This group of seniors were players Terry Zeh felt would be really good for the Canisius program when they were recruited four years ago. They’ve enjoyed great success academically but the Golden Griffins’ record over the last three seasons stands at a second-rate 35-57.
“We’ve been so-so on the court and we talked a lot about, ‘Where do you want to go with this as a group of seniors? Do you want to finish up this way or do you want to mark your mark?’ ” Zeh said. “They were very strong about wanting to make a mark.”
During the offseason seniors Jamie Ruttle, Jen Morabito and Jen Lennox took on bigger leadership roles and worked with the underclassmen with an eye on building morale.
“It doesn’t start getting built when the season begins, it starts well before that,” Zeh said. “That was exciting to watch.”
It remains to be seen if the rejuvenation of the seniors translates to more wins on the court, which is something Canisius has been struggling with for some time. The Griffs’ last winning season was 2008-09 when they finished 24-9 and 14-4 in league play. With four consecutive losing seasons it’s safe to assume Zeh is on the hot seat.
Having senior leadership, of course, will help starting with Ruttle. An All-MAAC third-team selection, Ruttle averaged 8.8 points and 4.7 rebounds. Morabito drilled 47 three-pointers and shot 37.9 percent from behind the arc as a junior, when she averaged 5.5 points in 31 games. She is second in program history in career three-point field-goal percentage and sixth with 158 triples in her career.
There’s junior Kayla Hoohuli, a 5-7 guard who made a program-high 28 starts in 2012-13 and knocked down 45 three-pointers. Another shooter is 5-5 sophomore guard Tiahana Mills, who was named to the MAAC’s all-rookie team. She’ll once again run the team at the point with junior Brooke Angelos as the backup.
Even without leading scorer Ashley Durham, the program’s first player to earn All-MAAC first-team honors in four seasons, the Griffs remain strong from beyond the arc.
“We have good shooters and we have a nice inside-outside attack with Ruttle where she can shoot the three but she can score inside,” Zeh said. “I really like Tiahana and her development and her maturity.”
Keys to success
Canisius played well defensively a year ago, holding opponents to 36.3 percent shooting which was second behind Marist. But Zeh has concerns about how well the Griffs will defend this time around and he could shift to more zone.
That could pose a problem for opponents with 6-3 shot-blocking sage Lennox (80 blocks) in the middle. The return of 6-1 junior Courtney VandeBovenkamp, who sat out last season with a knee injury, will also help inside.
Canisius will have its fill of Michigan teams after opening with Detroit, Michigan State and Oakland. They host Mid-American Conference contender Akron (Nov. 22) and then UB on the road (Nov. 27). Canisius opens conference play against Quinnipiac (Dec. 21) before traveling to league-favorite Marist for a New Year’s Eve tilt. Then it’s back-to-back home games against MAAC foes Iona (Jan. 3) and Saint Peter’s (Jan. 5).
The Griffs will be improved, probably enough to make things interesting in the middle of the conference race but anything more would be surprising.