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NEW COACH ZEH WANTS WOMEN'S TEAM TO HAVE OFFENSIVE BALANCE

What's up: Led by Player of the Year Jenel Stevens, Canisius finished 19-11 and lost by two points to Marist in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament title game. It was the proper send-off for coach Mike Decillis, who retired after six years with the program.

First-year coach Terry Zeh, who moved over from the Canisius men's program, hopes his squad will be more balanced offensively. Still, look for junior guard Becky Zak to emerge as a star. Zeh will give her a blank check to shoot. She averaged 11.9 points last season while operating at the point, but during the team's three-game conference tournament run, Zak averaged 17 points, 6.3 assists and 3.5 rebounds.

Zak will run the backcourt with junior Cheri Wittlieb, a former walk-on who is deadly from long range. Freshmen guards Nia Capuano, MK LaFave and Katie Thorner all have good size and come with reputations as scorers, while Mere Mullins and JJ Williams should help inside.

"We're going to be more of a team where a group of five players or so will be in or around double digits," Zeh said. "Maybe one night somebody gives us 15 or 20, the next night, it could be someone else."

What's down: The minute Zeh was named coach he probably was thinking about a way to replace Stevens. Now a Griffs assistant, she did everything for Canisius and closed out her career with 1,590 points and 874 rebounds, which places her fourth on the school's career scoring list and third in career rebounds. She also was the league's co-defensive player of the year. Also, the loss of three-year starter Lonnie Brown leaves the Griffs without 40 percent of their offense from last season.

"It's nice to have someone to carry you every night," Zeh said. "But that's not the kind of team we have."

Low post scoring wasn't a concern in the past -- Canisius didn't need to go inside with Stevens in the lineup -- but Zeh believes the Griffs will have to get some to be successful. An inside scoring presence will free up Zak and Wittlieb on the perimeter, but finding a consistent threat is the challenge.

Sophomore forward Megan Lyte had her moments -- she tallied 18 points and 10 rebounds in a loss to Fairfield last season -- but she needs more of them. It would be nice if junior Jessica Steeves could double her scoring average (5.9 ppg) from a year ago. Sophomore center Laura Granzow, a 6-foot-3 transfer from the University of Denver, will have to sit out this season and will be eligible in 2005-06.

With no seniors on the roster, Zeh probably will start three sophomores and two juniors and bring as many as five freshmen off the bench. While Zeh is a seasoned veteran of 14 years on the sidelines in the men's games, he has only a handful of experience in coaching women.

Outlook: Canisius will be tested early with road matchups against WNIT finalist UNLV, defending Patriot League champion Colgate and San Diego State before beginning the meat of the MAAC schedule. The losses of Stevens and Brown may not matter much by mid-January because most of the marquee players from the MAAC are gone, and no one is the clear-cut favorite. The Griffs are probably a year away from making some serious noise, but they should enter the MAAC Tournament in Buffalo with 17 wins. And anything can happen when you're at home.
e-mail: rmckissic@buffnews.com

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