As the Fairfield women’s basketball team enters the final third of their season, it’s fair to say that it has been a season that has had more pleasant surprises than problematic issues.

After being predicted in the MAAC Preseason Coaches’ Poll to finish fifth in the 10 team league, Fairfield started the season by taking on a nationally ranked Florida team and lost by a large margin, 71-49. Since that loss, the Stags own a record of 12-6, and have gotten off to an impressive 6-2 start in conference play.

Fairfield lost its last contest on Sunday, dropping a 69-57 decision against Rider at home at Alumni Hall, just their second home loss all year. The Stags struggled all game long with the full-court press that Rider employed, causing many turnovers and short offensive possessions. Fairfield’s bench was outscored 23-4, and the Broncs were able to net 20 points off of 17 Fairfield turnovers.

Despite the loss, Head Coach Joe Frager said that he has been happy with how the season and the team have progressed so far this year.

“The most surprising thing is that … we’re not the most athletic team in the league. In fact, in terms of athleticism, we’re probably a little lower down,” said Frager after the loss, “But we’ve been able to compete with and beat teams that I think are superior athletically. That has been one of the things that makes me really proud of these kids … they’ve overcome that hurdle.”

It shouldn’t come as a total shock that Frager’s bunch are off to such a hot start in conference play — it has become a trademark of Frager’s teams recently. Two years ago, the team started 7-3 in their first 10 games, and last year the team didn’t pick up their second loss in-conference until February 10, en route to a 15-3 mark in the MAAC.

Here is a chronicle of the ups and downs of the season thus far for the Stags.

The Good

Before the season started, Frager would not commit to a set starting five players, instead he said that he was hoping and waiting for a few players to really stand out.

“I need to see two or three players emerge and become a little bit more aggressive and little bit more assertive than they ever have been. We need two or three kids to step up more for us.”

Frager’s hopes have been answered in Brittany Obi-Tabot ‘14 and Katie Cizynski ‘14, who have been playing stellar basketball for most of the season.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the season so far has been the play of Obi-Tabot. The 6’1″ center was previously viewed as the fourth or fifth scoring option when she was on the floor as a sophomore and freshman, but her game has changed as a junior. She averages 11.5 points per game paired with 5.5 rebounds per game, and had a streak of six straight games in which she scored in double figures before Sunday’s loss to Rider, where she was held to six points.

Cizynski came into the season averaging just 4.8 points per game for her career, but has exploded offensively this season, leading the team in scoring, averaging 12.5 points per game so far, which is good for being ninth in the MAAC overall. She has also stepped it up on the boards, grabbing over eight rebounds per game, which leads the team and is fifth in the conference.

There have been other bright spots on the Stags’ starting lineup as well. Junior Alexys Vazquez is the best in the MAAC and 11th in the nation in three-point field goal percentage,connecting on 44 percent of her attempts.

Senior Katelyn Linney is second behind Vazques in three-pointers made per game in the MAAC, averaging two three-pointers per contest.

Despite not doing as much on the scoring end as some of her fellow starters, Felicia DaCruz ’15 has been consistently finding open teammates and is one of the leaders in the MAAC in assists, getting 3.5 per game, third best in the conference. She has made Fairfield one of the best teams in the conference in assists, at one point leading the conference in assists per game, and now second with 14.2 per game.

The Not so Good

If there is one point that is a glaring weak spot for the Stags this season, it comes at the charity stripe. Fairfield hits under 66 percent of their free throws, which is second worst in the conference. However this is nothing new for Fairfield teams, as they have not had a season in which they hit more than 70 percent of their free throws since before Joe Frager became the head coach at Fairfield.

Another problem that has come along is turnovers. The Stags have turned the ball over nearly 300 times so far this season, and are averaging two more turnovers per game than their opponents, which is the second worst margin in the conference.

If Fairfield hopes to make a run at the top of the conference, and wants to have a shot at toppling powerhouse Marist, those are two issues that must be addressed.

“One of the things we try to preach to our players is that it doesn’t matter who our opponent is, or how talented they are, our goal is to be … the better cohesive team together,” said Frager. “And for that group to be successful we have to play together as a team, we have to take better care of the basketball, and we have to do the little things.”

Outlook on the Rest of the Season

Back in October, Frager said there was a good chance this team would not be able to equal the 24 wins of last year’s team. He may be right in that prediction, as the team would have to win all their remaining regular season games, as well as two in the MAAC Tournament to get to 24 wins on the season.

But Frager went on to say that he wanted the team to peak in the final third of the season, which they are about to enter. “The record is not going to be as glossy,” said Frager in October, “I think that this can be a really good basketball team, and a real pain in the neck to face in the postseason.”

Although the team does have the ability to go undefeated for the rest of the year, it is more likely that this team will win seven of its final 10 games, finishing the season with 13 wins in conference play, most likely finishing second to Marist.

But that should be fine for these over-performing Stags, and set them up for another potential rematch with Marist in the MAAC Tournament finals.

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