Here's another in the series previewing conference teams.
Up now ...
2011-12 THUS FAR: 4-3 overall.
2010-11: 18-0 in MAAC play, 31-3 overall.
COACHES' PRESEASON PREDICTION: Unanimous pick to finish first in league play.
KEY RETURNEES: 5-8 senior guard Corielle Yarde (14.6 points, 6.9 rebounds, 4.0 assits, 2.0 steals ... all stats are this season's), 6-2 senior forward Brandy Gang (9.1, 4.1), 5-10 sophomore guard Leanne Ockenden (7.9, 3.6), 5-4 senior guard Kristine Best (3.2, 3.0 assists).
KEY LOSSES: 5-8 guard Erica Allenspach (13., 4.7, 3.0 assists), 6-4 forward Kate Oliver (8.0, 4.1), 5-6 guard Elise Caron (6.1, 4.0, 3.1 assists).
KEY NEWCOMER: 5-7 freshman Natalie Gomez (1.4, 1.4).
NOTES: Last year's team started 4-2 and, then, won 27 in a row before losing in the second round of the NCAA tournament. This year's team started 4-2 and, then, lost a 49-36 decision to Boston University, a solid America East team, at best ... A relatively slow start could have been expected after losing its top two ballhandlers, Allenspach (the MAAC's Player of the Year last season) and Caron, a steadying force on the offensive end and one of the top perimeter defenders in the league a year ago ... Not expected, though, was the defection/transfer of the 6-4 Oliver, who looked ready to step into a starring role ... And, then, the program lost this year's point guard, Kristine Best, to an ACL injury that will force her to redshirt and to come back a year from now as a fifth-year senior. The loss is a tough one as Best was leading the league in assist-to-turnover ratio when she was hurt ... Yarde is certainly playing up to the coaches' prediction that she will be this season's Player of the Year, but a legitimate and consistent second option has yet to emerge, let alone a third offensive option ... The difference from a year ago is particularly noticeable on the offensive end where Marist has scored more than 57 points just once all season ... Senior forward Brandy Gang might yet increase her production (9.1 so far), as might UMass transfer Kristina Danella (6.3, after averaging 11.7 points as a sophomore for the Minutemen two years ago), but neither one is there yet ... Marist might still be the best team in the conference, but right now that's not the usual foregone conclusion.
HOW MARIST WILL SUCCEED: By finding offense from players other than Yarde on a consistent basis, for without that Marist will be hardpressed to add to its string of seven straight league titles. There appear to be a number of candidates ranging from Gang and Danella to sopomore guard Leanne Ockenden (7.0) and Casey Dulin (7.0) ... The Red Foxes will also have to overcome a relative height deficiency that had head coach Brian Giorgis worried as far back as the start of preseason workouts ... Freshman point guard Natalie Gomez (1.4) has been moved into the starting lineup as Best's replacement, and will need to grow into the role quickly. But, she is talented and Giorgis is outstanding at developing young players.
PREDICTION: First place again ... probably. In the recent past, though, that predicition would have been followed by "definitely." With the graduation/transfer/injury losses of late, Marist isn't quite as dominant as it has been. A 30-victory overall season certainly isn't likely, nor is another unbeaten MAAC season. Loyola, Fairfield and Iona all look capable of challenging Marist this year. For once, Marist will have a legitimate challenge to its league superiority.