It's been 13 years since Salisbury has won a Capital Athletic Conference women's basketball title. But the conference coaches are looking at the program built by fourth-year coach Kelly Lewandowski and are ready to put the pre-season target on the backs of the Sea Gulls.
Salisbury won three-straight CAC titles, the streak ending in 2002, and played in the title games in 2003 and '05. SU, behind all-conference and all-region guard Anna Hackett, posted an 18-9 overall record last year and, for the third-straight year, advanced to the CAC playoff semifinals.
This year, the CAC coaches almost unanimously picked Salisbury as the top team in the preseason poll. Salisbury gained eight out of nine potential first-place votes (coaches may not vote for their own team) and totaled 80 points in the voting for the top spot in the preseason poll.
Christopher Newport, which finished second in the regular season and post-season in 2014, secured the other two first-place votes in the preseason poll and finished second with 74 points in the voting.
Long-time CAC women's basketball heavyweights Mary Washington, Marymount and York battled for third place in the poll. UMW and the defending-champion Spartans tied for third, each with 59 points, while Marymount was a close fifth with 54 points.
The preseason poll also features a tough battle for the sixth and final playoff position between St. Mary's (34 points), Penn State Harrisburg (28 points), Wesley (27 points) and Frostburg State (25 points). Southern Virginia, which joins Frostburg State as the only two teams in the CAC with a new coach this season, gained 11 points in the preseason poll.
The season opens Saturday with a variety of non-conference games and pre-season tournaments. The chase for the CAC playoffs begins in early December, and culminates with the title game, with an NCAA Tournament bid awarded to the victor, on February 28, 2015.
Here is a brief look at each team heading into the 2014-15 season:
Ranked No. 18 in the nation by both D3hoops.com and the USA Today DIII Women's Coaches Preseason Poll, CHRISTOPHER NEWPORT will be looking for its third straight trip to the NCAA Tournament in 2014-15. The mountain to climb for a return trip will be steep, as CNU has lost over 2/3 of its scoring from last season, graduating three key starters including All-Conference selections Tia Perry and Nicole Mitchell. Leading the returning group is senior forward Camry Green, who averaged 13.6 points and 8.8 rebounds last season. Junior guard Brandi Holland will be out for the season due to an injury, but classmates Kendra Stone and Jordan Miller back in the fold as returning starters.
FROSTBURG STATE returns five players and four starters in 2014-15 for first year head coach Carrie Saunders. Ronje James enters her final season with Frostburg and has scored 764 points over her previous three seasons. Senior Jasmine Walker returns for her final year after starting all 25 games as junior and pacing the Bobcats with 163 rebounds and 22 blocks. Junior Courtney Young could emerge as one of the team's top scorers after scoring 113 points as a sophomore.
MARY WASHINGTON will look for its sixth CAC Tournament Championship and 10th NCAA Tournament berth this season, led by four seniors in Claire Haeuptle, Caitlin Ciniero, Erin Drmheller and Aubrey Howland. Sophomore center Brianne Comden returns as the team's leading returning scorer from a year ago, with junior Sarah Listenbee also back after a solid sophomore season in the post. The Eagles will look to their trademark defense, which has ranked among the best in the nation for the past 10 years, as a catalyst for success once again.
MARYMOUNT will look to a dynamic pair of veterans – seniors Samantha Kane and Dominique Dickens – to maintain the squad's prowess in the CAC. Dickens returns after taking off her junior season, but will be a strong presence at the guard position for the Blue and White, having notched 123 points and 158 points her sophomore and freshmen seasons, respectively. Kane, along with junior forward Miranda Krott, will bolster the Saints under the basket, as the pair averaged 4.3 and 6.6 rebounds per game, respectively, in the 2013-14 season. Kievanna Lacey rounds out Marymount's key returners, as the everyday starter for the Saints looks to boost her 9.9 points-per-game average from just a year ago.
