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Canisius women's preview: Griffs target defensive upgrade

Team: Canisius

Affiliation: Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.

Coach: Terry Zeh (13th season).

Last year: 13-17, 8-12.

Canisius College women’s basketball coach Terry Zeh likes to recruit skill. Players who can catch, pass and shoot generally fill the Golden Griffins’ roster.

The past couple seasons, the kind of speed and athleticism that’s the hallmark of many strong defensive teams has been missing.

So the Griffs are adjusting this year. Zeh doesn’t want the defense to try to spread out as much as in recent years.

“We’re going to switch up a little bit and get a little more conservative with our defensive stuff and pack it back in a little bit,” Zeh said.

When Zeh coached at Elmira and in his early years at Canisius, he used the “pack-line defense” popularized by great Wisconsin coach Bill Bennett. It’s a variation of man to man in which off-ball defenders sit back inside the 16-foot mark on the floor instead of extending out to deny all passes. The on-ball defender still plays close to the ball-handler. It tends to put defenders in better help position across the floor.

Emily Weber returns for Canisius after missing last season with a knee injury. (Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News)

Emily Weber returns for Canisius after missing last season with a knee injury. (Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News)

“We’re going to go back to that a little bit,” Zeh said. “We’re a very skill-based group, which doesn’t lend itself to great athleticism. So we’ve got to get back and bring it back in a bit. I think that will help us a lot, and it will also help us in rebounding. Because now you’re not in scramble situations and you can keep people in front of you a little bit.”

Strengths: Zeh’s motion offense should be pretty good. Canisius returns three of its top four scorers – junior guard Margret Halfdanardottir, sophomore forward Maria Welch and senior guard Lauren D’Hont – and five others who saw significant time. Plus senior guard Emily Weber, a starter from two years ago, comes back from missing all of last year with a knee injury.

Halfdanardottir (9.6 ppg) does a little of everything. Look for Welch (8.7 ppg), D’Hont (7.6 ppg) and Sara Hinriksdottir (5.3 ppg) all to improve their numbers. Halfdanardottir and Hinriksdottir both are from Iceland.

“I think you’re going to see a great year out of Lauren D’Hont,” Zeh said. “She really worked and put herself physically in the best shape of her life. She’s handling the ball really well and scoring around the basket.”

Issues: Returning point guard Tamara Miskovic is coming back from a knee injury suffered in February. She will have to ease into the season. The hope is she’s mostly full-go for MAAC play in January. Freshman point guard Anny Sweny from Erie, Pa., will get to contribute early. But the point position may have to be a committee approach the first half of the year. Canisius can replace the 10 ppg that left when Crystal Porter graduated. But Porter had 113 assists, sixth in the MAAC. The offense ran through her a bunch. So there will be an offensive adjustment early.

Margret Halfdanardottir (10) scores two points against Niagara. (James P. McCoy/ Buffalo News)

Margret Halfdanardottir (10) scores two points against Niagara. (James P. McCoy/ Buffalo News)

Inside the numbers: The Griffs were the worst rebounding team in the MAAC last year, with a negative 2.8 margin per game. The defensive scheme change and a collective effort need to turn that around.

Schedule: The early schedule is favorable, with six of the first eight at home and some rebuilding foes (Lamar, Morehead State). The Griffs visit a top-10-caliber foe, Ohio State, on Dec. 11. The regular season ends with three tough MAAC games.

Outlook: Canisius has had seven straight losing seasons. Last year the Griffs arguably lost four of its top six players to season-ending injuries but still went 8-12 in the MAAC. They’re picked sixth. With some good health, a .500 season in conference is within reach.

The Schedule

Nov. 9 Daemen (exh) 7 p.m.
Nov. 13 Northeastern 2 p.m.
Nov. 16 at St. Bonaventure 7 p.m.
Nov. 20 Akron 2 p.m.
Nov. 22 at St. Francis (Pa.) 11 a.m.
Nov. 26 Lamar 1 p.m.
Dec. 2 Rider * 7 p.m.
Dec. 4 Monmouth * 2 p.m.
Dec. 8 Buffalo 7 p.m.
Dec. 11 at Ohio State 2 p.m.
Dec. 19 at Morehead State 5:15 p.m.
Dec. 22 at Cornell TBA
Dec. 30 at Iona * 1 p.m.
Jan. 2 at Manhattan * 2 p.m.
Jan. 5 Marist * 11 a.m.
Jan. 7 Quinnipiac * 2 p.m.
Jan. 13 at Saint Peter’s * 7 p.m.
Jan. 15 at Monmouth * 2 p.m.
Jan. 18 at Niagara * 7 p.m.
Jan. 22 Fairfield * 2 p.m.
Jan. 26 at Siena * 7 p.m.
Jan. 28 at Marist * 7 p.m.
Feb. 2 Manhattan * 7 p.m.
Feb. 4 Iona * 2 p.m.
Feb. 10 Niagara * 6 p.m.
Feb. 12 at Rider * 1 p.m.
Feb. 16 Saint Peter’s * 7 p.m.
Feb. 18 Siena * 2 p.m.
Feb. 23 at Fairfield * 7 p.m.
Feb. 25 at Quinnipiac * 2 p.m.
Mar. 2-6 MAAC Tournament
* Conference Games

The Roster

No. Name Pos. Cl. Ht. Hometown High School
1 Zhane Irby G So. 5-8 South Orange, N.J. Roselle Catholic
3 Amanda Schiefen F So. 6-0 Horseheads, N.Y. Horseheads
4 Anna Sweny G Fr. 5-6 Erie, Pa. Villa Maria Academy
10 Margret Halfdanardottir G Jr. 5-9 Hafnarfjordur, Iceland Haukar
13 Maria Welch G So. 5-11 Erie, Pa. Girard
14 Sara Hinriksdottir F So. 6-1 Keflavik, Iceland Keflavik
15 Lauren D’Hont G Sr. 5-11 Pittsford, N.Y. Pittsford Mendon
22 Tamara Miskovic G Sr. 5-8 Belgrade, Serbia Zarko Zrenjanin
23 Sarah Cooley F Jr. 6-1 Lexington, Ky. Lafayette
24 Tiana Pugh G/F Fr. 6-3 Rome, N.Y. Rome Free Academy
25 Abby Schwenk F Jr. 6-1 New Holland, Ohio Miami Trace
31 Emily Weber G Sr. 5-9 Clifton Park, N.Y. Shenendehowa
32 Saliah Serrette G Jr. 5-11 Natick, Mass. Brewster Academy
35 Shannon Conely G Fr. 5-10 Bethel Park, Pa. Bethel Park

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