Story by Peyton Doyle and Mike Puzzanghera
Last season, the Blue Hens captured the CAA Championship but like many of their conference opponents are facing extreme roster turnover coming into this year. Their opponent in last year’s title game, the Dragons, may be best poised to make a return to the finals as they bring back one of the conference’s top players in Keishana Washington and retain the reigning CAA Coach of the Year, Amy Mallon. The losses of most of last year’s All-CAA first team allows for several teams to step up into the top tier this season. The returning programs will also have to fend off some new faces however, as four new schools join the conference for this upcoming season, and JMU says goodbye. The conference will be as open as it has been in years and what follows is our best prediction of how the conference standings will play out over the course of the season and who the top talent is on each team.
The Dragons are the only team returning a player from last year’s All-CAA first team (Keishana Washington), and they also have the reigning CAA Coach of the Year, Amy Mallon. The team however is without four of its top five scorers from last year’s squad that went 28-6 overall and 16-2 in conference play before losing in the CAA Championship to Delaware. Following Washington, the next highest scorer that is coming back is graduate student guard Maura Hendrixson who had 3.4 ppg last season. To supplement the graduates of the squad, Mallon brought in four freshmen and will look to the youth on her roster to step up around Washington this season.
The Cougars are bringing back one of the most dynamic players in the conference in senior guard Jenna Annecchiarico who averaged 16.6 ppg and 6.5 apg last season for the best offense in the CAA. Annecchiarico is joined by junior forward Anika McGarity to form one of the top duos in the conference. Last season, the third under head coach Robin Harmony, the Cougars went 18-13 overall and 9-9 in the CAA, ending a losing season streak of seven years. This year has the potential to be the best Charleston season since they joined the CAA in the 2013-14 season. The last and only time they had a winning record in conference play was 2013-14 when they went 9-7.
The newcomer to the CAA with the highest expectations, the Seawolves steamrolled through the America East Conference last year with a 14-4 record (23-6 overall). They would have had a strong shot of qualifying for the NCAA Tournament if not for America East preventing them from participating in the conference tournament after their move to the CAA was announced. Instead, they earned an at-large WNIT bid. The Seawolves lost a few key pieces of last year’s successful team, but still have graduate student guard Annie Warren (12.0 ppg last year) and senior guard Gigi Gonzalez (9.0 ppg).
The Tigers are faced with steep player and coaching changes, not just losing their top two scorers who averaged over 30 points per game together but also the entirety of their staff, which went to Temple with some of their best players. New head coach Laura Harper is going to have to rely on the remaining talent that didn’t walk out in the transfer portal this past offseason. Luckily for the Tigers, they have two budding stars waiting to show what they can do as the lead scorers for a team. Senior forward Anissa Rivera was named to the preseason All-CAA first team and junior guard Kylie Kornegay-Lucas was selected to the second team. Both players showed signs of their vast talent but now have nothing in the way to slow them down this year.
The Huskies are perhaps dealing with the most roster turnover in the conference, losing eight players from last season’s team that finished 14-18 and 8-10 in the CAA, their best mark in three years. The top returner on the team is sophomore guard Gemima Motema who was named to the CAA all-rookie team last year. While the rest of the team’s starters around Motema are gone, head coach Bridgette Mitchell is bringing in five experienced transfers, including three from Power Five programs.
Graduate student Evonna McGill is an impact player — as long as she can stay on the court. McGill played just 19 minutes a game for the Phoenix and only made 12 starts, but she averaged 11.7 ppg in those 19 minutes. The Phoenix lost five of their top seven scorers from a year ago, including star point guard Brie Perpignan. Longtime head coach Charlotte Smith is entering her 12th season at the helm, and will hope that some returners such as Ajia James and Vanessa Taylor take a step forward.
Over the past two seasons, Delaware has gone 31-5 in conference play, making it to two CAA Championships, taking the crown last year. While they’ve dominated the conference over the past couple of seasons, head coach Natasha Adair saw six Blue Hens graduate from her nest last season. Those graduates and junior Tyi Skinner, who transferred to Arizona State, take with them 87% of the team’s scoring from last season. The most notable loss is the 25 ppg provided by back-to-back CAA Player of the Year Jasmine Dickey who was drafted by the Dallas Wings in the third round of the WNBA Draft.
William & Mary
The Tribe return two of the most talented scorers in the conference, Riley Casey and Sydney Wagner. The two combined for 29.1 points per game last year — 51% of the Tribe’s scoring. Keeping those two, as well as All-Rookie selections Dani McTeer and Ruthie Montella, gives the Tribe an established core. The question mark is how things will run under new head coach Erin Dickerson Davis.
After six straight years of failing to have a winning record in conference play, the Hawks made the move over from the MAAC to the CAA. This will be the program’s second year under head coach Ginny Boggess who went 14-16 overall last season and was bounced from the MAAC tournament in the opening round. For her first year in the CAA, Boggess will be without her lead guard from last year, Stella Clark, who earned All-MAAC second team honors while averaging 12 points, 5.6 rebounds, 4.2 assists, and 1.6 steals per game. She does have the advantage though of returning an incredibly talented junior class. Last season, five sophomores contributed more than half of the team’s overall points and all look poised to step up in terms of their offensive production this season.
The Aggies have been one of the top programs in the Big South Conference over the past five years, putting up a record of 62-14 in conference play over that span. Since 2016, head coach Tarrell Robinson has brought his team to three NCAA Tournaments and is looking to carry over his success to the CAA. Robinson though will be without four of his top five scorers with the lone holdover being his center Jazmin Harris. Harris scored 13.1 ppg last year and added 6.1 rebounds and a little over one block per game. Her previous work earned her a preseason All-CAA second team nomination and she looks to be the top threat for the Aggies this year.
One of two new schools joining the CAA from the Big South, the Hampton Pirates return four starters from last year’s team: junior Nylah Young, senior Madison Buford, and sophomores Jermany Mapp and Victoria Mason. The big name is Young, who averaged 15.7 ppg last season and earned preseason All-CAA second team honors. Head coach David Six is entering his 13th year with the Pirates — in that time, he is the program’s all-time wins leader and has led Hampton to six NCAA Tournament appearances.
The Pride will be out to prove the doubters wrong from day one. Hofstra was voted to finish last in the preseason poll, but as Northeastern proved last year, that’s far from a sure thing. But they’ll have their work cut out for them, as the Pride lost their four leading scorers from a year ago. Graduate student Rosi Nicholson, a CAA All-Defensive team pick last year, is the team’s top returner after averaging 5.7 points and 2.3 steals per game a season ago. She’s joined by two important transfers: graduate student Brandy Thomas from Long Island (12.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg) and junior Janaia Fargo from Charleston Southern (8.2 ppg).
Improvement shouldn’t be too hard for the Seahawks this year. They didn’t win a single game in CAA play, and recorded just three wins all year. Though top scorer Sierra DaCosta departed, the Seahawks bring back graduate students Carrie Gross (9.4 ppg) and Micah Hoggatt (7.8 ppg, 6.0 rpg). And they have continuity behind the bench — longtime Delaware head coach Tina Martin continues as the interim head coach after being promoted in February following the midseason firing of Karen Barefoot.
Our preseason awards:
- Player of the year: Jenna Annechiarico, Charleston
- Defensive player of the year: Rosi Nicholson, Hofstra
- Most improved player: Kylie Kornegay-Lucas, Towson