany O’Dell of Holy Cross in 2007.

Ten of the 11 players named First- or Second-Team All-Patriot League a year ago graduated in the spring. The one who remains is American senior Lisa Strack, who was named to the Preseason All-League Team last month and is expected to contribute mightily to the Eagles this season. One of three seniors named to the Preseason All-League squad, Strack is the League’s second-highest returning scorer after averaging 11.6 points per game last season. She was also her team’s best distributor, averaging 3.4 assists per game, placing her fourth in the League.

Three of the six players to garner a place on the Preseason All-League team are sophomores. Bucknell’s Shelby Romine looks to build on a a remarkable freshman campaign in which she led all League rookies in scoring with 13.5 points per game. In addition to being the League’s top scorer back, she boasts the highest assist-per-game average (3.6) of any returning player. Holy Cross’ Alex Smith was also named to the Preseason All-League team after averaging 11.1 points and 3.4 assists per game for the Crusaders, who are trying to improve on their 10-20 mark and 6-8 showing in the League from a year ago.

A pair of senior forwards look to lead Lehigh in its quest back to the top of the Patriot League mountain. Emily Gratch and Alexa Williams were recognized as Preseason All-Leaguers last month, and for good reason. Gratch is Lehigh’s top returning scorer and was third on the team last season averaging 10.4 points per game while pulling down 4.6 rebounds per contest. Williams played in all 32 games last year and made 18 starts, averaging 7.6 points and 6.3 rebounds per outing. Williams will share the team’s captaincy duties this season with senior guard Aly Byorick for 17th-year head coach Sue Troyan.

Holy Cross head coach Bill Gibbons and his counterpart at Army, Dave Magarity, enter the 2011-12 campaign approaching a pair of milestones. Gibbons sits at 496 career victories, all of which have come while being the leading voice for the Crusaders. Magarity begins the season at 398 career wins and could reach the 400 plateau as soon as Sunday. Gibbons is in his 27th season in Worcester, Mass., while Magarity enters his sixth season at West Point and 29th overall in a career in which he has coached both men and women. A third milestone that seems likely to be reached this season is the 300-win mark for Navy’s Stefanie Pemper, the reigning Coach of the Year. Pemper comes into the year with 288 career triumphs.

Lafayette’s Danielle Fiacco was enjoying a tremendous freshman campaign a year ago before suffering a season-ending injury in a League contest against Army. In 21 games and 11 starts, Fiacco averaged 6.6 points and 8.0 rebounds per game and collected an astonishing 71 blocks. Her rejections total is second in Lafayette single-season history and she was on her way to challenging the League record for a single season before her injury. Now healthy, Fiacco is Lafayette’s top returning scorer from a season ago and looks to continue dominating the paint as the Leopards attempt to challenge for the League crown under second-year head coach Dianne Nolan.

The Patriot League features one new face on the sidelines in 2011-12, with Nicci Hays Fort entering her first season at Colgate. Entering the season with over a decade of coaching experience, Hays Fort comes to Hamilton, N.Y., after serving as the associate head coach on Doug Bruno’s staff at DePaul. Coincidentally, one of Hays Fort’s last contests coaching the Blue Demons was in the first round of last year’s NCAA Tournament, when DePaul faced off with Navy. The Raiders look to rebound from a 7-22 showing and a 2-12 mark in the League last season, and boast the returns of junior Jhazmine Lynch, the 2010 Patriot League Rookie of the Year, along with senior Tricia Oakes.

With a lot of new faces in the starting lineup, Army will look to get off to a great start to the season by playing seven of its first 10 games at home. The Black Knights open with Wagner Friday night and entertain BIG EAST opponent Seton Hall Sunday. The seven-in-10 stretch ends Dec. 6 when Army welcomes Binghamton to Christl Arena. Meanwhile, Lehigh, which is coming off its third straight 20-win season, opens its season at La Salle Friday at 3 p.m. and plays six of its first seven games away from home. The Mountain Hawks play three consecutive contests on the road before their home opener Nov. 19 against St. Peter’s. They will play another three straight on the road after that, including a matchup at Rutgers. Lehigh totals just two games at home, with the second coming against another BIG EAST opponent in Villanova Nov. 30.

