PITTSBURGH — As exciting as the regular season was, Tuesday is the beginning of a wide-open Atlantic 10 Championship week where several teams have an opportunity to earn the automatic conference spot in the NCAA Tournament as well as close out Pittsburgh’s A.J. Palumbo Center.
After each regular season, coaches submit their choices for a variety of awards, although often times most are so consumed with their respective teams that it is impossible to fully look at the conference as a whole and make those selections.
Normally, that is why ballots are filled with players from teams atop the conference just because that is the easy way out. At this juncture, the conference continues to leave it to the coaches and they all vote how they best see fit or perhaps based on how the opposing team or players did when those two particular teams met.
The media does not have an opportunity to vote, so it is only fair make my selections which are based on watching several games from each team, studying numerous box scores, reading countless recaps, listening to hours of raw sound and losing several sleepless nights.
Is there a correct answer? In some cases, these awards are quite clear cut, conversely some are not. I do want to stress that these decisions are solely my opinion and my views do not necessarily reflect the views of those at a10talk.
I try my hardest to keep any biases out of these votes and be as fair as I can. Does that mean all of these choices are correct? Absolutely not. That being said, I try to do my homework and come up with as informed of a decision as possible.
With all of that being said, it is time to reveal my selections.
Player of the Year Nicole Cardano-Hillary George Mason– For me, this one was a no brainer as Cardano-Hillary has exceeded a campaign in which she was named Freshman of the Year leading the conference with 20.4 points per game and 61 steals. This award would mark the second consecutive season George Mason had the player of the year, with Natalie Butler winning the award last year. George Mason is a dangerous team during A-10’s for a variety of reasons, but that starts with Cardano-Hillary, who remember is a sophomore.
Atlantic 10 Freshman of the Year Ciaja Harbison Saint Louis– This was the easiest decision of any. She reached a double-figure point total in 25 of 29 games played including 21 consecutive contests. Harbison is three points away from setting the all-time freshman points record and leads the team in scoring, assists, steals, field goals, free throw percentage, free throws made and field goals made. Harbison was named Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Week on 11 separate occasions and was the first Billiken to earn a USBWA national honor. Harbison is a special talent and if she stays healthy, may be the best player to wear a Saint Louis uniform, which is saying a lot.
Sixth Man of the Year Justine Lyon Davidson- This one was also fairly routine as Lyon played in 28 games and only started one of them. Lyon was regularly the first Wildcat off the bench and made sure opposing teams did not get a break averaging 12.9 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. Lyon could easily have been opposed after starting for much of her Davidson career, but the senior has been a good teammate and the results speak for themselves.
Most Improved Player Libby Bazelak Duquesne– This is where it gets very hard and really so many players could be considered here. Kendall Heremaia from Fordham comes to mind. Elemy Colome from Rhode Island, George Mason’s Camarie Gatling also made the list and Saint Joseph’s Kristalyn Baisden also warranted consideration, but ultimately I decided on Bazelak. Offensively most of those options will beat Bazelak and a lot of this selection comes from things not necessarily tracked on the stats sheet. Bazelak makes so many deflections is disruptive and so much of the offense goes through her. Bazelak does not make many mistakes and opponents tend to underestimate her but by game’s end are struggling to catch up. Offensively, Bazelak has become more aggressive and confident in herself and has become a good rebounder for a guard, so her all-around performance earned this selection. For those of you who think this is a Duquesne bias, it is not in fact covering Duquesne, it is almost harder for a Dukes player to make this list as evidenced by Chassidy Omogrosso being the lone Duquesne player I voted in to make an all-conference team last year, which I placed her on the third team.
Coach of the Year Beth O’Boyle VCU– Another very difficult choice for me and four coaches really earned consideration here. I easily could have given Gayle Coats Fulks the honor for a second consecutive year and perhaps that is holding me back, but she has done so much in such a short time with that Davidson team and it is very impressive. Stephanie Gaitley from Fordham really could be here every year and for a second consecutive season she unexpectedly lost a key piece that factored into the team’s plans and not because of graduation but overseas opportunities. All Gaitley did was guide her team to sharing a regular season conference title. and Fordham enters A-10’s with a nine-game winning streak. Lisa Stone from Saint Louis did a fantastic job this season especially when so many underestimated her program after Jackie Kemph graduated. Stone recruited a tremendous class and has more talent coming. This was expected by some to be a rebuilding year for them and instead Saint Louis is one of the top teams in the conference and has a legitimate chance to see some confetti. Still it is hard to deny O’Boyle and a VCU team which went from seven overall wins to 21. VCU shared the regular season conference title with Fordham. At last season’s media day, O’Boyle said that at times she wanted to rip her hair out, but that the process had to be one where she was patient. A year later, her team has bought in and has played defense. VCU has also been in several close games and has won just about all of them which bodes well. Really all of these coaches have done exceptional jobs and usually I do not give the top team’s coach the nod, in fact I still think my DM’s are loaded with upset Dayton fans from last season, but it is hard to deny the turnaround VCU has made this season.
