When Joe Frager took the head-coaching job for the Fairfield University Women’s Basketball team five years ago, he wanted to bring the program back to prominence. In 2012, he is well on his way of fulfilling that goal, but he is not there yet.
The Stags enjoyed another 20-win season, and the third under Frager, which earned them a two seed going into the tournament. They have a 15-3 conference mark, and their only losses came to the six-time defending champions Marist and a road loss to a tough Loyola team.
When it comes to success in the tournament, teams rely on their senior leadership. The Stags probably have their best senior core in a long time. They are led by first team All-MAAC selection Taryn Johnson, who is eighth in the MAAC in scoring with a little under 13 points per game (p.p.g )and third in the conference in rebounds with 8.1 boards per contest.
The other starting senior is the heart and soul of the team, Desiree Pina. The Plainville, Conn. native was recently named to the All-MAAC Second team (one of the biggest snubs in the listings). The primary ball handler for the Stags leads the league in minutes per game, checks in 6th in the MAAC in assists and 12th in points – all without missing a game for her entire career.
As usual, this squad is known for their defense. They are the best defensive team in the conference and recently held Rider to 30 points. That is where the Stags make their name, but in this tournament they cannot afford many lapses in defense because their opponents could capitalize on those mistakes.
The one downside about this team is that they live and die by the three. When the Stags are off, they are off. They are shooting 32 percent from behind the arc, which is fourth in the league, but if they are having an off shooting night they can struggle offensively. Alexys Vasquez and Katelyn Linney are a combined 15-57 from deep in their last four games. Those two players are the most vital in the shooting game, because if they can hit their shots it opens the entire floor which allows Taryn Johnson to take over.
(7) Iona 78
(10) Rider 52
(8) Canisius 60
(9) St. Peters 54
(1) Marist 68
(8) Canisius 51
(4) Loyola 58
(5) Niagara 42
(3) Manhattan 56
(6) Siena 55
(2) Fairfield 68
(7) Iona 61
This is a very tough opening game for Fairfield. Iona is a sleeper team mainly because of their offensive firepower. The Gaels are led by the MAAC leading scorer Damika Martinez, who is only a freshman! Their point guard Suzi Fergosi also leads the league in assists.
The only reason the Gaels are such a low seed is because they do not play defense. They are the second best offensive team in the conference, but they are also the worst defensive squad allowing nearly 70 points-per-game.
This might be an easy game for the Stags to overlook, and if they do, they will be in trouble because Iona can make a serious run in this tournament. However, I am going to go with the seniors and not the freshman Martinez in this one. Also, defense shuts down a good offense most of the time. But if Iona was to drop that opening round game against Rider the Stags should be jumping up and down.
(1) Marist 65
(4) Loyola 62
(2) Fairfield 71
(3) Manhattan 64
Manhattan is a very good team, but I think the Stags match up better against the Jaspers than they would if they played Loyola. They have beaten them twice this year (a nail biter on the road but a comfortable win at home). The Jaspers are basically the spitting image of Fairfield. They defend well and rely on threes to propel their offense.
I think the difference makers in this game are Taryn Johnson and Katelyn Linney. Johnson averaged 15 points in the two games that the teams played head-to-head and Linney went 3-5 from three the last time they played.
If the Stags were to lose this game, it would come down to free throw shooting where Fairfield is dead last in the MAAC. Nevertheless, I think the seniors show up and the Stags win handily.
(1) Marist 67
(2) Fairfield 69
My mind tells me to go with Marist, but there’s something about the leadership and competitiveness of this senior class. I just think they are going to win a title. Frager knows what it takes to beat the Red Foxes, but the Brian Giorgis led team is by far the most poised and deepest team in the MAAC.
It is going to come down to one person, and that is Desiree Pina. She always has her best games against the Red Foxes, and similar to a couple of years ago, I think she will hit the game winner on a jumper from the elbow (her signature shot). The most important things for the Stags: don’t turn it over, hit your foul shots, and guard the three.
If Brandy Gang hits her shots, this game won’t even be close. Preseason Player of the Year Corielle Yard will pick up her points, but I just think that there is something special in this senior class.
This class was the first recruiting class under Joe Frager, and it might be the first to help him get the program one step closer to his goal: a MAAC Championship.