Welcome to A10 Talk’s Women’s Basketball season preview series! Over the next two weeks, three great writers (Daniel Frank, Zachary Weiss and Nathan Strauss) will be bringing you exclusive stories from around Atlantic 10 Women’s Basketball, featuring exclusive interviews with players and coaches from every team in the A-10. Today we turn to Fordham!
Arguably one of the most consistent programs in the A10 in the last five years, Fordham are positioned to make a deep postseason run. With the strongest non-conference schedule in the league and returning three all-conference players, including the 2020-21 co-player of the year, Fordham are poised to contend.
Last season ended in disappointment for the Rams, largely due to matters outside of their control. Covid issues led to the cancellation of their last five conference games, and despite picking up one final game against GW, the Rams looked like a team that had not played in some time when they retook the court. After falling to UMass in the conference tournament, Fordham was swept by Delaware and Ohio in the WNIT. “We had won five straight and were playing really well [before the cancellations], and we never got back in the swing of things,” said head coach Stephanie Gaitley, “It was certainly a setback, but we just have to learn from it and move on.”
Indeed, Fordham were 11-3 prior to their Covid pause, with their only conference losses coming at UMass and at home vs Davidson. The Rams, traditionally a strong home court team, went 7-1 when playing at Rose Hill. All of this goes to show that even in a year with a litany of things that went wrong, the Rams still qualified for the national postseason for a fifth time in Gaitley’s reign.
Expectations are high in the Bronx. “I’ve had three teams in my career that have been at-large teams, and…this is a team that I feel is an NCAA team. There’s been no team in the last five years picked as an at-large if you haven’t won a top-50 game,” notes Gaitley. To that end, Fordham have one of the strongest out-of-conference schedules of any mid-major team, with matchups against Houston, Arizona State, Seton Hall, Florida Gulf Coast, Notre Dame, and Baylor – all teams which finished last season ranked higher in RPI than any A10 squad. Any wins against those teams will boost their postseason resume even more.
On the court, though, it will be rare to see Fordham overmatched. They return team captain and the A10 2020-21 co-player of the year Anna DeWolfe, who put up 20.8 ppg to lead the conference while playing almost every minute of every game and shoot 38 percent from 3. Gaitley is quick to remind me that because DeWolfe is taking her Covid year, she’s only a sophomore in terms of traditional eligibility. She’ll be complimented in the backcourt by Aisha Dingle, formerly of Kent State and Stony Brook. Kendell Heremaia, whose line of 12.7/7.4/3.2 was good for second-team honors last year, will continue to shoot threes with both volume and accuracy. The New Zealand native has sunk 170 threes in her Fordham career at a clip of 34.5 percent.
In the frontcourt, Kaitlyn Downey (third team all conference) will look to build on her stellar 2020-21 season in which she averaged 10.1 points and 10.2 rebounds while also shooting 36.5% from three. With offensive rebounding machine Megan Jonassen (71 offensive boards in 2021) and newcomer Millie Prior (an Australia youth national team player), Fordham have gotten deeper while retaining the players who have seen them make the postseason so frequently.
Gaitley is prepared for her team to be picked in the top four of the preseason poll, but to her the numbers are no issue. “Any team can beat any team on any given night,” she says, “and this is [an A10] that should be sending multiple teams to the NCAA Tournament.” Between their returning players and their strong out-of-conference schedule, along with their league-high home attendance, this Fordham team will be in contention to return to March Madness for the first time since 2019.
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