Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Guru WBB Report: Philly D1 Teams Are Young But The Overall Encore Act Should Be Even Better

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

PHILADELPHIA - When the 2016-17 local collegiate women’s basketball season was finally concluded for the most part it had been an uplifting journey though there were some tough moments at the end.

Temple ended a six-year NCAA tournament drought and senior Feyonda Fitzgerald was a second-round WNBA draft pick, though she did not make an in-season roster except for a brief appearance as a free agent with the Connecticut Sun.

Penn in its own Palestra took the first-ever Ivy tournament after completing back-to-back regular season crowns and three in four years.

Villanova and Saint Joseph’s struggled early but then the Hawks made a long run in the Atlantic 10 and earned a WNIT berth while the Wildcats also struggled at the outset but then landed a WNIT bid and all on the road forged all the way to the semifinals.

La Salle made major strides to earn Jeff Williams Atlantic 10 coach of the year while Drexel also returned to the WNIT.

Going beyond the Philly Six (with Drexel and Big 5 without), the Cinderella story was Rider, which beat nearby Princeton on the road opening night and kept going in an historic year going toe-to-toe with Quinnipiac until the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference title game and then gained a first-year postseason bid, landing in the WNIT.

Princeton with its youth took uncharacteristic early stumbles but then got things together to finish second in the Ivy standings and title game and a spot in the WNIT.

It was an off-balance for the rest including Delaware, Rutgers, Penn State, Lafayette and Lehigh.

The toughest endings came in the NCAA tournament for Temple, which was poised to beat Oregon at the buzzer in the first round at Duke but had a shot blocked and the Ducks forged a few upsets to land in the Elite Eight and are now among the preseason national teams to watch.

A few hours later Penn out West at UCLA had a large lead on Texas A&M to be on track for one of the great wins for an Ivy school, only to see it fritter away.

Besides local school, local people were doing it big nationally with Dawn Staley getting the Olympic job for 2020 and then a few weeks later realizing a dream from her playing days as South Carolina beat Southeastern Conference rival Mississippi State for the Gamecocks’ first NCAA title.

What, no Geno?

Well, it what was suppose to be an off-year, his Auriemma’s four-time defending NCAA champion Connecticut Huskies took on all comers to extend a win streak to 111 straight for a new record only to see it come to a stunning end in the NCAA semifinals in Dallas when Morgan William snapped a tie with a buzzer-beater in overtime to advance to the championship.

And off the court Saint Joseph’s grad Muffet McGraw, who usually has Notre Dame in the Women’s Final Four conversation, was inducted with the 2017 Class of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame as was former UConn star Rebecca Lobo in Springfield, Mass., in September.

So now it is time to look to 2017-18, which begins Friday night and keeps going on the road to Columbus, Ohio, where the Women’s Final Four will conclude in Nationwide Arena.

A preview of the fireworks comes this weekend with Ohio State in its arena hosting Stanford Friday night and then on Sunday at Nationwide UConn, whose losing streak may be end at one and stay that way all season, will play Stanford before Ohio State meets Louisville.

We will go more in depth nationally and locally as we get around in the early competition.

Postseason action will be in West Philadelphia the same weekend a few blocks apart with the Ivy tourney returning to Penn’s Palestra while Drexel will host the Colonial Athletic Association tourney at the Daskalakis Athletic Center.

Scroll down the blog a little bit and you will see the composite local and key national slate for November.

There are some sideline changes as Hall of Famer Theresa Grentz left her brief out-of-retirement stint at Lafayette to be succeeded by Kia Damon, a longtime assistant at stops including Penn State, while longtime Delaware coaching legend Tina Martin left the Blue Hens but is now an aide to Karen Barefoot at UNC Wilmington, meaning she will be back in the area for CAA action at Delaware and Drexel.

Barefoot is new having moved from Old Dominion, which is in Conference USA but now she as well is back in the CAA family.

We’ll round up all the coaching changes later this weekend.

Meanwhile, “We’re So Young,” is the theme of a lot of folks on the local circuit.

Temple: “We’re not number three,” Temple coach Tonya Cardoza jested after last weekend’s exhibition game about the American Athletic Conference pick behind Connecticut, which has yet to lose a conference game, and South Florida.

The Owls, who host Delaware State at 7 Friday night in McGonigle Hall, might be except that Alliya Butts suffered a season-ending knee injury during training.

Nevertheless, Temple got some experience over the summer playing games overseas in Rome and Paris.

