1. St. Thomas. I've already written about the Tommies and their "embarrassment of riches." 22-0 is not out of the question.
2. Gustavus. No stranger to the upper reaches of the MIAC, the Gusties slumped (for them) to 4th place and 15-7 last year, though they did push the Tommies down to the wire before losing in the MIAC play-off semis 50-48. Now, senior guards Molly Geske (Cretin) and Colleen Ruane (Benilde) will match up favorably with any guards in the conference, and sophomore guard Julia Dysthe (White Bear Lake) figures to have a breakout year. The front line is also not bad with junior Abby Rothenbuhler (Mankato West) ready to step in for the graduated Molly Mathiowetz, and Eli Benz and Kelsey Florian (Roseville) also returning. And coach Mickey Haller, 206-87 in 12 years, knows what to do.
3. St. Olaf. The long-suffering Oles have won but 1 MIAC title ever, and that a 3-way tie way back in 1983. Now coach Dave Stromme has them poised to contend with one of the league's better inside-outside combinations. That would be 5-7 junior guard Mackenzie Wolter (Norwood-Young America) and 6-2 sophomore post Elise Raney (Eagan). Wolter scored 13 points per game last year with 3 assists, while Raney scored 8 with 7 boards and 3 blocks plus a 50 percent shooting percentage. Another 21 ppg are also back in the persons of Erin Haglund (Hastings), Kirstee Rotty (Farmington), Eileen O'Donoghue and Brittany Webber (Lion's Gate).
4. Concordia. The Cobbers lost seniors Erica Nord, Maggie Baurnfiend, Brittany Jossert and Lindsay Schultz from last year's MIAC playoff champions, but the cupboard is far from bare. Remember the name Alexandra Lippert, who may just be the best play in the MIAC already as a sophomore. The 6-4 post from Willmar scored 9.5 points with 7 boards and 4 blocks as a freshman last year. And Tricia Sorenson and Emily Thesing (Brainerd) each scored 7 points off the bench.
5. Bethel. Bethel is another one with limited success over the years (1 title in 1994), but under coach John Herbrechtsmeyer there has been slow but steady progress. (The Royals were 17-70 in the 4 years prior to Herbrechtsmeyer's arrival, 79-93 since.) Now with post Scotti Moats (Waconia) and guard Taylor Sheley (Pine River-Backus), they'll have another of those great inside-outside combinations. The 2 combined for 28 ppg a year ago. Unfortunately, there wasn't a lot of help last year and depth will not be a strong suit in the coming year.
6. St. Ben's. I'm not sure the Bennies' talent is even this good but I can't bring myself to slot the perennially powerful Blazers any lower than this. Still, 2011 was a disappointment with post Heather Gillund and forward Amy Stifter, not to mention Joelle Waytashek, Abby Richardson, Laura Canton and Devin Bowlin all in their senior years. Now, with all of those gone, it will be up to Whitney Canton (Pine Island), Morgan Dale and Jamie Wollin (Litchfield), who among them scored just 14 ppg last year. Still, both Dale and Wollin shot 48 percent and 46-47 on 3s. So there is hope. Presumably there's also a large freshman class coming in, though I don't have those names at this point in time.
7. Carleton. Tammy Metcalf-Filzen led Carleton to a 226-122 record over 8 years, but with her departure the Knights are 11-36 over the past 2 years. But coach Cassie Kashiba is in the process of making this her team, and with a new identity may come a few more wins. Junior forward-guard Akemi Arzouman leads the way with 14.5 ppg and 5 boards with 40 percent shooting. Sophomore center-forward Emma Purfeerst is also a good one with 9 points and 8 boards on 53 percent shooting as a freshman. Sophomore point guard Jenny Ramey (New Life) also returns with her 8 ppg and 4 assists.
8. Hamline. In her 2nd year as Hamline coach, Kerri Stockwell is now transitioning from inherited players to women whom she has recruited. She's still got 2 inherited guards in Stephanie Robinson and Kara Poirer. Also back is guard Je'Naya Brown, while 6-2 sophomore post Veronkia Jakubovie (Maple Grove) is also expected to contribute. Beyond that, everybody is new and unknown. 8th place would be a good showing, but the cellar is not impossible. Hamline is almost a blank slate now. We'll just have to wait and see.
