Friday, October 26, 2012

Tommies Look to Repeat As MIAC Champs, National Contender

The MIAC women's basketball season will have some new and surprising looks, but at the very top of the heap, well, there will be a strong air of familiarity there. The St. Thomas women under head coach Ruth Sinn should dominate as much as last year, and will be looking not only for a repeat MIAC title but a return trip to the NCAA D3 Final Four. It's doable for the multi-talented Tommies.

Another familiar face, Concordia (Moorhead), will again be strong and right now look like a 2nd place team. After that, perennial powers Gustavus and St. Ben's look to be a bit down, while perennial not-powers St. Mary's and St. Olaf will be in contention for 3rd place. Hamline and Carleton also should be much improved.

1. St. Thomas (22-0 a year ago). Coach Sinn again enjoys an embarrassment of riches, starting with all-conference sophomores (a year ago, now juniors) Taylor Young and Maggie Weiers. The two bring back 25 ppg between then, while Young also contributed 3 assists and 2 steals. Weiers added 7 boards.

Most teams that lost Ali Johnson and Sara Smith and another 17 points and 11 boards between 'em might be hurting a bit. But Coach Sinn has Anna Smith, Kelly Brandenburg (11 points and 5 boards) ready to step in. There will be no let-downs at those positions.

22-0 is always a bit much to hope or to plan for. Let's say the Tommies got 20-2 this year. That will still be plenty good to repeat in the MIAC. The post-season is always dicey, especially with the powerful Wisconsin IAC in the same region. But this is again a team with national possibilities.

2. Concordia (15-7, 3rd place a year ago). 15-7 and 3rd place felt like a slump in Moorhead and in fact the Cobbers under coach extraordinaire Jessica Beachy Rahman should improve on that in 2012-2013. 6-4 post Alexandra Lippert, 5-11 forward Tricia Sorenson, and guards Emily Thesing and Erika Jossart represent a lot of firepower, as in almost 40 points and 20 rebounds per game. Lippert is also a shot-blocker, and Thesing and Jossart among the league's steadiest ball-handlers. In most years, this lineup would be favored in the MIAC, but this isn't most years.

3. St. Mary's (13-9). The long-suffering Cardinals have made immense strides under coach Mandy Pearson. Courtney Eurele and Jamie Stefely give the Cards an edge inside against most MIAC opponents, and guard Jessie Thone takes care of the perimeter. The 3 combined for 35 points last year, plus 18 boards, and Thone led the MIAC with 5 assists per game.

4 (tie). Carleton (2-20) and St. Olaf (14-8). Carleton has gotten much the better of it down in Northfield the past decade or so but last year, not so much.

It is hard to imagine how Carleton managed to lose 20 games last year with this roster. 5-11 senior forward-guard Akemi Arzouman scored 15 points with 5.5 rebounds. 5-6 junior point guard Jenny Ramey scored 11 with 4 assists and 2 steals. 5-9 soph guard Sylar Tsutsui scored 13 and shot 35 percent from 3-point range. Megan Meads added 6.5 boards. A lack of depth hurt, and Arzouman, Ramey and Tsutsui were all among the league's top 5 in minutes played with 34 apiece. Maybe they ran out of gas late in some games. Hopefully coach Cassie Kosiba can get her starters a little more rest this year. A big improvement should come.

St. Olaf is led by senior guards Mackenzie Wolter and Kirstee Rotty who combined for 22 points a year ago. Rotty added 5.5 boards, Wolter 3 assists and 2 steals. They should at least match last year's record as the inside is not too shabby either with 6-2 Elise Raney and 6-2 Nikki Frogner ready to go. The W-L record may not be a lot better, but I think this team will be.

6. Gustavus (17-5). The perennially powerful Gusties are suddenly rebuilding after losing guards Molly Geske and Colleen Ruane and coach Mickey Haller. New coach Laurie Kelly has front-liners Abby Rothenbuhler, Eli Benz and Kelsey Florian back, and they'll give Gustavus an edge against a lot of people. The 6-2 Rothenbuhler is especially for real. Steph Comer and Julia Dysthe will have to replace Geske and Ruane, and that's a tall order.

7. St. Ben's (10-12). Coach Mike Durbin and the Blazers endured in his sub-.500 season is god only knows. I'm picking them 6th on the strength of tradition more than anything because, frankly, he roster still seems a little thin. But with Emily and Maddie Lueck from Pequot Lakes joining returnees Whitney Canton, Brianna Barrett and Itisha Alexander, there's some firepower here. Alexander, now a junior, was an incredibly creative high school point guard. I have to believe she's still got a lot of upside at this level.

8. Hamline (6-16). The Pipers have 4 experienced players back who scored 46 points among 'em a year ago. Unfortunately, they're all guards and not one of them is bigger than 5-8. Sophomore Jordan Sammons is far and away the best of the group, you can expect great things from her. But unless a front court player or two emerges, the upside has a pretty solid cap on it.

9. Augsburg (11-11). If Hamline had Augsburg's front line of Brittany Zins and Brittany Dyshaw the sky would be the limit. Unfortuantely, at Augsburg, there's not much in the way of guards to keep defenses loose and get 'em the ball.

10. Bethel (12-10). Lost the MIAC Player of the Year in Taylor Sheley and that is a huge loss. A huge freshman class is on board, but who exactly will emerge remains to be seen.

11 (tie). Macalester (10-12) and St. Kate's (0-22). Macalester begins rebuilding now, St. Kate's moves into year 2 of a major rebuilding.

Pre-Season All-Conference

C- Maggie Weiers, St. Thomas
F- Tricia Sorenson, Concordia
F- Taylor Young, St. Thomas, Player of the Year
G- Jessie Thone, St. Mary's
G- Jordan Sammons, Hamline

2nd Team

C- Alexandra Lippert, Concordia
F- Jamie Stefely, St. Mary's
F- Akemi Arzouman, Carleton
G- Mackenzie Wolter, St. Olaf
G- Kelly Brandenburg, St. Thomas

3rd Team

C- Courtney Eurele, St. Mary's
F- Brittany Zins, Augsburg
F- Sarina Baker, St. Kate's
G- Tish Alexander, St. Ben's
G- Emily Thesing, Concordia

Coach of the Year

Mandy Pearso0n, S. Mary's

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