For most, Thanksgiving is a time for getting together with family or friends, catching up with loved ones and sharing a big meal of turkey, stuffing and all the fixings. It’s also a busy time for basketball teams, and this year is no different for the eight Patriot League schools. All eight will have some competition that weekend, with four clubs participating in tournaments. Lafayette and Lehigh will both participate in the Thanksgiving Challenge against Northeast Conference opponents. American and Colgate will vie for the most miles logged when both head to the West Coast for the turkey holiday. The Eagles will compete in the Cal Poly Thanksgiving Tournament, while the Raiders will play two in a bracket hosted by Cal State Northridge.

Three Patriot League contests are scheduled to be televised on CBS Sports Network, with two featuring one of the most vaunted rivalry in intercollegiate athletics. Both regular season contests between Army and Navy will be shown on the network, with the Jan. 14 game hailing from Alumni Hall in Annapolis, Md., and the Feb. 11 contest at Christl Arena at West Point, N.Y. Both games will tip at 12 p.m. CBS Sports Network will also televise the Patriot League championship on Saturday, March 10, 2012 at 6 p.m.

For the second season in a row, the Patriot League Tournament will be contested on the home courts of the higher seeds in all rounds of the bracket. In recent years the quarterfinals and semifinals have been hosted at one central location, with just the championship game being played at the site of the better seed. That means this season there is even more emphasis on League play. Teams will be playing not only for seeding, but also for the opportunity to host one (or more) games in the Patriot League Tournament. The Patriot League Tournament semifinals are slated for Thursday, March 1, the semifinals Monday, March 5 and the championship game Saturday, March 10 at 6 p.m.

For the fifth consecutive year, most of the Patriot League men and women’s basketball games starting in January will be available online through the Patriot League All-Access subscription. For $7.95 a month, fans will be able to view streams of the available League contests right in the comfort of their own homes. In addition, a monthly subscription will give fans access to archived broadcasts and events. Fans can also purchase a yearly subscription for $19.95, making available every premium All-Access event for a 12-month period, including the basketball games and upcoming Patriot League championship events. All-Access also features several pieces of free contest posted weekly, including Top Plays of the Week, the Student-Athlete Interview series, recaps and previews.

Patriot League schools once again excelled when the NCAA released its most recent Academic Progress Rate in May. Ninety-seven percent of League teams came in at or above the national Division I four-year average score of 970. In addition, over 65 percent of League teams tallied a score of 990 or better. Eighty-two teams from full-member institutions and 73 League-sponsored squads were awarded NCAA Public Recognition Awards for scoring in the top 10 percent of their sport’s APR.

Team Notebooks

AMERICAN Senior Lisa Strack, the only All-Patriot League performer returning from a year ago, will share the team’s captain responsibilities with sophomore Alexis Dobbs ... Dobbs averaged 6.7 points and 3.1 rebounds per game while collecting 81 assists and 50 steals, with both of those numbers second on the team behind Strack ... Head coach Matt Corkery enters his fourth season at the helm with two straight appearances in the Patriot League title game and an impressive 32-10 mark in League contests ... Stephanie Anya played in 30 games last year with 27 starts and averaged 6.0 points and 5.4 rebounds per game ... She will give the Eagles size and experience up front.

ARMY One year after all five starters returned, the Black Knights are experiencing the exact opposite, with only one returning starter back from 2010-11 ... That starter is junior Molly Yardley, who finished third on the team with 7.1 points per game a year ago ... She is her team’s top 3-point shooting threat, having connected on 39.2 percent of her chances last season ... Four of Army’s top five scorers last season were seniors, and this year’s roster features just a pair of fourth-year players ... There will be ample chances for underclassmen and perhaps even freshmen to earn playing time ... Head coach Dave Magarity is in his sixth season at West Point and has posted 85 wins during his tenure.

