D-II Women's Basketball Preview: SNHU poised for jump
The last time the Southern New Hampshire University women's basketball team got close to 20 wins and made a run at the NCAA Division II tournament, it slipped badly.
The Penmen are certainly going to try to make sure history doesn't repeat itself this season.
SNHU returns three starters and a handful of other key players from last year's 19-10 team that reached the quarterfinals of the NE-10 tournament. The Penmen, it appears, are on the brink of breaking through the upper echelon of the conference and reaching the NCAAs for the first time since 1990.
SNHU was in a similar position four years ago when it won 18 games, but that was followed by two straight losing seasons.
The rest of the NE-10 coaches don't see that happening this season; they voted the Penmen fifth in their preseason poll.
Franklin Pierce University, with new coach Jen Leedham, was picked seventh, while St. Anselm was 11th.
Here's a quick look at each team.
Leedham was an assistant to Steve Hancock for the past three years; they are reversing roles this season, with Hancock serving as Leedham's assistant.
It's probably good to have the sage Hancock still involved, but the more pressing concern for Leedham is how to replace All-America Jewel White and NE-10 defensive player of the year Marielle Giroud. They were the heart and soul of a team that went 20-10 and reached the NCAAs for the sixth straight season.
Senior forward Amanda Saab of Windham (Salem) and senior guard Tiffany Johnson head a team that lacks the star power of past teams, but could be deep.
The Hawks had to get used to life without Epiphany Smith when the all-everything senior guard went down with an injury midway through last season. Now that Smith has graduated, they'll have to do it for a whole year.
Senior forward Curran Leighton of Dover and junior forward Tori Lehr averaged around 7 points a game last year, making them the top returning offensive threats. Look for help from one of the seven freshmen brought in by Hawks coach DeAnn Craft.
Christine Duffy was one of the top playmakers in the conference last year, so replacing her will be no easy task, however seniors Sloane Sorrell and Michelle DeRoma are both proven scorers who should anchor the team.
Junior Victoria Wiseman was a spark off the bench and sophomore guards Brooke Springfield of Jaffrey (Conant) and Loretta Rocha could form a talented backcourt combo. Springfield, who started 28 games, came in with a reputation of being a long-range shooter, but she impressed with her solid overall game. Rocha is an athleti