Friday, March 29, 2013
The various MAAC teams have played lots of games so far this season, but not any against one another. That all changes Saturday as the conference season begins; this is when the season gets real interesting and intense. Tomorrow, preseason favorite Fairfield will be at defending champion Iona. Rider will be at St. Peter's in the battle of New Jersey.
How will the MAAC season play out leading up to Poughkeepsie in May? Fairfield and Canisius have been the most consistent teams thus far; neither has had an extended losing streak. The main obstacle for the Stags is to get "over the hump" of the previous two seasons that saw them head into Championship Saturday out of the winner's bracket only to be swept each season. I don't see them having much problem getting into the tournament. Their challenge will come once they're in. Canisius will have to travel to Fairfield and Iona on the same weekend this season; they have traditionally had trouble with those games. In 2011, they were swept in those four games, and essentially fell out of the race. Even in 2009, the last time they won the MAAC, they lost three of four, and barely made it to the tournament. They want to win it all this season, and that will be a pivotal weekend for them.
Marist once again will have the advantage of playing on their own campus if they make the tournament. They started this season in great fashion, then went into a prolonged slump where they had a couple of disturbing losses. They seemed to have bounced back once they returned east. What they have in their favor is a four pitcher staff, all of whom have had great periods of play. But also not so great periods of play. If they ever get on the same page, they'll have a well rested pitcher in the circle every game and will be hard to beat. Siena got out of the gate slowly this season; then they had an offensive outburst where they feasted on inferior pitching. And that's the thing about the Saints that make them dangerous: if your pitching is not up to par on a given day, they will kill you. They then went out west and played some tough teams on on their own fields, and competed well. Obviously the hope being that this would toughen them up for MAAC season. I think it has, but they don't seem to be as strong in the pitcher's circle as they were last season. They may have to get into shootouts to win.
Last season, Manhattan had an almost complete turnover of their roster, and showed definite improvement by the end of the season, although it wasn't great enough to qualify for the postseason. They still may not be ready, but I believe they are going to make a serious run to the tournament. Their pitching has been up and down all season, with Katie Bowen being the most consistent. They need to shore that area of their game up. They have some game changing offensive weapons, including freshman Elena Bowman who figures to only get better. Niagara has had a difficult start to this year, with some weather related cancellations that have hurt their preparation for the conference season. They have an experienced pitching staff, but junior Kim Bryson is off to an 0-9 start, and if she doesn't return to the form that saw her at the top of the intra conference statistics last year, the Purple Eagles will have a tough hill to climb.
Iona has found life after Sarah Jackson difficult; currently they are on a 14 game losing streak. They have also had injury problems; most notably All-MAAC outfielder Eileen McCann. It's unknown at this time if she will be able to return to the lineup. Their young pitching staff has experienced the inevitable growing pains, but are hanging in there, and have shown strides recently. What they have in their favor is championship experience; they don't like to lose. I believe if they can steal a win against Fairfield this weekend that they will be dangerous. St. Peter's and Rider are both teams in the midst of rebuilding. It's very important that they play hard during the conference season, no matter where they stand. They both have a lot of young talent who will be here in the future; and they must learn to compete with the other MAAC teams. And who knows? They could find themselves making a run, like Manhattan did in 2009. But even if they don't, their MAAC seasons will have meaning.