Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Colonial Athletic (CAA) Conference Forecast

Team that will surprise: James Madison
     The Dukes have steadily  risen over the past three years, going from a good team just above .500 to a team that finished 45-15 in 2014 and earned their second-straight regional berth. In 2013, they were placed in Knoxville; last season, it was Lexington, KY. With the right regional placement this year, they have a legitimate shot at the Supers. Jailyn Ford is a special player, and still just a junior. As if it's possible, she seems to get better each year. If you've never watched Ford play, find some way to. She's an incredible player and a true dual-threat, in the circle and at the plate. Don't let the rest of the excellent Dukes squad fall by the wayside either... senior Heather Kiefer is an all-conference and all-region player, and an excellent hurler in her own right, to name one.

Team that will disappoint: Hofstra
     With the Pride's recent run of tremendous success, anything less than a conference title and some kind of postseason success would likely be considered a disappointment. Ergo, their inclusion in this spot. Following last season, Bill Edwards ended his stellar career at the helm of the program, and longtime assistant Larissa Anderson takes over at the head coach position. The Pride ended 2014 with dual losses to the Aggies of Texas A&M in the regional round in Norman, Oklahoma. They've yet to find the right mixture of talent and skill to replace program legend Olivia Galati, who graduated in 2013. Now having to make up for the loss of Edwards in the dugout, as well, I don't anticipate much of a postseason push from the Pride this season.

Player of the Year: Jailyn Ford, James Madison

Pitcher of the Year: Jailyn Ford, James Madison
Coach of the Year: Mickey Dean, James Madison

Conference Champs: James Madison Dukes

Top WCWS Contender: James Madison
     (You're seeing JMU mentioned a lot in this article. There's a good reason for that. Mickey Dean's team has been primed for success for quite a while, and this could be their year to take advantage of a plateaued Hofstra squad and make a run significantly deeper into the postseason. If you're looking for a Cinderella to make the World Series, don't sleep on the Dukes.)

Players to Watch:
- Morgan Lashley, Hofstra – The former Army cadet will enter her second and final season with the Pride this year. The all-time wins leader for the Black Knights, she has served as a solid bridge between Galati and whatever phenom the Pride cultivate as their next "ace". For the time being, though, Lashley fills that role and does so well. A 2014 ERA under 2.40 and a nearly 5/1 strikeout/walk ratio are two of her more impressive statistics from her first season as a member of the Pride. Already a two-time all-region selection during her career, Lashley's likely to earn a first-team nod in 2015.

- Missy McCormick, Towson – 2014 was really the first year that McCormick got to show off her abilities in the batter's box, and show off she did, to the tune of a .276 batting average and twelve home runs. In the pitching circle, she more than doubled her career innings total. Her ERA was more than a run below her career average to that point, and she was rewarded with her first career all-conference & all-conference tournament nods.

- Heather Kiefer, James Madison – Overshadowed by Ford's success at JMU, on any other team, Kiefer would likely be the ace of the staff. A three-time all-conference selection and a two-time all-region selection, Kiefer recorded a 2.04 ERA in 2014, the highest number she has recorded in that category in her career. That tells you something right there; her ERA in the two previous seasons was 1.96 and 1.65, respectively.

- Giovanna Kolofer, Delaware – Kolofer was an immediate highlight on offense upon arriving on the scene at Delaware; the true freshman led her squad in batting average and slugging percentage and was second in RBIs. She was selected to the all-conference second team, as well as the CAA all-rookie team. And she did it all in roughly ten fewer games than many of her teammates. An All-American she may not be, but certainly a player to keep an eye on.

Top Seniors:
P – Morgan Lashley, Hofstra; Hope Klicker, College of Charleston; 
C - Erin Trippi, Hofstra; 
OF - Jessica Grisler, Delaware; 
UT – Missy McCormick, Towson; 

Conference Projection (2014 finish in parentheses):
1. James Madison (1)
2. College of Charleston (2)
3. Hofstra (3)
4. Towson (4)

5. Delaware (5)
Drexel (7)
UNCW (6)

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