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School: Niagara

Nickname: Purple Eagles

Affiliation: Metro Atlantic Athletic

Coach: Kendra Faustin

2011-12 record: 13-19, 9-9

Overview

It was a slow start. Niagara dropped its first four games and it looked as if it would be a long season on Monteagle Ridge, particularly with the number of underclassmen on the roster.

But as the season wore on, the Purple Eagles added experience to talent and made an impressive run.

They took Marist to double overtime in the regular season and went to overtime against the perennial power RedFoxes in the semifinals of the MAAC tournament.

With eight players back from last year, the Purple Eagles are poised to take the next step with plenty of competition already in practice.

“What I like right now is that I have no idea who to play,” coach Kendra Faustin said. “In years past, sometimes that has been a problem in not a good way. This year it’s a problem in a really good way.

“We have a great group of leaders and it makes my job pretty darn easy. I don’t have to ask anyone to work hard. I don’t have to ask us to focus or act right. Even though we only have one senior [forward Jess Flamm], we’re a pretty mature group which I don’t know that we’ve ever really had so I’m excited about that.”

Primary among those leaders is redshirt junior Kayla Stroman. In 2010 she was the MAAC Rookie of the Year, then missed her sophomore season with a knee injury.

She’s worked her way back and led the team with 10.8 ppg, 81 steals and 124 assists against just 97 turnovers. And as if she wasn’t already dangerous off the screen, she’s worked on her left hand to be able to create both ways.

Also returning are sophomore guard Meghan McGuinness, who averaged 6.8 points off the bench and was a solid outside threat

Junior forward Lauren Gatto (10.3 ppg) finally has developed a confident mentality to compliment her physical ability to score and defend in the low post.

Keys to success

The Purple Eagles can defend. They gave up just 60.9 points a game last year. The problem? Offense. Niagara averaged just 55.6 points and was victim to poor shooting.

“In a couple of our games we could get stops but we really struggled to put the ball in the basket,” Faustin said.

“We’ve added some other options. We’ve changed our offense a little bit, not drastically but we’ve added a lot more guard movement. So from an X and O’s standpoint, that will really help us. We had some freshmen playing last year that didn’t have a lot of game experience. They have that now, and I think that will help us. But we need to score the basketball better.”

Big games

It’s an aggressive and impressive schedule for Niagarar. After opening on the road at Robert Morris the Eagles host St. Bonaventure (Nov. 12) in what could be the best Big 4 matchup of the season. Niagara has road games at the University at Buffalo (Dec. 21) and Michigan (Dec. 29). Marist rolls into town on Jan. 20 and the home-and-home with Canisius is Jan. 27 (Koessler Center) and March 1 (Gallagher Center).

Outlook

The Purple Eagles have talent and experience and yet they’re still young. Stroman has developed into a solid leader and if McGuinness adds some scoring punch and Gatto dominates the low post like she can, it could be one of the best seasons for Niagara in a long time.

Their non-conference schedule is tough and could provide some lumps, but if they stay together look for them to get over that .500 hump in the MAAC and make another tournament run. A breakout season is possible including a spot in the finals.

email: amoritz@buffnews.com