Four different teams have won the Patriot League women's basketball championship during the past five years. It could be Navy's turn this season.
Last season, a 79-71 overtime loss to top-seeded Bucknell in the Patriot League tournament championship game ended Navy's hopes for its first NCAA berth since the 2012-13 campaign. But the Midshipmen, who went 24-10 overall and 14-4 in the Patriot League and reached the second round of the Women's National Invitation Tournament, are primed to make a run at the conference title again.
"We played our best game of the year in the championship at Bucknell," said Stefanie Pemper, who is in her 10th season as Navy's head coach. "We were shooting the lights out and staying with them every step on their home court."
The Midshipmen figure to compete for the league title despite heavy graduation losses, including guards Sarita Condie (14.2 points, 4.0 rebounds) and Justice Swett (6.7 points, 6.8 rebounds) and forward Ashanti Kennedy (8.2 points, 4.1 rebounds). Pemper will turn to senior guard Taylor Dunham to lead the team.
Dunham, a third-team All-Patriot League choice who averaged 10.1 points and 3.3 assists, and senior guard Hannah Fenske will anchor Navy's backcourt. Fenske made a strong comeback from the ACL injury that sidelined her for the entire 2015-16 campaign, averaging 7.6 points and 3.2 assists while making 41 percent of her 3-point attempts.
"I think Taylor has as good a chance as anyone to be the Player of the Year in the league," Pemper said. "Taylor is a really good talent who has become a really smart player. She's a good shooter who is realizing where she can find openings to score. Taylor makes great decisions with the ball and can get by a lot of people. Defensively, she can turn it up and make some plays."
The Navy frontcourt will be strengthened by the return of sophomore forward Kaila Clark, who averaged 5.2 points and 5.1 rebounds. Sophomore forward Laurel Jaunich (4.9 points, 2.9 rebounds) will join Clark in the low post.
The Midshipmen's nonconference schedule isn't as daunting as the 2016-17 slate, when Navy opened the season with road games at Wake Forest and Tennessee and traveled to Reno, Nev., for an early-season tournament. Navy's only western trip will take the Midshipmen to Albuquerque, N.M., for an encounter with the New Mexico Lobos Dec. 10. The highlight of the home schedule is the Navy Classic, which will bring North Dakota State, St. Bonaventure and UMBC to Annapolis, Md., Nov. 25-26.
Navy's quest for a Patriot League title begins Dec. 29, when the Midshipmen host Loyola at Alumni Hall. Pemper is expecting another tight battle for the league crown.
"I think it has something to do with the academic nature of the league," said Pemper, who has guided Navy to three NCAA Tournament berths and two WNIT appearances in the past seven years. "You get smart women together who are competitive. The schools have similar admissions standards, and we go after a lot of the same kids."
Coppin State (2016-17 record: 8-21; 8-8 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference)
The Eagles, under the direction of second-year head coach DeWayne Burroughs, could challenge for the MEAC title. The return of redshirt senior guard Genesis Lucas (13.7 points, 4.7 assists), who earned first-team All-MEAC honors, and sophomore center Chance Graham (6.8 points, 8.7 rebounds), the MEAC's reigning Rookie of the Year, will help Coppin State stay competitive in league play.
But the Eagles will have to overcome the losses of Keena Samuels (12.7 points) and Tiara Goode (9.2 points, 4.8 rebounds). A nonconference slate that includes national powers Baylor and Maryland should prepare Coppin State for its conference schedule.
Loyola (2016-17 record: 9-22; 5-13 Patriot League)
The Greyhounds will rely heavily on senior point guard Bri Betz-White and sophomore forward Stephanie Karcz as they look to improve on a seventh-place finish in the Patriot League. Betz -White earned first-team All-Patriot League recognition after leading the Greyhounds in scoring (15.0 points) and assists (3.5). Karcz earned a spot on the league's All-Rookie Team after averaging 9.9 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.5 steals.
Head coach Joe Logan, now in his 13th season, will have to replace Lauren Daugherty (11.0 points, 6.3 rebounds). The Greyhounds' non-league schedule features Georgetown, Maryland and longtime rivals Towson and Mount St. Mary's.
Mount St. Mary's (2016-17 record: 12-18; 10-8 Northeast Conference)
The Mountaineers are hoping that a new head coach will push them closer to a Northeast Conference championship. Maria Marchesano, who took NCAA Division II Walsh University to consecutive 20-win seasons in 2014-15 and 2015-16, will guide a Mountaineer team that finished fifth in the conference.
Mount St. Mary's will return senior center/forward Caroline Hummel (10.3 points, 5.2 rebounds), a third-team All-NEC choice, and sophomore guard Ashlee White (6.4 points, 1.7 assists), a member of the NEC All-Rookie team. But the Mount, which lost Alexis Carter (10.1 points, 6.8 rebounds), will carry seven freshmen on a 15-player roster that will face Notre Dame, Xavier and Maryland in the early season.
Morgan State (2016-17 record: 9-21; 7-9 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference)
Edward Davis Jr. served as the Bears' interim coach during the 2016-17 season. Following a strong finish, Davis was hired as the Bears' permanent head coach.
Morgan State, which will return its top two players, won seven of its final eight MEAC games following an 0-8 league start. The Bears hope to continue that progress with the return of senior guard Braennan Farrar (12.7 points, 2.7 assists per game), a second-team All-MEAC choice last season, and senior forward Tykyrah Williams (10.2 points, 5.8 rebounds). The Bears count Syracuse, Dayton, Iowa and West Virginia among their nonconference foes.
Towson (2016-17 record: 12-18; 5-13 Colonial Athletic Association)
Diane Richardson has been a successful head coach at the high school level and an assistant for high-level collegiate programs at Maryland and George Washington. Now, she will try to turn around Towson's fortunes.
The Tigers will have to replace their top scorers in Raven Bankston (17.3 points, 3.2 steals) and Sianni Martin (14.1 points, 3.6 rebounds). Richardson will turn to redshirt senior guard Raine Bankston (7.1 points, 2.8 assists) and senior forward Mary Cuevas (4.9 points, 6.1 rebounds) to replace some of the lost production.
Richardson will get an early read on her new squad when the Tigers travel to face George Washington, her former team, Nov. 16.
UMBC (2016-17 record: 15-16; 10-6 America East)
After finishing third in the America East, the Retrievers made their second consecutive appearance in the Women's Basketball Invitational. Getting to the postseason again is the goal for the 2017-18 squad, which will move into the new UMBC Events Center this season.
Head coach Phil Stern, now in his 16th season, will have to replace Taylor McCarley (13.6 points, 4.5 assists, 2.2 steals) and Pandora Wilson (10.7 points, 5.0 rebounds).
The Retrievers will depend on an experienced backcourt led by senior guard Laura Castaldo (11.3 points, 4.0 rebounds), who earned third-team All-America East honors, and junior guard Tyler Moore (8.2 points, 4.0 rebounds).
Issue 239: November 2017