Thursday, January 14, 2016

Colonial Athletic Association Forecast

Team that could surprise: James Madison Dukes
     (JMU having success in-conference will be no surprise, but I expect the Dukes to have an even greater role on the national scene. Selected as the postseason #15 seed a year ago and chosen to host their first-ever regional in Harrisonburg, the Dukes' season ended prematurely with a single win followed by two straight losses to even keep them out of the regional finals. Returning their 2015 leader in literally *every* offensive statistical category, as well as 2/3 of their lights-out pitching staff, Mickey Dean's squad now has the experience of a great season that ended prematurely and I expect them to come back with a vengeance. They have packed their schedule with more than a dozen games against Power Five teams, including perennial championship contenders Alabama, Arizona, and Tennessee, and with success can come a higher RPI ranking and better (read: easier) competition in the regional round.)

Team that could disappoint: Hofstra Pride
     (This may be a misnomer, because I expect another solid-as-usual season from the Pride, but I relate it again back to an impact on a national scale. While the CAA is far from even a "Group of Five" conference, both teams mentioned so far have cast themselves onto the national scene yet, in recent history, the Pride have given up the upper hand as the conference's premier team. That may change again at some point, but I do not expect a lengthy postseason run from the Pride and you can expect them to again finish behind their counterparts from Harrisonburg.)

Player of the Year: Megan Good, 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 Dukes
     (Small conference though the CAA may be, they just might be the mid-major conference with the best shot at actually placing a team from its ranks in Oklahoma City.)

Players to Watch:
--> Jailyn Ford, James Madison - The most polarizing player in the Colonial Athletic Association without a doubt, Ford has helped put JMU on the national map and made herself virtually a household name, an almost-unheard of feat coming from a small mid-major. Twice an all-American and a former conference Pitcher and Player of the Year, she is simply a sensational player. Especially when coupled with sophomore Megan Good both in the circle and at the plate, Ford packs a dangerous, deadly punch both in the circle and at the plate.
--> Caryn Bailey, Hofstra - Bailey earned National Player of the Week honors the first week of May last season after batting .667 with four home runs and eight RBI in the conference tournament. The performance was an opportunity for her to receive national acclaim, but followed up much of the same that she had been doing throughout the season. Ending the campaign with a .386/16/52 slash line and a .737 slugging percentage, Bailey played a hueg role in the Pride's success a year ago and figures to do the same in 2016. A senior, look for her swan song to be a memorable one.
--> Emily Cameron, Elon - After something of a breakout campaign in 2014, Cameron regressed somewhat in 2015. Despite more at-bats in more games, her batting average went down sixty points and she hit just one home run (after clubbing eight in '14). She has shown she has pop in her bat and can produce runs; if she can get back to the form of her sophomore campaign and bring her offensive numbers up a bit, she could help inject her squad into the conference discussion.

Biggest Questions:
* Will James Madison or Hofstra will win the head-to-head battle and emerge as the conference's top team in 2016?
* Can Jailyn Ford play herself into position to be a first-round draft choice for the NPF?

Top Seniors:
P - Jailyn Ford, James Madison [JWOS Top15]; Kayla Caruso, Elon
C - Erica Field, James Madison
IF - Hannah Hayes, James Madison
OF - Caryn Bailey, Hofstra; Chloe Fitzgerald, Hofstra; Rebecca Mueller, College of Charleston

Conference Projection:
1. James Madison Dukes
2. Hofstra Pride
3. Elon Phoenix
4. College of Charleston Cougars
5. Towson Tigers
6. Delaware Blue Hens
7. Drexel Dragons
8. UNC-Wilmington Seahawks

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