PENN STATE HARRISBURG enters its 2014-2015 season looking to improve after their first year as a member of the CAC. Harrisburg finished 6-19 overall last season and 1-15 in the CAC. The Lady Lions will be looking to make great strides as they return multiple key players. Kaitlyn Carmo, who was the Lions' leading scorer as a freshman, looks to improve as a sophomore. Carmo was named a team captain alongside other key returners Lucky Snypes and Rachel Moyer. Snypse's energy and Moyers leadership will be a key part in the Lions success. Returning point guard Becca Bailey will look to take the role as floor general for the Lions this season as she will be running the show. Coming off of a very impressive statistical season, returner Kiara Carter will once again be asked to help control the paint for the Lady Lions on both ends of the floor.
ST. MARY'S will be a young squad entering the 2014-15 campaign as this year's Seahawks are comprised of only three upperclassmen. Fourth-year head coach Crystal Gibson welcomes six newcomers that will look to fill the void from the graduation of last year's three top scorers, including All-CAC selection Sophie Pruden '14. Matti Vagnoni is the team's top returner in scoring (7.6 ppg) and three-point shooting (30.9%).
SALISBURY enters the 2014-15 campaign receiving votes in the USA Today coaches' poll, as head coach Kelly Lewandowski starts up her fourth season at the helm of the program. Returning 11 players from last year's roster, Lewandowski looks to her two senior guards in Anna Hackett and Sarah Seipp, both All-Capital Athletic Conference selections last season, to mesh together a team that welcomes in seven freshmen. Also returning to the lineup, averaging 25.4 minutes a game, is senior guard Courtney McManus, shooting 35 percent from behind the arc for her career.
SOUTHERN VIRGINIA features a new coaching staff and an almost entirely new roster. The squad is led by junior center Crystal Cleveland and senior Ann Kuroki, who returns to the program after not participating with the 2013-14 team. Cleveland averaged 8.7 points per game and 27 minutes per outing last season. Sophomore guard Morgan Hartvigsen averaged 7.3 points per game last year and started 19 of the team's 25 games. Dual-sport athletes Tatiana Monsen (soccer) and Shannon Romito (volleyball) will join the team upon completion of their respective sports. Monsen led the team with 9.6 ppg last year while Romito poured in 7.9 ppg. Junior forward Melynda Boren returns after averaging six ppg a year ago. A few new additions include point guard Missy Belliston, posts Shelby Winsor and Tavana Afatasi and wings Shelly Didericksen and Lindee Christensen. The Knights are looking to learn from its inaugural 2013-14 season in the Capital Athletic Conference and outwork their opponents under new leadership.
WESLEY returns four starters including CAC Rookie of the Year Brionna Johnson and should be very much improved from a year ago. Johnson led the conference in rebounding while ranking in the top five in scoring and will be joined by fellow swingman Roniece Williams as well as Tiara White in the post. Adriane Fraser, a transfer from University of Charleston, and JUCO transfer Victoria Hayes, headline the incoming class while freshman Tiyanna Gibbs has been a pleasant surprise in preseason camp.
YORK enters the season with a dramatically different look after graduating the winningest class in school history. The defending Capital Athletic Conference champions will rely on a new cast of players to keep the Spartans in the upper echelon of the conference. Senior Jess Selby is the Spartans' lone returning starter while junior guard Karli McFatridge is another back court player who returns. Senior Shea Wassel and sophomore Sam Hruz are a pair of front court players who will be expected to help shoulder the load in the post. Spartan head coach Betsy Witman welcomes in a talented core of freshman, many of who could see significant playing time as newcomers to the program.
2014-15 CAC Women's Basketball Pre-Season Coaches Poll
|1.||Salisbury (8 first-place votes)||80 points|
|2.||Christopher Newport (2 first-place votes)||74 points|
|3T.||Mary Washington||59 points|
|3T.||York (Pa.)||59 points|
|5.||Marymount (Va.)||53 points|
|6.||St. Mary's (Md.)||34 points|
|7.||Penn State Harrisburg||28 points|
|9.||Frostburg State||25 points|
|10.||Southern Virginia||11 points|