UNIVERSITY OF NEW ENGLAND
COACH: Anthony Ewing (6th year, 102-40)
LAST YEAR: 22-6, 16-2 in CCC (lost in NCAA first round)
STRENGTHS: Senior forward Beth Suggs is legitimate force down low and sophomore Kelly Coleman came on late in freshman year as key reserve. Guards Lauren Rousseau and Liz LeBlanc were key contributors to last year’s first NCAA appearance and are being pushed by first-year players Meghan Gribbin of Windham and Michaela Flanagan.
QUESTION: After forming a consistent scoring trio with graduated Kelley Paradis and Margo Russell, can Suggs (16 points, 22 rebounds in opener) get the help she’ll need to deflect increased attention?
OUTLOOK: Coming off fourth straight 20-win season, Nor’easters are expected to challenge Salve Regina for CCC but shooting is a concern after making 23 and 27 percent of shots in first two games.
ST. JOSEPH’S COLLEGE
COACH: Mike McDevitt (20th year, 376-146)
LAST YEAR: 20-8, 12-1 in GNAC
STRENGTHS: Monks are deep at every position. Junior Mackenzie Dufour has started every game in her career at the point with senior Danyelle Shufelt moving into starting role. Sophomore Nicolette Kapothanasis of Westbrook (Portland High) is a 3-point threat. Down low, returning juniors Lindsay Moore and Abby Young of North Yarmouth will get immediate help from freshman Morgan Cahill of Yarmouth.
QUESTION: Can Kapothanasis and other Monks replace the 3-point threat provided in recent seasons by current assistant coach Megan McDevitt?
OUTLOOK: Picked to finish fourth in GNAC, the Monks have the depth and experience to finish higher.
COACH: Adrienne Shibles (5th, 91-26 plus)
LAST YEAR: 21-8, 7-3 in NESCAC, lost in third round of NCAA
STRENGTHS: History of success as Shibles has guided team to four straight NCAA appearances, the experience of lone returning starter Kaitlin Donahoe and, hopefully, a powerful inside presence from sophomore forward Megan Phelps, who had 24 rebounds in a 1-1 opening weekend.
QUESTION: How does a team that only went seven deep in the NCAA tournament replace four graduated players, including all-NESCAC and honorable mention All-American Jill Henrickson.
OUTLOOK: Polar Bears will have hard time matching recent success with Williams picked as top team in the NESCAC.
UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN MAINE
COACH: Gary Fifield (25th season, 601-113)
LAST YEAR: 21-7, 11-3 in Little East, lost NCAA first round to Bowdoin
STRENGTHS: Three-year captain Nicole Garland of Portland (Deering), leading scorer Haley Jordan of Falmouth and Erin McNamara return as do top reserves giving Huskies ample experience. Add in transfers Becca Knight of Alfred (McAuley), who played as a first-year at Maine and Portland’s Nash Biliew (UMass-Lowell) and the cupboard is full.
QUESTION: Can 3-point specialist Garland still get off her shot without inside presence of first-team Little East Courtney Cochrane post player to draw defenders.
OUTLOOK: Picked to win the Little East, a 25th trip to the NCAAs in 27 seasons is a distinct possibility.
SOUTHERN MAINE COMMUNITY COLLEGE
COACH: Sabrina Best (first year)
LAST YEAR: 15-12, 10-6 in YSCC
STRENGTHS: With good size in the post from the likes of Maria Veino of Sanford and Nyalieb Deng of Portland, SMCC has controlled rebounding and points in the paint. Junior and team leader Esther Palmeiri of South Portland and Tiana Burton of Brunswick run the backcourt.
QUESTION: Will team settle on a consistent rotation?
OUTLOOK: Best, the interim coach, took over just before the opener when Kendra Reichert and her family moved to Ohio. So far, so good.
– Steve Craig, Staff Writer