As the defending Atlantic Ten champions, the Temple women’s basketball team will undoubtedly be the target, waiting for conference opponents to strike all season long. But the Owls are not the only team that has a bulls-eye pinned to its uniforms.
Four other A-10 teams advanced to the postseason last year, tying the record set in 2000. George Washington and Temple received bids to the NCAA Tournament while Richmond, Xavier and Saint Joseph’s each earned berths into the Women’s NIT. Instead of just one front-running team, there are several that could challenge for the A-10 championship this season. The title is mostly up for grabs.
Coach Dawn Staley said this kind of parity will shine the national spotlight on the A-10.
“I think [this conference] is capable of it,” Staley said. “Richmond is doing it right alongside us. [George Washington] has always done it. If a few teams start a winning tradition, that is how we will get more recognition and more of our teams into the NCAA Tournament.”
The conference has a few programs, including Temple’s, that have plenty of upside. Several A-10 coaches attributed the conference’s recent brush with competitiveness to improved recruiting. UMass coach Marnie Dacko said that while competition still exists within conference play, a few teams have emerged from the pack with better-than-average recruiting classes.
“Every [coach] in this conference knows where the talent is,” Dacko said. “We all know that we’re grateful to have such competition in this conference. It’s a pleasure to have the coaches we have. It’s just that some of us don’t want to recruit against coaches like Dawn and some others.”
The A-10 is a grab bag this season, each program being built differently than the next. Some programs will be carried by one or two key players, while others will succeed on team effort.
Local schools St. Joe’s and La Salle will heavily rely on individual efforts. With just one returning starter, the Hawks will have a tough time repeating their success from last season. Similarly, the Explorers don’t possess another scoring threat outside of 2004 Rookie of the Year forward Crista Ricketts, who paced the team in scoring and rebounds.
La Salle’s situation is slightly more imposing with new coach Tom Lochner calling the shots from the bench. Lochner replaces John Miller, who resigned his 18-year post because of a rape case that materialized this summer. Lochner has no prior head coaching experience.
Xavier and Richmond are quite the opposite of La Salle and St. Joe’s. Combined, the two programs return nine starters and two preseason all-America candidates. Xavier forward Tara Boothe became only the second player in Musketeers history to score 1,000 points in two seasons. She ranked 17th in the nation in points per game.
Last season, Richmond advanced to the WNIT Final Four behind center Kate Flavin and guard Saona Chapman. Flavin was among the conference leaders in every offensive category while Chapman surprised many by developing into one of the conference’s leading scorers.
Chapman said that as the A-10’s level of competition grows, so too will its rivalries.
“This entire conference has plenty of competitive rivalries, like the one building between us and Temple,” Chapman said. “I feel like it’s always going to be a battle at this level because we’re surrounded by plenty of good teams.”
George Washington, the conference’s only perennial contender, has to cope with the loss of A-10 Offensive Player of the Year Cathy Joens to graduation. The Colonials will look to center Anna Montanana, a preseason all-conference selection, to carry the torch. George Washington is host to this season’s A-10 tournament.
Senior Ari Moore isn’t worried about opponents hurting the Owls’ chances in the A-10. Instead, the Owls’ starting forward issued a warning to all of the non-conference opponents who might be taking the A-10 lightly.
“Don’t sleep on us,'” Moore said. “We’re a conference on the rise. We’re a team on the rise. Other teams might think that we aren’t anything more than a practice game for Connecticut. But we’ll beat you if you sleep.”
Christopher A. Vito can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.