The Canisius College women's basketball team featured zero seniors during the 2011-12 season, a combination that has both positives and negatives. That roster makeup can provide an encouraging future, but one downside can be a lack of urgency in the present.
With this year's team featuring three seniors and four juniors, there will be no lack of experience or urgency as the Golden Griffins return all five starters and 98 percent of their scoring from last year's team that saw its season end in the first round of the MAAC Championship.
"The first thing when you have veterans or seniors, is you have a sense of urgency, since they only have one more chance to play college basketball," ninth-year head coach Terry Zeh said. "They learned from last year that we didn't finish as well as we wanted to. The injuries were a part of it, but we talk about the controllable things that we didn't control down the stretch.
"There is a lot of excitement about a team that returned so many players from last season. That enthusiasm has been a ripple effect for us as coaches with everything we have been doing."
The Golden Griffins have a lot of backourt options - two seniors, one junior, two sophomores and two freshmen - to fill the three guards in the normal lineup. Senior Allison Braun missed the final 12 games of the regular season due to a lower-leg injury, but the second-year captain has returned to her spot in the starting lineup. Fellow senior Ashley Durham has moved from the point guard spot to an off-guard position, looking to provide the Griffs with more of a spark offensively.
Junior Jen Morabito ranked 19th nationally in 3-point field goal percentage last season and has made 111 3-pointers in her first two seasons. Sophomore Kayla Hoohuli earned MAAC All-Rookie Team honors as a freshman, playing the entire season less than a year removed from a major knee injury suffered at the end of her high school career. Sophomore Brooke Angelos started the last three games of the 2011-12 season, averaged 6.0 assists per 40 minutes and had 21 assists in the final four games of the year.
Three freshmen are also in the backcourt, with redshirt freshman Ashley Gomez and true freshmen Tiahana Mills and Emily Weber. Gomez suffered a season-ending knee injury early in preseason camp last year and had minor knee surgery in August as a follow-up procedure. Mills, who played at the same high school as Morabito in Binghamton, has been battling for a starting position at the point guard spot throughout the preseason camp. Weber challenges Hoohuli and Morabito for the most shooting range on the team, giving the Griffs three players who can shoot it from long range.
"Allison's energy and enthusiasm is something we lacked during her injury last season, especially when she couldn't practice. She brings that sense of urgency in everything that she does every day, and it is so important to have her back in the fold. On the basketball court, she uses that same energy to do a lot that is really important - rebound, defend and the little things that don't show up in the stat sheet."
"Ashley's ability to get by defenders offensively and make plays off the bounce is something we need, especially when teams are pressuring us. Her experience from the last three years will be beneficial in some crucial situations."
"Jen Morabito is one of the ultimate defensive stretchers with her ability to shoot it quickly and from deep. It opens up the space on the floor for the other players to operate. Jen has a great grind about her where she wants to be successful, and she works really hard. That is good for other players to watch."
"I thought Brooke did a good job for us down the stretch last season. Her court vision and her ability to get her teammates easy baskets are important for our success. Hopefully she will learn from that rookie year and use it to her advantage when we need her this season."
"Kayla making the All-Rookie Team was a good feat coming off her knee injury from the end of her high school season. She has worked hard in the offseason at things she wanted to improve, and I think you will see a completely different player from last year."
"Ashley had the disappointing injury last year and had a follow-up knee surgery in August. She has worked very hard physically and mentally to get back. We are starting to see the fruits of that labor in practice. She is starting to become the Ashley that we recruited, and she is a jack of all trades in doing a little bit of everything."
"Tiahana is an extremely athletic point guard who has a pass-first mentality. She also can really defend on the basketball. I am excited to watch her progress as she learns the college game."
"Emily is an incredible long-distance shooter. With great touch and athleticism to score at the basket. I think she can be a really good player in our conference as she learns college intensity and defensive systems."
The Canisius frontcourt features a combination of experience and some talented newcomers. Senior Ashley Wilkes is in her second season with the Golden Griffins, and looks more comfortable with the Division I game. Junior Jamie Ruttle earned preseason All-MAAC First-Team honors after being named to the All-MAAC Third Team following her sophomore season and the MAAC Rookie of the Year in 2011. Junior Jen Lennox provides another 6-foot-3 body for the Griffs and has 59 games of experience, along with 47 career blocks. The frontcourt depth took a bit of a hit when junior Courtney VandeBovenkamp suffered a season-ending knee injury at the end of October.
Two newcomers in the frontcourt are freshmen Jasmine Mungo and Crystal Porter. Mungo comes to Canisius from a very successful high school team at Riverdale Baptist, which finished No. 3 in the country last season. Porter comes to Buffalo from Houston, Texas where she averaged a double-double during her senior season.
"Ashley's adjustment went really well from junior college to playing Division I basketball. This year, she is on a whole different level. She understands what we want offensively, defensively and we are getting Ashley out of her comfort zone to become a great basketball player. Her ability to rebound the basketball is something you can't teach."
"Jamie is one of the most talented players in the conference. As she grows and matures, Jamie gets better and better and is adding to her game. I think it is exciting because she can score from so many ways, whether it's on the perimeter or in the post. That makes her difficult to guard."
"Jen Lennox's ability to block shots can change the other team's offensive flow. To be able to for us to play with two tall post players can create tough matchups for the opposition."
"We are disappointed that Courtney will miss this season with her knee injury. We were looking for some really good things with her. The only good thing is we get to spend another year with Courtney because she is such a nice person and great player."
"Jasmine is a tough, physical interior defender with a tremendous motor. This makes her a great offensive rebounder and a good post defender."
"Crystal is a tough matchup with her athleticism and skills. She has a great feel for the game and is a really good passer."
Canisius opens at home for the third straight year, hosting Buffalo on Friday
night in the KAC. The Golden Griffins have five home games in non-conference
play, including two doubleheaders (Nov. 17 and Nov. 20) with the men's
basketball program. The Griffs will make their first trip to California since
the 2004-05 season when they play in the Beach Classic at Long Beach University
on Dec. 20-21.
Canisius opens MAAC play at home on Jan. 4, on Kid's Day against Siena. The Griffs will play two games on ESPN3 - hosting Niagara in the first game of a doubleheader in the KAC on Jan. 27 and facing Fairfield on Feb. 14, in Webster Bank Arena. The 2013 MAAC Championship returns to the MassMutual Center in Springfield, Mass. on March 7-11.