Senior forward Alyssa Thomas, a two-time Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year, could lead Maryland on another run at a national championship. During Thomas' junior season, she became the first woman in NCAA history to average more than 18 points, 10 rebounds and five assists per game for a single season. Joining Thomas, a returning first-team All-American, will be three productive veterans: senior center Alicia DeVaughn (8.4 points, 7.4 rebounds per game last season) and guards Katie Rutan and Laurin Mincy, who combined to average 18.1 points last season.
Coach Brenda Frese's team, which will host defending national champion Connecticut Nov. 15 at the Comcast Center and will travel to Towson Nov. 23, finished 26-8 during the 2012-13 season. The Terrapins reached the NCAA Sweet 16 before losing to Connecticut. The ACC's head coaches picked Maryland to finish third, behind preseason favorite Duke and league newcomer Notre Dame.
Navy has become a postseason regular. The Midshipmen have made three straight trips to the NCAA tournament and are the preseason pick to win the Patriot League, again. Head coach Stefanie Pemper will put a deep and experienced team on the floor. All five starters return, led by first-team All-Patriot League choice Jade Geif, a senior forward who led Navy in points (13.0), rebounds (7.9) and blocked shots per game last season.
There will be several familiar faces joining Geif, chosen as the Patriot League Preseason Player of the Year, in the starting lineup. The senior-laden backcourt features guards Alix Membreno (11.3 points, 6.7 rebounds, 3.5 assists per game during the 2012-13 season) and Kara Pollinger (10.6 points, team-leading 3.7 assists). Forward Audrey Bauer (8.6 points, 4.8 rebounds) is the fourth senior in the Midshipmen's starting five.
Navy finished the 2012-13 season 21-12 overall and 11-3 in the Patriot League, then lost to Kentucky during an NCAA first-round game. It wouldn't be a surprise to see the team advance further this season.
In The Middle
Coming off a 16-16 season, Coppin State was chosen third in the preseason MEAC poll. The Eagles, whose nonconference schedule includes trips to North Carolina, West Virginia and Miami, will have to replace the all-around excellence of Leola Spotwood, who led the 2012-13 Coppin team in scoring, rebounding and steals. But an experienced frontcourt, headed by senior forwards Kyra Coleman (11.4 points, 5.5 rebounds per game last season) and Larissa Carter (8.3 points, 6.8 rebounds), should help the Eagles make another strong run at the postseason.
Mount St. Mary's will rely on two key returnees to improve on last season's 15-16 record, which included 10 wins in the Northeast Conference. Coach Bryan Whitten's Mountaineers, who started their campaign in the Preseason WNIT, should get significant production from the backcourt tandem of senior Sydney Henderson and junior Jacqueline Brewer. Henderson led the Mount in points (13.1) and rebounds (6.0) per game for the 2012-13 season, while Brewer contributed 10 points per game.
Looking For Improvement
Towson has a new arena to play in and a new coach at the helm. Niki Reid Geckeler guided Howard University to three postseason appearances and will try to bring that kind of success to Towson, which finished with a 12-18 mark last winter.
"It's about changing the culture," said Geckeler, whose team's November opponents include Navy and ACC teams North Carolina State and Maryland. "Our players have recommitted themselves. I'm very excited about our talent level, and we just have to get it to gel."
Geckeler will rely on two returnees to improve the Tigers. Senior guard Tanisha McTiller, a preseason All-CAA first-team selection, averaged a team-leading 18.8 points and 7.5 rebounds per game as a junior. A Chicago native who is on pace to become the second-leading scorer in Towson history, McTiller also led the 2012-13 Tigers in assists and steals. McTiller's sidekick will be senior forward Nyree Williams, a defensive specialist who averaged a team-best 7.8 rebounds last winter. Williams is one of the top five shot blockers in program history.
Morgan State might be one of the nation's youngest teams. Nine of the Bears' 10 players are freshmen or sophomores. The lone upperclassman, junior guard Tracey Carrington, averaged 10.4 points and 5.5 rebounds during the 2012-13 campaign, when the Bears went 11-17 and 8-7 during MEAC play. This season brings early challenges at North Carolina State, Army and Miami.
It looks like a rebuilding campaign for Loyola. After finishing the 2012-13 season with a 12-18 record, the Greyhounds lost top scorer and rebounder Katie Sheahin to graduation. Coach Joe Logan's team should be solid in the backcourt with junior Kara Marshall (7.5 points last season) and senior Nicole Krusen (6.0 points, 2.7 rebounds).
The same outlook applies at UMBC. It will be tough for the Retrievers to improve on last season's 10-20 record, given that nine of the squad's 13 players are either freshmen or sophomores. The top returnee for coach Phil Stern's squad is the team's only senior, forward Dana Lewis (3.0 points, 4.0 rebounds during the 2012-13 season).
Maryland-Eastern Shore lost top scorer Karona Roach. The Hawks' nonconference schedule includes visits to Syracuse, Old Dominion, Oklahoma and Miami. That's a tough challenge for a team that finished with an 8-20 record last season. But the returns of junior guard Shawnee Sweeney (7.9 points) and sophomore forward Ashleigh Claybrooks (7.0 points) should give the Hawks some optimism.