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INJURIES FORCE A FRESH APPROACH

The Big Picture: All-time scoring leader Shauna Geronzin has graduated. Guard Jill Knapic, who led the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference last year with 66 three-point goals, is out for the season for personal medical reasons. And this, remember, is from a team that went 12-16. It doesn't bode well for this year.

The Griffs did manage to finish 9-9 and fourth in conference play last year before another collapse in the MAAC Tournament, a 96-92 overtime loss to Fairfield that saw them fritter away a double-digit lead in the final five minutes of regulation.

It was yet another devastating blow to a program that has endured seven straight losing seasons and has won just one MAAC quarterfinal since joining the conference in 1989.

What's Up: Even when history and numbers say otherwise, fifth-year coach Mike Decillis is somehow able to put a positive spin on matters. There is merit to his approach with this team as all five starters figure to be upperclassmen. At the head of the list is 5-foot-9 junior guard Jenel Stevens, a preseason All-MAAC pick who averaged 13.1 points last year.

In addition to becoming the Griffs' go-to player, Stevens is an outstanding defender.

"We've always expected Jenel to be the most athletic player and she brings a different dimension to our team," Decillis said. "She is absolutely capable of being a first-team player in the MAAC. With that comes a little bit of stress and turmoil as people start to pay more attention to her, but she's handling it very well."

Stevens, a strong student who works as a model in her spare time, won't be expected to do everything like Geronzin did in leading the MAAC last year at 20.4 ppg.

"When Shauna got the ball, all our kids stood around expecting her to do something and never moved around enough in our offense," Decillis said. "This year, we're running the ball much better. Everybody touches it."

The rest of Decillis' starting lineup figures to be senior point guard Daakeia McFadden, junior forward Lonnie Brown, senior forward/center Jessica Butler and senior center Paja Grasevova, a Genesee Community College transfer from the Czech Republic who struggled in 19 games for the Griffs last year but improved greatly in the offseason.

The 6-foot Butler (10.1 ppg, 7.1 rebounds per game) is athletic enough to play power forward or center and has the potential to be a double-digit rebounder.

What's Down: Injuries. And plenty of them. They're ruining Decillis' depth and forcing him to rely on freshmen. Sophomore guards Christine Salinas (broken leg) and Cavanaugh Hagen (stress fracture) are out an undetermined period and sophomore center Amber Mazza is battling a debilitating groin strain that could require surgery.

There's more. The top freshman recruit, 6-1 Jackie Richards, is out for the season and will need four to six months of rehab for knee surgery.

"We were counting on her to help in the post and all of this has been really disappointing to have to deal with before the season even begins," Decillis said. "We don't know who we're ultimately going to get back and if we'll get them sooner or later."

Freshmen guards Cheri Wittlieb, a long-range three-point shooter, and Karly Chesko figure to get some of the playing time that would have gone elsewhere. So will 6-3 frosh Jessica Steeves.

"Our freshmen are gaining experience on the floor, and so far it's been pretty good," Decillis said. "We know there will be mistakes but we've been positive with them and the older kids know we need them."

The lack of depth and experience may initially force Decillis to pull back on his breakneck style. It produced 78.5 ppg last year and made the Griffs the first team in MAAC history with four 100-point games in a season. But it also produced too many easy baskets on the defensive end against a porous interior.

Outlook: Stevens will get her All-MAAC citation despite her team's record. There's simply too much inexperience to overcome the losses of Geronzin and Knapic and all the injuries. A 10-win season is about the best that can be expected.

Roster

No. Name Pos Yr Ht

5 Christine Salinas G So. 5-7

11 Lisa Zak G Fr. 5-9

13 Jessica Steeves F/C Fr. 6-3

15 Daakeia McFadden G Sr. 5-6

20 Becky Zak G Fr. 5-6

21 Jenel Stevens G Jr. 5-9

22 Karly Chesko G Fr. 5-6

24 Cheri Wittlieb G Fr. 5-9

25 Jackie Richards F/C Fr. 6-1

30 Cavanaugh Hagen G So. 5-8

31 Jes Butler F/C Sr. 6-0

32 Lonnie Brown G Jr. 5-10

34 Amber Mazza F/C So. 6-2

35 Paja Grasevova F Sr. 6-1

Head coach: Mike Decillis

Assistants: John Spaschak, Savonte Walker, Shannon Cohen

e-mail: mharrington@buffnews.com

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