The MIAC second season is setting up around the question, Can anybody challenge St. Thomas? The Tommies are 5-0 and tied for 1st place, which is where the coaches picked Ruth Sinn's crew to be in its pre-season polling.
And the best answer one can give at this stage is, It seems unlikely, given the following embarrassment of riches.
Center--Maggie Weiers, 6-1 sophomore, 13 ppg, 51 FG%, 5 boards, 2 assists, a block, a steal, 24 minutes
Forward--Sara Smith, 6-0 senior, 11 ppg, 65 FG%, 8 boards, 2 assists, a block and a steal in 33 minutes
Forward--Taylor Young, 5-11 soph, 12 ppg, 42 FG%, 4 boards, 2 assists, a block, a steal, 28 minutes
Guard--Ali Johnson, 5-11, senior, 8 ppg, 50 FG%, 43 3-pt FG%, 3 boards, 2 assists, 24 minutes
Guard--5-6 sr Carolyn Dienhart, sr Haley Loesch and 5-5 jr Kelli Ring have split the 5th starting spot
Off the bench coach Sinn can call on 5-9 sophomore guard Kelly Brandenburg, who is scoring 7 ppg on 50 FG%, with 3 boards and a team-leading 3 assists. And freshman 6-0 Anna Smith is scoring 3 ppg on 57 FG%. Meanwhile, 5-9 freshman guard Jenna Dockter will be back from injury shortly.
Add it all up and St. Thomas is out-scoring its opponents 69-54 and out-shooting them 49 percent to 39. The only issue would appear to be the offensive boards where the Tommies get 9 and give 9. And I'm sure coach would like to see fewer than 16 turnovers per game, 3.5 of them from Young.
Still, this has the look of the best MIAC women's team since the heyday of the Tommies under Ted Riverso and of St. Ben's, when one or the other or both would get deep into the D3 playoffs most every year. Has it really been a decade since then? Well, happy days are here again, perhaps.
And yet, I don't mean to dampen Bethel's title hopes. Hey, they're unbeaten in MIAC play, too. What's most remarkable is that coach John Herbrechtsmayer's squad has done it without post Scotti Moats, who has chosen not to return for her senior season. Unlike St. Thomas, this is now a tent-pole team, senior guard Taylor Sheley being the one who keeps the Royals' tent all the way up. She is scoring 19.5 ppg with 4.5 steals while making almost 50 percent of her 3-point attempts. She is without question the MIAC's MVP so far this year, and Herbie its coach of the year for the "first season."
Bethel is out-scoring its opponents 62-56, out-shooting them just 41 percent to 38 and is getting out-rebounded so far. It's hard to see Sheley and company competing for 40 minutes with a 10-deep St. Thomas team. We'll find out on Monday evening, January 16, at Bethel.
Behind Bethel and St. Thomas (5-0) are Concordia, Gustavus and St. Olaf at 4-1. Concordia and Gustavus boast nice balance and depth, while guard Mackenzie Wolter is St. Olaf's obvious leader and go-to player. No other MIAC team is better than 2-3.
Reversal of Fortune
For Augsburg's under new coach Billy McKee, 2-3 represents an amazing improvement over recent years. Meanwhile, 2-3 represents for St. Ben's under super coach Mike Durbin a shocking decline. The Auggies have already beaten the Bennies for the 1st time in Durbin's 26 years on the job, though it's true that Augsburg has now lost 3 straight after opening with a pair of shocking upset wins. St. Ben's, meanwhile, has won 2 straight after losing 2 out of 3. A surprising 81-64 win at Gustavus would suggest that the ship has been righted.
Along with Sheley and Sara Smith, the "first season" MIAC all-stars would probably include 6-4 post Alexandra Lippert of Concordia (13 ppg, 10 rebounds, 5 blocks), guard Jenny Ramey of Carleton (14 points, 10 assists) and perhaps Serenae Levine of Augsburg (10 boards, 5 assists).
Freshmen Sarina Baker of St. Kate's and Jordan Sammons of Hamline are next (behind Sheley) in scoring at 18 and 15 ppg.