BUCKNELL The Bison will miss departed seniors Cosima Higham and Joyce Novacek, who finished second and third, respectively, in scoring last season behind Shelby Romine ... The two combined to average over 14 points per game while both shared the team lead with 7.8 rebounds per contest ... Head coach Kathy Fedorjaka, who enters her 14th year in Lewisburg, Pa., will rely on juniors Rachel Voss (6.0 ppg, 2.7 rpg) and Felicia Mgbada (6.0 ppg, 3.3 rpg) to step up ... Mgbada enjoyed a breakout game with 19 points in Bucknell’s semifinal loss at Navy in the Patriot League Tournament.

COLGATE New head coach Nicci Hays Fort inherits a team that was outscored by an average of 6.3 points per game en route to a 7-22 record and a 2-12 mark in the Patriot League one year ago ... One of those League victories came at Navy, though the Raiders could not repeat the result in the quarterfinals of the Patriot League Tournament ... Colgate ended the season with an eight-game skid ... Junior Jhazmine Lynch averaged 11.4 points per game a year ago and was her team’s top thief (65 steals) and distributor (64 assists) ... She played in 28 of the team’s 29 contests and made 11 starts ... Tricia Oakes made 11 starts as well and played in 25 games, scoring nearly seven points per game.

HOLY CROSS The Crusaders are a young bunch in 2011-12 with just one senior on the roster in Meredith Ward ... Holy Cross was bolstered last season by a pair of freshmen guards in Alex Smith and Bri Malone ... Smith was second on the team with 11.1 points per contest and dished 98 assists, while Malone was fourth in scoring (7.1 ppg) ... Smith led the League with 82 3-pointers last season and shot 37.6 percent from beyond the arc ... Junior Amy Lepley collected a team-high 13 blocks while averaging 9.6 points per game and shooting nearly 41 percent from the field.

LAFAYETTE The Leopards were hit hard by graduation, losing their top three scorers from 2010-11 ... 6-foot-7 center Danielle Fiacco averaged 6.6 points and 8.0 rebounds per game last season and returns for her sophomore season after missing the final nine contests due to injury ... Sara McGorry averaged 5.7 points in just over 25 minutes per game and is back in the Leopard front court, Melissa Downey, the team’s top distributor, is back after dishing a team-best 62 assists last year ... Dianne Nolan is in her second season at Lafayette and 35th overall as a head coach ... Lafayette, which took sixth in the preseason poll, is looking to improve upon last year’s 11-19 record and 4-10 ledger against Patriot League teams ... The Leopards fell to Lehigh in the quarterfinals of last year’s League Tournament.

LEHIGH The Mountain Hawks feature arguably the deepest senior class in the League with four seniors ... While Emily Gratch and Alexa Williams were Preseason All-League picks, Aly Byorick and Kelela Blake round out the fourth-year class for 17th-year head coach Sue Troyan ... Gratch averaged 10.4 points and 4.6 rebounds per game and is the team’s top returning scorer ... Byorick started 17 games and appeared in all 32 contests, averaging over 21 minutes per outing ... She hit on nearly 36 percent of her 3-point shots ... Blake provides depth off the bench, having played in 24 matches last year ... The Mountain Hawks enter the season without the graduated Erica Prosser, who was the League’s first simultaneous Player and Defensive Player of the Year in 2010-11.

NAVY Like the other seven squads, the Mids suffered key losses due to the graduations of Angela Myers and Cassie Consedine ... Myers finished in the League’s all-time top 10 in assists, while Consedine sits 10th all-time in rebounds ... Jade Geif (9.6 ppg, 7.9 rpg) is joined by fellow sophomores Alix Membreno (5.9 ppg) and Audrey Bauer (5.9 ppg) as the team’s top returning scorers, with Geif and Membreno having garnered All-Tournament Team honors last year ... Erin Edwards, the team’s lone senior, averaged 5.8 points per game a year ago and dished 50 assists in 29 starts.