As play-by-play man, and having been to almost every game for the LIU Post Lady Pioneers I thought it would be a good time for a mid-season review. OK so I know its a little past mid season, but its still close enough. Of course, not being a member of this team this is still just my perspective, and how I see things. With it being my second year covering this team I feel like I get at least a pretty good read on the players and the team as a whole. Hope Im right...
With a record of 11-5, and 3-2 in ECC play the Lady Pioneers are playing some very good basketball to this point. After another up and down start, which made this team off to a similar start as last year they have really hit their stride in conference play. Currently on a 3 game winning streak, and winning 6 of their last 7 games (Including a big 14 point victory over #1 ranked in the country Bentley Falcons) this Lady Pioneers team is doing a whole lot right.
The best, and most appropriate place to start this off is with the great play thus far of senior captain Felicia Joyner. Joyner is tied for 5th in the conference averaging 17.7 points per game on 43% shooting from the field. The hot shooting includes a whole lot more than just strong moves to the rim, and her patented step back 15 foot jump shot, she is also 2nd in the conference, shooting 38% from 3 point range. Joyner's leadership on the court shows through every game. After the loss of 2 time conference player of the year Janea Aiken, some wondered if Joyner could fill that void and be the go to player that is often needed in this conference. She has not disappointed, and when a big run, or key bucket is needed, there is one player that this team knows is the one to find. In her second year as a captain she has made sure that there is no void in any facet on this team.
Along with Joyner's great play has been the great play of Nicolette Marciniak. In my only other season covering this team, (last season) Marciniak played along side the tough presence down low of Alyssa Lombardi. Lombardi was the big rebounder, and tough defender that is a key asset to any team. At times last year Marciniak looked like she had a great future on this team and did a lot of damage down low. There were also times when she seemed to almost get bullied down low and it looked like she was looking for help, that could only come from within herself. In 20 minutes a game in her sophomore year she put up respectable numbers, over 8 points and 5 rebounds a game. Still though, Lady Pioneers fans needed to wait and see if Marciniak could be the defender and fearless competitor that was lost in Lombardi. This year Marciniak has not disappointed. Now playing over 26 minutes a game Marciniak is averaging a double double on the season, including her last 3 games that were played with a mask to protect her broken nose. (I say double double realizing she only averages 9.9 rebounds a game. Its close enough, and she Will finish the season averaging over 10 and 10.) She has seemed to really dedicate herself to tough defense. Her 11.1 points per game are a big help to this team, and her 9.9 RPG are good for second most in the conference. However, Marciniak had surgery on her broken nose today, and we will see how long she is out of action for. With the toughness and desire she showed, expect a fast return.
Breaking it down to position now, I'll start with the guards. Junior captain Ashley Caggiano has performed very well this season, despite her offseason freak calf injury limiting her play. As great as it is to see her leadership as the floor general, and the key threes that she has made throughout the season, for me the biggest improvement I see in "Cagg" is her decreased number of turnovers, and her smart, and accurate passing. Last year in 26 games Caggiano averaged 2.3 assists per game, and finished the season with 71 turnovers. So far through 16 games this season she has 4.3 assists per game (good enough for 4th in the conference), and even better shes in the top 10 in the conference in assist/TO ratio. Another huge improvement from last season to this one is backup point guard sophomore Alexis Peters. Starting out with A/TO ratio this time, Peters is 5th best in the conference. Her passing has been on point and in key situations filling in for the injured Caggiano. Peters' numbers are up across the board. She's filling up the stat sheet putting in 6 points per game, 2.2 APG, 4.4RPG, and a very impressive 1.8 Steals a game. Her new agressive mindset has been big in her increased role this season. Along with Caggiano and Peters are Kenyatta "Kiki" Sears, and the two freshmen Chelsea Williams, and Ariana Ijaduola. Sears has been very impressive on the defensive end, and always shows great tenacity staying in front of her opponent, and continuing to be the best on ball defender the Lady Pioneers have. Sears is also a leader in the conference in steals with 1.9 per game going along with her over 6 points a game, and over 2 assists per game. Williams has really impressed in her minutes on the floor in her freshman season. In a game earlier this year she put up a career high of 17 points. So far this season she has 4.5 points a game and has been very key to the depth of this team. Because of the incredible depth on this team, Ijaduola hasnt seen a whole lot of court time, but the time she has seen we see a lot of promise, and court smarts on both ends of the court.
Adding to the depth of this team is the amount of talent in the front court. Leading the way down low along with Marciniak are the two Iona transfers Sam Kopp, and Cat Lutz. The 6'2 Kopp has come in and put up impressive games on both ends as the Lady Pioneers starting center. There are a lot of strong post players in this conference, and though she is new to the team and the ECC she has held her own, and then some, against all of them. Kopp is averaging over 8 points per game, 7.5 RPG and almost a block a game. Her and Marciniak teaming up down low has held tough scorers like ECC leader Tanicha Carter (averaging over 18 ppg) to 1-15 shooting, and Bentleys second best player Jacqui Brugliera to only 9 points and 0 rebounds. She has had an immediate positive impact on this team. Along with her transferring this season was Cat Lutz. Lutz is the first front court player off the bench for the Lady Pioneers and has provided serious instant offense. Anyone who has listened to a broadcast of any of the Lady Pioneers games has surely heard me call her "RFD" or Range For Days. Her ability to hit 3 point shots 2 or 3 feet behind the arc with consistency is something incredible to watch, and Im sure frustrating to defend. When I asked about her range in an interview she responded "People were starting to guard me at the 3 point line, and I just kept taking a step back". If only it was that easy for everyone. Lutz, a 6 footer is averaging 9 points a game along with almost 4 RPG. She is also the teams leader in 3 pointers taken, and made, while making 38% of her 3's, good enough for 3rd in the conference. After Lutz off the bench its Shayna Gatling, and Nijah LaCourt combined, these two back up forwards are averaging over 6 points a game along with 6 rebounds per game. They split time with each other and both have had big games, scoring, rebounding and on defense. These two girls not only make the depth on this team even more of an asset but are going to be absolutely vital with the loss of Marciniak for as long as she is out.
Overall Coach Deirdre Moore is impressing again with the work she has done with this team. Coach Moore has one of the toughest full court presses to beat that we see all season, and on both ends she is a great motivator, play caller, and is just a very smart coach that her players seem willing to always go the extra mile to play hard for. After losing key players last year this team has not missed a beat. With a tough stretch coming up without Marciniak, and games still against a very tough University of DC team, a very talented, and familiar Molloy team, and always a tough rival in NYIT, the Lady Pioneers will have to fight just as hard as they have to finish the season atop the ECC.
Overall Id say this team is every bit as talented as last years Conference Champion squad. With the depth they have and the ability of any number of players to beat you on any given night, along with the defense they've been playing pretty much shutting down every teams best player this team has a Very Promising rest of the season, and has all the makings of a team that could make another run at the end.