Atlantic 10 All-Conference First Team (no particular order)
Nicole Cardano-Hillary George Mason– The player of the year of course makes the first team and I certainly expect the coaches to vote the same way.
Ciaja Harbison Saint Louis– Harbison has been so dominant on such a consistent basis, that it is hard to deny her a first team spot. She scores, she defends and she refuses to take plays off. Saint Louis wants the ball in her hands at game’s end and it certainly does not hurt that she is an 84.7% free throw shooter either.
Bre Cavanaugh Fordham– Cavanaugh logged 1,143 minutes on the season which ranks second in the conference as were her 38.1 minutes per game. Cavanaugh has scored in double figures for the last seven games including 26 points in the regular-season finale against Saint Joseph’s which helped Fordham clinch its first ever regular season conference title, albeit shared with VCU. Cavanaugh scored 502 points on the season and 16.7 per game which also rank second. Cavanaugh also is a 79% free throw shooter. She is a talented player who will become an upperclassman next year and it is reasonable to expect her numbers to continue growing.
Sarah Donovan Davidson- Donovan was a potential player of the year candidate and has 11 double-doubles on the season. She has reached double figures in each of the last eight games and leads the Atlantic 10 with 109 offensive rebounds. She also has made 157 field goals (third) and shoots 44.6% from the field. Her 9.1 rebounds per game rank atop the conference and her 378 total points rank eighth. Davidson employs a modern style of post play, a face-up kind of ability where Donovan can use her guard skills to succeed in the post, which is what she has done.
Mary Goulding Fordham– Fordham coach Stephanie Gaitley knew this potential was there, in fact prior to last season, she saw the improvement in Goulding but there was an offseason injury. This year it has been full speed ahead. Goulding averages 12.1 points per game and shoots 47.3% from the field. Her offensive rebounding ability also has been a huge key to Fordham’s success as she has 95 of those, good for second in the conference and her 244 total rebounds rank third. Goulding also has 85 assists as a post player and has made 31 three-point shots, both of which show versatility. Goulding earned this position over Dayton’s Jayla Scaife by the narrowest of margins, with the versatility playing a role. Additionally against Dayton, Goulding had 24 points and 12 rebounds in the second meeting, bouncing back from a seven-point, six-rebound performance earlier in the season.
Atlantic 10 All-Conference Second Team (no particular order)
Jordyn Frantz Saint Louis- Frantz was one of two leaders on this Saint Louis team and Kerri McMahan’s job this season should also be commended. Frantz has become more of a weapon from inside the three-point arc this season. Frantz has played complete 40-minute games on multiple occasions and yes she has made a conference-high 76 three-point shots this season, but her willingness to drive and her 111 defensive rebounds have been crucial for this Saint Louis team. Frantz also has scored 14.7 points a game this season, but in conference play, that averaged improved to 16.3, which ranks third in the A-10.
Tera Reed VCU- VCU is an interesting team in that on both sides of the ball, the contributions are extremely wide spread. Reed leads the team with 12.3 points per game and coach Beth O’Boyle admits that VCU is a different squad with her there after she missed a few games with injury. Reed has made 102 free throws which ranks fourth and she shoots 82.3% from the line. Reed’s contributions go beyond the box score and are more schematically.
Justine Lyon Davidson- We already talked about Lyon earlier but in addition to her scoring, she ranks eighth in the conference with 46 steals and her 32 steals in A-10 play ranks second. Though Lyon averages 12.9 points a game, if that were rounded to a full 40 minutes, she would have 20.5 points which ranks third in the conference. It is clear that on the court, Lyon plays fearlessly and that attitude has become contagious.
Katie Turner Davidson- Turner is really good and honestly, she does not get the respect in the conference that she deserves. Yes this is all from the idiot that put her on the second team. After a solid freshman season, Turner upped her assist total from 107 to 126, while decreasing her turnovers from 94 to 59. Her 126 assists rank second in the conference, while the 2:1 assist-turnover ratio ranks first. Turner is also an 82% free throw shooter and her scoring average is 12.5 per game, up 1.1 from a season ago.
Jayla Scaife Dayton- As previously mentioned, Scaife just missed being on the first team, though she has scored in double figures in the team’s last seven games. Scaife ranks sixth in the conference in three-point percentage, seventh with 142 made field goals and averages 7.6 rebounds per game. Scaife averages 15.1 points per game for Dayton which ranks her fourth in the conference and when opponents scout Dayton, normally they start with trying to contain the senior guard.
Atlantic 10 All-Conference Third Team (no particular order)
Lauren Cannatelli Dayton- Cannatelli averaged 13.4 points per game this season, which ranks eighth in the conference. Cannatelli ranks first with a 90.2% free throw mark and her 119 makes rank second. Cannatelli has not missed more than two free throws in a contest this season and was 22-for-22 against Saint Joseph’s. Cannatelli is known for making three-point shots and she has drained 55 to date. Cannatelli was named freshman of the year, three seasons ago and has been a fairly consistent player at Dayton, though her numbers have seen increases.