9. St. Kate's. Okay, it's St. Catherine's and it's St. Kate's. I got it now. And like Hamline the Kate's will have an all-new look. Laura Kalbfell, Sonja Ellingson and others are gone. Megan Zillmer, Kristen Lee and others return. But 13 freshmen will tell the tale over the next 2 to 3 years if not right away. 9 of them are from Arizona, California, Nevada and Texas, and like Sgt. Schultz "I know nothing" about any of them. But 3 are Minnesotans, and among those Sarina Baker (Minnehaha, formerly DeLaSalle) has the potential to make this her team. Again, maybe not this year--.500 would be terrific this year, along with sorting out all the bodies and figuring out who can play. But there's gotta be a couple more who can play among 13 freshmen, so the future looks bright. Having a proven coach like Gary Rufsvold doesn't hurt, though last year's 5-17 MIAC record was a deep disappointment. Surely this group is gonna be better, someday.
10. Macalester. This feels like I'm underestimating the Scots, especially with coach Ellen Thompson in the lead. She has proven herself to be one of the better coaches in the MIAC, and that is saying something. There is a lot of coaching talent in this conference. But the Scots have lost a bundle of talent over the past 2 year, adding post Majra Mucic to that great class of 2010. Remaining are 3 pretty good guards in twin sisters Jessica and Shannon Rene (18 points between them but just 33 percent shooting), guard Kayana Jones (also just a 32 percent shooter) and 6-0 senior forward Holly Schiedemayer. But this is a small group and not great in the shooting category. Thompson's got her work cut out for her.
11. St. Mary's. Coach Mandy Pearson is 24-76 in 5 years and the talent level may have taken a step backwards this year. Starters Jessica Thone (5-8 junior guard from Woodbury) and Brittany Begrowicz (5-9 senior forward) combined for just 13 points per game last year plus 10 boards. Begrowicz shot 41 percent, Thone just 28. She'll get better, she was a fine shooter in high school. Jamie Stefely came off the bench last year but will be counted on for a lot more this time. The good news is she shot 54 percent last year, so she is probably the main hope for some improvement for the Cardinals.
12. Augsburg. The Auggies will be back with a terrific new/old coach Bill McKee (new to Augsburg, but St. Thomas University [assistant], Cretin, Blaine, Anoka-Ramsey and Mounds View over the last 26 years; in his final year at Cretin, he was 29-2; at Blaine 25-4; at Mounds View the girls were 16-36 the 2 years prior to his arrival, 62-18 in his 3 years at the helm). But not in 2012. The Auggies will be building around guard Serenae Levine (5-5 senior guard from Eden Prairie) who led the team with 10 points, 7 boards and 4 assists, but shot 35 percent. Also returning are Brittany Dyshaw (6-0 junior post, Eagan) and Tracee Schrank (5-6 junior guard) who shot 36 and 28 percent, respectively.
Look for the home teams, St. Olaf and Concordia, to survive the 1st round but not the 2nd, as St. Olaf will surprise Gustavus. #1 St. Thomas will preserve some semblance of order by beating Concordia and then St. Olaf at home in the semi and final games.
C- Maggie Weiers, St. Thomas, soph.
Alexandra Lippert, Concordia, soph.
F- Taylor Young, St. Thomas, soph., MVP
G- Molly Geske, Gustavus, sr.
Mackenzie Wolter, St. Olaf, jr.
C- Scotti Moats, Bethel, jr.
F- Sarah Smith, St. Thomas, sr.
Akemi Arzouman, Carleton, jr.
G- Jessica Rene, Macalester, sr.
Taylor Sheley, Bethel, sr.
C- Elise Raney, St. Olaf, soph.
F- Abby Rothenbuhler, Gustavus, jr.
Emma Purfeerst, Carleton, soph.
G- Julia Dysthe, Gustavus, soph.
Jessica Thone, St. Mary's, jr.