Thursday, January 7, 2016

Atlantic Ten Conference Forecast

Team that might surprise us all: Dayton Flyers
 (Despite the graduation of star hurler Kayla English and 2015 conference Player of the Year Tiffany Ricks, the Flyers stand in the seemingly likeliest position to take home the conference crown and earn the automatic NCAA bid this year. 2015 A10 Freshman of the Year Manda Cash put together an impressive season in the circle, recording a 13-2 record with a 1.49 ERA and 167 strikeouts. Starting only thirteen games, just 1/3 of her appearances in her inaugural campaign, she still recorded more than 122 innings of action. She's a budding star and her talent will go a long way towards helping the Flyers repeat in 2016 as regular-season conference champs.)

Team that might disappoint us all: Fordham Rams
     (The conference's most consistent team over most of Bridget Orchard's time at the helm, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Rams left on the outside looking in for the NCAA tourney. The loss of catcher Kayla Lombardo cannot be understated; a defensive stalwart, a team leader, and a statistical powerhouse over her three years as a starter, the Rams will have a difficult time making up for her absence in all three areas.)

Player of the Year: Rachel Gillen, Fordham
Pitcher of the Year: Manda Cash, Dayton
Coach of the Year: Cara LaPlaca, Dayton

Conference Champs: Dayton Flyers
Top WCWS Contender: Dayton Flyers
     (To go along with my pick of the Flyers as conference champions, I think they stand the best chance - albeit still a long-shot - of representing the Atlantic 10 in the Women's College World Series.)

Players to Watch:
--> Rachel Gillen, Fordham – The former Virginia transfer rebounded from a tumultuous inaugural season on the field as a Ram in 2014 to put up all-star-quality numbers a year ago. Her numbers were good enough to earn her first-team all-conference honors in 2015 and, with her dual-threat talents, she could be even better in her swan-song campaign. 
--> Manda Cash, Dayton – I called Cash a 'budding star' above and that description holds true. In her inaugural season as a Flyer, the southpaw hurler posted more than 122 innings in thirty-nine appearances. She led the conference in four categories, including ERA (the afore mentioned 1.49) and appearances. She led her team in an additional three statistical columns. With Kayla English graduated from the circle, Cash will have to shoulder even more of the workload and, if she can handle it, she could gather national recognition sooner rather than later.
--> Alex Nickel, Saint Louis – The junior shortstop led the Bills in ten statistical categories a year ago, including two-thirds of her .415/11/32 slash line. An all-conference all-rookie selection in her inaugural campaign two years ago, she boasts a career .377/.575/.485 stat line with thirty-five extra base hits and 183 total bases. She is speedy on the basepaths, though could use some shoring-up in the field.

Biggest Question:
* Can the St. Joe's program recover from the turmoil of 2015 to field a competitive team in '16?

Top Seniors:
P – Rachel Gillen, Fordham; Brianna Lore, Saint Louis; Mary Cate Scott, LaSalle
C – Kathryn Hess, Dayton
IF – Elizabeth Everingham, Saint Louis; Casey Price, George Mason; Sarah Yoos, St. Joe's; Brandi Harkness, St. Joe's; Carlee Gray, George Washington
OF – Julia Czarnecki, George Mason; Emily McDonough, St. Bonaventure

Conference Projection:
1. Dayton Flyers
2. St. Louis Billikens
3. Fordham Rams
4. George Mason Patriots
5. Massachusetts Minutewomen
6. LaSalle Explorers
7. St. Bonaventure Bonnies
8. George Washington Colonials
Others: Saint Joseph's Hawks; Rhode Island Rams

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