Alyssa Monaghan Saint Joseph’s- To say Monaghan has been the leader of this Saint Joseph’s team, would be a massive understatement. This team has at times gone as far as Monaghan will take them. Still Saint Joseph’s enters A-10’s winners of three of its last four games. Monaghan averages 36.9 minutes per game which ranks third in the conference and her 39.1% three-point percentage places her second. She also has made 84.5% of her free throws, which works out to 98 total makes, which puts her fourth and fifth respectively. Monaghan also recorded 92 assists on the season.
Hailey Leidel UMass- Leidel has been a leader for UMass since stepping foot on campus, but her rebounding has been crucial and her 159 defensive rebounds place her third in the conference. Not to be outdone, she has 57 offensive rebounds, good for ninth. That gives her a 216 rebounding total, finishing sixth in the regular season in that statistic. Leidel also scored 12.4 points per game, made 60 three-point shots and ranks second in the A-10 with an 85.5% free throw clip.
Kadri-Ann Lass Duquesne- Lass came into the season potential WNBA lottery buzz, but had an up-and-down season, though she consistently started because she can score, set up teammates and block shots. Lass did average 11.4 points, shot 43.8% from the field and her 141 defensive rebounds rank ninth in the conference. Lass is a presence that teams have to plan for and her 62 blocks rank first in the conference.
Jacy Bolton George Mason- Bolton was also up for most improved player as despite being a fixture in the starting lineup, has been counted on to have more of an all-around game. Bolton played 1,040 minutes this season which ranks fourth in the A-10 and has been a force with rebound, steals, blocks and shot at a 42.9% clip from the field this season.
Atlantic 10 All-Defensive Team (no particular order)
*There was a tie for the final spot, so there are six players on the all-defensive team
Brooke Flowers Saint Louis- Flowers grabs rebounds at a healthy 8.0 a game rate, which as a freshman, is fourth in the conference. Her production increased as she saw a starting role in A-10 play ranking second in both offensive rebounds (55) and defensive rebounds (117), with that cumulative production placing first. Flowers also had 44 blocks over the past two months which ranks first.
Mei-Lyn Bautista GW- Bautista is probably the most vocal player in the conference and is a coach on the court. Even when she does sit she is barking out instructions on both sides of the ball. Bautista recorded 55 steals on the season which rank her third and 32 of them during conference play were enough to earn second during that stretch.
Libby Bazelak Duquesne- Bazelak is not the most vocal defender on the floor, but she does not miss many assignments and her 59 steals rank second in the conference. She understands her defensive positioning and her attention to detail was why during late off-season practice time, Duquesne coach Dan Burt named her starter on a successful team which was returning all but one player. Bazelak finishes plays and was the most consistent Duquesne player, arguably its best as well.
Sarah Donovan Davidson- Her rebounding process, which was explained above was a big reason for this nod and even despite a solid freshman campaign, she got to start for the first time this season after Mackenzie Latt’s graduation and really her winning most improved player this season is certainly a possibility, which is the ultimate compliment, especially given how vital she was off the bench.
Kadri-Ann Lass Duquesne- Lass’s blocks get her here narrowly over La Salle’s Shalina Miller. Lass has three seasons with at least 60 blocks and set the program record in her junior year. Lass was more of a guard overseas, but transformed her body to become a successful post. A successful professional career is certainly a possibility with her confidence present and shot-blocking ability.
Jacy Bolton George Mason- As mentioned above, Bolton’s defensive prowess extends to several different statistics. Her 131 defensive A-10 rebounds and 211 overall rank first in the conference and her 257 overall rebounds place second. Bolton also recorded 33 blocks placing her seventh and 46 steals which stack up eighth in the conference.
Atlantic 10 All-Rookie Team (no particular order)
Ciaja Harbison Saint Louis- Simply put, the rookie of the year, deserved this spot and a lot of it is covered above. She just is able to do about everything. There are not many weaknesses in her game. Coaches will pull all-nighters trying to limit her production.
Brooke Flowers Saint Louis- She reminds me a lot of Jonquel Jones and she will only gain confidence. She is able to score and when she misses her shots can follow up her misses. Also she is very disruptive on the defensive end and a prolific shot blocker at 61 swats on the season. If this growth continues she has the potential to be a matchup nightmare and one of, if not the best post player in the conference.
Asianae Johnson St. Bonaventure- Johnson averaged 9.8 points per game and shot 41% from the field. Additionally as a freshman, she started all 29 of St. Bonaventure’s games and made 76 free throws.
Deja Francis St. Bonaventure- Francis scored 9.7 points per game and made 70.5% of her free throws. She added 99 assists, good for fourth in the conference. Francis also scored 20 points twice, once coming against non-conference opponent Sienna and a second time nearly a month later in a home contest against Duquesne.
Destiny Philoxy UMass– Outside of Justine Lyon, Philoxy may have been the most effective sixth player. She scored 10.1 points per game and shot 48% from the field. Philoxy made 71 free throws, recorded 81 assists and has reached double figures in five of her last six games.
Photo credit: Mitchell Layton/Atlantic 10 Conference