The following comes directly from the Atlantic 10 Conference:
RICHMOND, Va. – New coaches, a new championship format, and a new preseason favorite ushered in the 2016-17 Atlantic 10 Women’s Basketball season, as the league gathered in Richmond, Va. on Tuesday for its annual Media Day, anointing Saint Louis as the team to beat.
The Billikens, who received nine of a possible 14 first-place votes, are led by last year’s Atlantic 10 Co-Player of the Year, junior Jackie Kemph, who averaged 16 points and seven assists per game. Kemph was named to the Preseason All-Conference First Team, while teammate, senior center Sadie Stipanovich, earned Second Team honors.
“You’re flattered by preseason awards,” said Saint Louis coach Lisa Stone. “But it’s not where you start, it’s where you finish. Each year we’ve been picked lower and finished higher, and there’s not anything higher than one. That’s why it makes it more difficult.”
Duquesne, who garnered three first-place votes, and Dayton, under new head coach Shauna Green, finished tied for second in the poll. The Dukes come off a 28-6 campaign which included an NCAA Tournament win over Seton Hall, and are led by Preseason All-Conference Second Team members Amadea Szamosi and Kadri-Ann Lass. The Flyers, who suffered through an injury-plagued campaign last season, return junior guard Jenna Burdette, a First Team member, plus guard Kelley Austria and center Saicha Grant-Allen, who earned Second and Third Team honors respectively.
The remaining two first-place votes went to two-time defending Atlantic 10 Champion George Washington. The Colonials (26-7), led by new head coach Jennifer Rizzotti, return senior forward Caira Washington, who was named to both the Preseason All-Conference First Team and All-Defensive Team, and senior guard Hannah Schaible, a Third Team member.
“Part of the reason the George Washington job was so attractive was that (former coach) Jonathan Tsipis built such a great foundation of players,” Rizzotti said. “My goal is to come in and try to figure out how to make it even better.”
VCU finished just behind George Washington in fifth place in the poll. Third-year coach Beth O’Boyle returns nine members of a Rams team that won 23 games, advancing to the Atlantic 10 Championship semifinal round for the first time since joining the conference. VCU returns five of their top six scorers, including senior captain Keira Robinson, seeking a more well-rounded season performance.
“I think our team learned how important it is to win in January. I think those games kept us out of the NCAA Tournament,” O’Boyle explained. “It was a tough lesson to learn, but you can’t jump steps, it’s a process. So, we’re really looking forward to this season.”
Fordham, looking to bounce back from a 14-17 campaign with help from senior guard Hannah Missry and junior guard G’mrice Davis, placed sixth in the poll, voted on by the conference’s coaches, followed by Richmond, just behind in seventh, as 12-year coach Michael Shafer hopes to avoid an injury bug which devastated the Spiders last season.
“I felt like we were running in mud, as opposed to building, but I do think in terms of where we are in recruiting, the level of talent we have, and now the level of experience our players have, I feel like we are on the upward,” Shafer noted.
Richmond guard Janelle Hubbard earned First Team honors, coming off a junior season where she averaged 15.9 points per game.
Saint Joseph’s junior guard/forward Chelsea Woods earned Third Team honors, hoping to lead a resurgence on Hawk Hill. Coach Cindy Griffin’s Hawks finished eighth in preseason voting, and look to advance past the Atlantic 10 Championship quarterfinals for the first time since last winning the title in 2013.
Rhode Island, who struggled late last season, losing eight of their last nine games, is picked to finish ninth. The Rams have a strong leader in junior guard Charise Wilson, who was named to the Preseason All-Conference First Team. Wilson is joined in the backcourt by Dominique Ward.
St. Bonaventure, George Mason, La Salle, Davidson, and Massachusetts rounded out the voting. The Bonnies and Minutewomen begin new eras as Jesse Fleming takes over in Olean, N.Y. for Jim Crowley, now at Providence, while Tory Verdi takes the helm in Amherst, Mass.
The 2017 Atlantic 10 Women’s Basketball Championship will return to the Richmond Coliseum March 3rd through 5th under a new format where the quarterfinals, semifinals, and championship will all be held at the neutral site. The top two league finishers will earn byes straight to the quarterfinal round, while seeds three through eight will each host one of six first round games, with winners advancing to Richmond.
“We said a year ago we really wanted to re-energize our women’s championship,” said Atlantic 10 Commissioner Bernadette V. McGlade. “You have to be willing to do some things differently if you believe it will make a positive impact. This, all of a sudden, gives more meaning to the regular season, because if I’m near the top, I’m fighting for that bye, if I’m in the next tier, I’m fighting to host the first round. I credit the coaches and athletic directors for their support.”
The Atlantic 10 will enjoy 50 national television appearances across four networks: ESPN, CBS Sports Network, NBCSN, and the American Sports Network (ASN), beginning with the rematch of the 2016 championship game between George Washington and Duquesne New Year’s Day on CBS Sports Network.
Coming off a season where the league sent three teams to the NCAA Tournament, and three more to the WNIT, Atlantic 10 coaches all agree the conference is strong enough to up those figures this season.
“I really, really feel that there will be more teams in the postseason, more hopefully in the NCAA Tournament,” Stone said, echoing the sentiments of her colleagues. “If we could get five teams in there, that would be great. I know that’s lofty, but that’s possible. And you have another four, five teams that can make the WNIT. It’s a great league, with great coaches and players.”
Non-conference games, while used to prepare all fourteen teams for the rigors of Atlantic 10 play, are important for a team’s resume come March. Atlantic 10 members will begin building their case as twelve teams open the 2016-17 season on Friday, Nov. 11th.