CBT's D2-Women's Update
As the calendar turns to 2022, the Division II Women’s basketball season is heating up. Conference play is in full swing, which means rivalries are being renewed, championships are being defended, and records are being chased.
Let's evaluate the East Coast Conference as a whole and take a look at its hottest teams, biggest stars, and intriguing matchups for the new year.
Teams on the Rise:
After finishing the 2020-21 season with an impressive 14-3 record and an elite eight appearance, the Wildcats struggled to maintain the pace, dropping three of the first five games. However, head coach Jenepher Banker’s squad returned to its usual form to begin conference play by collecting three straight convincing wins against Roberts Wesleyan, Bridgeport and Staten Island, propelling it to the top of the ECC standings with a perfect 3-0 record. Daemen’s recent success is in large part due to the dominant play of senior forward Katie Titus, who erupted for a career-high 38 points along with 11 rebounds in the team’s 97-83 win over Bridgeport. The Penfield, New York, native now leads the ECC with 20.9 points and 10.3 rebounds a game, helping her earn East Coast Conference Player of the Week twice this season.
Mercy also started off its 2021-22 season on the wrong foot with an unimpressive 2-5 record. While this seemed like a continuation of Mercy’s 1-8 campaign last season, the Mavericks silenced doubters by rattling off three straight conference victories over St. Thomas Aquinas, Roberts Wesleyan and Bridgeport. This hot stretch has not only placed Mercy atop the ECC standings, but is also the first 3-0 conference start for the Mavericks since the 1992-93 season. Head coach Scott Lagas’ team features a balanced scoring attack with three players — junior guard Katie Wall, senior guard Taysha Bender and junior forward Kellie Nudd — all averaging double figures in scoring.
Molloy has earned two consecutive conference wins (over Staten Island and Queens) to improve to 5-5 and assume fifth place in the ECC. The Lions have won with defense, holding the Dolphins and Knights to a season-low 37 and 50 points on a combined 29 percent shooting. Head coach Joe Pellicane’s team is built from the inside, starting with graduate forward Safiyyah Lee, who leads the team with 14.1 points on a conference-leading 51.7 percent shooting. Lee’s 16 point and 19 rebound performance against Staten Island has also catapulted her to third place in the conference with 9.4 rebounds a contest.
Players to watch:
1) Samirah Henderson: Bridgeport
Henderson has emerged as one of the better shooters in the ECC, shooting a conference-leading 49.3 percent from beyond the arc. The junior guard’s sharp shooting has enabled her to reach double figures in 10 of her 11 contests, highlighted by a career-high 31-point performance on an impressive 11-15 shooting Nov. 23 against Post University. The Rahway, New Jersey, native is currently the third-leading scorer in the conference at 18.9 points per game.
2) Latavia Jackson: District of Columbia
Jackson is just 5'7" but has made an impact for the Firebirds both inside and outside the paint. The sophomore guard has already collected three double doubles in just 10 games, including a 20-point and 12-rebound performance Dec. 1 against Molloy. Jackson’s versatility has enabled her to average 15.2 points and 8 rebounds a game, which ranks fifth and eighth in the conference, respectively.
3) Dimitra Gkizani: Roberts Wesleyan
At 6’3”, Gkizani has emerged as an intimidating inside presence for the Redhawks in her first season as a full-time starter. The senior center has already posted four double-digit scoring performances along with one double-double, collecting 13 points and 10 rebounds Dec. 12 against D’Youville. These efforts have propelled Gkizani to average career-highs in both points and rebounds, as she currently sits at 9 points and 6.7 boards per game. The Athens, Greece, native has also produced on the defensive end, racking up seven blocks and four steals.
Staten Island vs Queens: Feb. 2
The battle of the boroughs will resume in early February after a Jan. 2 contest was postponed due to COVID-19. While both teams entered the new year without a conference victory, the Dolphins and Knights will look to make more noise in 2022 by taking down an in-state rival. Despite starting the season with an 0-8 record, Queens features a stout defense that has held its first seven opponents to 40.8 percent from the field and 25 percent from three. The Knights will have a tough time accounting for the hot shooting of Staten Island sophomore guard Gia Esposito, however. She ranks second in the conference with a 45.7 three-point field goal percentage.
D’Youville vs St. Thomas Aquinas: Jan 23
This late January matchup will pit D’Youville’s elite offense against a formidable St. Thomas Aquinas defense. The Saints currently hold the ECC’s highest scoring offense, averaging 72 points through its first nine games. Meanwhile the Spartans’ scoring defense ranks fourth in the conference, surrendering 63.1 points a game and holding its first 11 opponents to just 36.5 percent from the field. If head coach William Cleary’s team is to pull off the upset, they will need to limit the scoring of sophomore guard Sara Pfeiffer, who averages 20.6 points per game — second in the conference — and erupted for 40 points Dec. 10 vs. Bridgeport.
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