Pittsburgh, PA — With the addition of Atlantic 10 women’s basketball to our A10talk.com coverage, it is time to look ahead to the beginning of non-conference play, which tips off Nov. 10.
The following is a preseason look at the conference from my vantage point. This is a poll based on last season, some observations from media day and projections. Of course these will change throughout the season.
- Dayton– It is hard to take Dayton off of the top spot. Yes, starters are gone from last year’s team, but it does not matter. Dayton is atop this list because it minimizes the lows and just enjoys and believes in what it is doing. Jenna Burdette is a steady force and quietly leads this team. Alex Harris showed teams what she will do this season, and the team as a whole is aware of its roles. There is a trust and belief that has been built since coach Shauna Green was hired to lead this team.
- Duquesne– Duquesne is ready to play. Right now. The offense appears ready to go and the team is prepared to move on from a season which was tiring for everyone involved. Sophomore Nina Aho will miss the season due to injury and she was prepared to embrace a potential starting role but this team is determined to erase what was a disappointing season considering what the Dukes have built. The team’s back court of Chassidy Omogrosso, Conor Richardson and Julijana Vojinovic may be the best in the conference and Kadri-Ann Lass leads several post options that can and will receive playing time. If the defense can improve on a consistent basis, then Duquesne will be dangerous.
- Saint Joseph’s– Comfort may be the best word to describe this Saint Joseph’s team. This is a team that knows each other very well. Just two players are lost from last year’s tea with Jaryn Garner the only one to play significant minutes. Saint Joseph’s had a challenging non-conference season last year but the familiarity and continuity could give this team an advantage come January. Coach Cindy Griffin gets the most out of her student-athletes and the expectations for this team are rightfully high.
- Saint Louis– Saint Louis is similar to Duquesne in some respects that the question mark is in the post play following Sadie Stipanovich’s graduation. The post play will provide plenty of depth and this is a hungry Saint Louis team that has the pieces to win the A-10 and earn a long awaited trip to the NCAA Tournament. Jackie Kemph is the best guard in this conference if you ask me. Lisa Stone does a fantastic job with this team and has forced other teams in the A-10 to take notice of her Billikens. Really any of the teams 1-4 could win this conference
- Fordham– This is where the gray area begins and I will follow the Atlantic 10 coaches and place Fordham here for now. G’mrice Davis may not be a household name, but she may be if she repeats or surpasses what she did last season. Davis could follow in Jonquel Jones’s footsteps and be a WNBA draft pick, she is that talented. She will have to be with a team that has nine freshmen. Also important will be Mary Goulding who has been dealing with a shorter term injury. I also expect Lauren Holden’s leadership to be quite important. The freshmen will have to play often and that is where the unknown comes in since freshmen playing in this league can have a tough time adjusting. It is a challenge with a couple of unexpected departures, but Stephanie Gaitley will have this team ready to compete.
- George Washington– It was expected that guard play would be a weakness last season with GW but that was not the case as Mei-Lyn Bautista’s on-court leadership complimented Camila Tapias who could score, sometimes at will in a bench role. Kendall Bresee will have an increased role this season and Brianna Cummings will continue to excel on both sides of the ball. Kelli Prange will lead the post options and continued to improve on the defensive end. Olivia Gumbs would be an interesting addition transferring from Lafayette and her style of play could be a great fit, that is if she is eligible to play. Last year was a learning year in some respects for coach Jennifer Rizzotti and now it should be interesting to see how she coaches this season’s GW team.
- George Mason– If there is one thing George Mason has done under coach Nyla Milleson it has been continue to keep the program trending upwards. This year will continue that trend. The preseason poll showed that people are starting to notice the hard work. George Mason now has a new practice gym which shows a faith in both the men’s and women’s teams. It was not too long ago that George Mason could not even complete practices. George Mason has a good core group of players returning including Jacy Bolton and Taylor Dodson in addition to welcoming Natalie Butler as a grad transfer. This team could be very dangerous and will surprise teams.
- La Salle– La Salle surprised a lot of teams last year and I do not think enough people in this conference respect Amy Griffin enough. I do not think La Salle will surprise anyone this year and that will be a big adjustment. Four of the top five scorers return from last season’s 17-13 team which won its first round Atlantic 10 Championship game. If La Salle wants to move up in the conference it will limit mistakes. Last season the Explorers had 390 assists but committed 477 turnovers. Just two players from last year’s team had a positive assist-turnover ratio.
- Richmond– The big change this season is that the offense will be playing at a quicker pace. This is something that the entire team had not fully bought into as of a couple of weeks ago but if this can be implemented with success then Richmond could surprise some teams. Richmond returns five of its top seven scorers from last season including Micaela Parson who along with Kylie Murphree represent 67% of last season’s assist total. Jaide Hinds-Clarke is probably the person that most intrigues me on this roster.
- UMass– This is a team which is on the rise, something which the conference as a whole has started to recognize. Now there are scoring options so Hailey Leidel and Maggie Mulligan will not have to play full games and will not have to contend with as many double teams. After scoring just 57 points per game last season, UMass has more offensive options with freshman Bre Hampton-Bey likely getting a starting nod. This may not be the year UMass completely turns it around but the perception has changed and the proper pieces are in place.
- VCU– It is bizarre seeing VCU this far down the list but the team lost a lot of pieces. Coach Beth O’Boyle admits that the off-season has resulted in some hair pulling moments and that is to be expected with what was lost. There will be a pace change this year on the offensive end to accommodate what is on the team but this may end up being a learning experience. If VCU can maintain its great offensive rebounding capabilities, then it may surprise some teams. There is a lot of unknown here and maybe that could be a good thing.
- St. Bonaventure– The guard play is certainly there, but the post play is a question mark on a team which certainly had a learning year last season. The exhibition game this past Saturday provided a scare as Abigail Johnson appeared to faint during a stoppage of play and her health certainly is of concern to an already short-handed St. Bonaventure team. Coach Jesse Fleming admitted to feeling overly critical of his players at times this season and hopes a more positive approach will benefit Bona. This team likely will be going smaller in the post meaning quicker ball rotations and a hope that athleticism and maybe a few extra whistles will help.
- Rhode Island– It is no secret that Coach Daynia La-Force was embarrassed by how last season went. Charise Wilson, the team’s statistical best player, was injured on and off throughout the campaign and the team had to grow quite a bit. Now with that maturity and familiarity, La-Force has much bigger expectations, especially with spots 5-12 in the conference truly up for grabs. The returning Dina Motrechuk and Nicole Jorgensen also will excite as this motivated team takes to the court.
- Davidson– It can be tough to buy in when a new coach comes in but Gayle Coats Fulks has the team believe in three simple words. Share. Shoot. Stifle. That mentally showed some signs of being fulfilled in a recent exhibition. The rebounding numbers were very encouraging, though the turnovers will definitely need to be lowered. As many Atlantic 10 fans are aware Mackenzie Latt and Justine Lyon return but freshman Sarah Donovan’s play was very encouraging during the exhibition win. I am interested to see how this Davidson team fares, personally this ranking is here preseason, but I do not feel this will be a proper reflection by season’s end.