Active seniors Tanaya Atkinson and Khadijah Berger are the leaders — transfers Mykia Jones from Georgetown and Lena Niang from N.C. State are added help and promising talent exists from the half-dozen freshmen arrivals in Emani and Nicolette Mayo from Georgia; Desiree Oliver from Pittsburgh, Mia Davis from Baltimore, Tajae Stevenson from Paterson, N.J., and Breanna Perry from Michigan.

Penn: Despite the graduation of center Sydney Stipanovich, the Quakers, who begin on the road Wednesday at Binghamton, are picked to make it three straight and four out of the last five Ivy titles in a program that blossomed when coach Mike McLaughlin arrived from D2 Holy Family in Northeast Philadelphia.

For one, there’s the return of post star Michelle Nwokedi, who is on the new Katrina McClain power forward watch list. And three-point ace Lauren Whitlatch is recovered from her knee injury while backcourt general Anna Ross is still on the scene.

And then there’s newcomer 6-4 Eleah Parker from Charlotte. Says McLaughlin, “Sydney had her era and hopefully Eleah has a chance to carve her own. It’s not fair to compare the two.”

Villanova: The Wildcats are still young — one more year before big expectations — but will still be fun to watch with the home games being played in Jake Nevin Field House.

A veteran core consists of seniors Alex Louin, Megan Quinn, juniors Adrianna Hahn and Jannah Tucker.

With a year of freshmen experience that helped Villanova to its WNIT finish, there’s sophomore talent in Mary Gedaka, Kelly Jekot and Bridget Herlihy, whose sister Brianna now becomes active.

Other newcomers are redshirt freshmen Cameron Onken, Raven James, and true freshmen Grace Lange, Samantha Carangi, and Emily Esposito.

The Wildcats open on the road Friday night at Hartford.

Villanova was picked third in the Big East behind defending conference tournament champion and regular season co-champ DePaul, which veteran coach Harry Perretta says is about right, “though it could slip to fifth depending on transfers at some other schools.”

One such is Donnaizha Fountain from Temple, who spent the close of last season on the injury list.

Perretta, with his top six scorers back, is in his 40th season.

Saint Joseph’s: Picked down below preseason a year in the Atlantic 10, the Hawks, the third place choice behind Dayton and Saint Louis are poised to return to old times as they open at Niagara at noon on Sunday.

Head coach and former Hawks star Cindy Griffin is now dean of the conference mentors.

A solid group of experience on the roster is paced by Amanda Fiorvanti, who got a fifth year of eligibility and starred in the Philadelphia women’s summer league as did other Hawk stars Chelsea Woods and Adashia Franklyn.

Other veterans are Avery Marz, Krystalyn Baisden, Alyssa Monaghan, Sarah Veilleux, and Michala Clay with the junior class.

Two freshmen newcomers are Katie Jekot and Cardinal O’Hara’s Mary Sheehan.

La Salle: Going from 5-25 to 17-13 was a great stride for the Explorers but coach Jeff Williams said, “There’s still lots to be done.”

He starts with the A-10’s leading scorer who returns in senior Amy Griffin, while junior Adreana Miller, the second leading scorer with the Explorers, is also back as are shot blockers Shalina Miller and Ashanti Freeland.

Sofilia Ngwafang, a 6-4 sophomore center, provides some inside help as La Salle opens at 7 Friday night at Lafayette, which beat the Explorers down here in last year’s season opener.

Newcomers are freshmen Rayshel Brown, Deja King, Michelle Nicholls of New Zealand, and Jasmine White along with redshirt freshman Shaquana Edwards, redshirt sophomore Amber Wilks, who missed last year, and redshirt junior Iyona Crenshaw.  

Drexel: “We’re different, we’re young, and we will take our lumps but down the road we should be ok,” says veteran Dragons coach Denise Dillon, whose squad opens Sunday afternoon at Penn State.

Even the vets are young, but talented, in sophomores Bailey Greenberg and Aubree Brown, Ana Ferariu, though among the upper class are seniors Kelsi Lidge and Sarah Woods and juniors Tereza Kracikova and Eline Maesschalck.

The Dragons are picked fourth in the CAA tournament they will host behind James Madison, defending champion Elon, and William & Mary.

The array of newcomer freshmen are Kayla Bacon from suburban Baltimore, Ashley Richardson from Illinois Hannah NiHill from Cardinal O’Hara, Hayley Wardwell from Massachusetts, and Mariah Leonard  from suburban Washington.