1) GW Colonials
Record Last Season: 22-10, 14-2 in A-10 (2nd)
Head Coach: Joe McKeown (13th season)
2) Xavier Musketeers
Record Last Season: 31-3, 15-1 in A-10 (1st)
Head Coach: Melanie Balcomb (7th season)
Plays GW: Feb. 17 at GW
Two-time defending A-10 champion Xavier looks to follow up on a run that took them to the Elite 8 in the last year’s NCAA Tournament. The Musketeers even upset No.1 seed Tennessee in the Sweet 16. But they lost four starters to graduation, and three were drafted by the WNBA.
Reetta Piipari is the lone returning starter for Xavier. She led the A-10 with 8.3 assists a game. Piipari was also the team-leading scorer with 10.9 points a game and should be able to focus more on scoring because her role as point guard will be split this season with Amy Waugh, who missed the first 19 games of last season. Waugh was the Atlantic 10 Freshmen of the Year two seasons ago.
She and others will have to be ready if Xavier wants to challenge GW for the A-10 title.
3) Duquesne Dukes
Record Last Season: 15-14, 7-9 in A-10 (7th)
Head Coach: Dan Durkin (7th season)
Plays GW: Jan. 24 at Duquesne
With four returning starters and seven other returning players, Dan Durkin’s squad could be the surprise team of the A-10 this year.
Second team All-Atlantic 10 member junior Beth Friday leads the Dukes. The 6-foot-1 forward/center became the first A-10 player since 1993-94 to average a double-double. She posted 11.9 points and 10.3 rebounds a game. But the big scoring threat is still Khalihah Este-Shehu, the 5-foot-9 senior guard who poured in 16 points a game last year, which was fourth-best in the conference.
Duquesne’s biggest obstacle is the void in the middle that center Jamie Vander Zanden left by graduating. The Dukes look to 6-foot-2 freshman Erin Wehrle, who averaged 20.4 points and 10.1 rebounds a game in high school, to fill the spot. With her contributions and the talent elsewhere, Duquesne should keep moving up in the A-10.
4) Dayton Flyers
Record Last Season: 15-13, 9-7 in A-10 (T-4th)
Head Coach: Jaci Clark (4th season)
Plays GW: Jan. 11 at Dayton
Stefanie Miller leads a group of four starters that gave Duquesne its best season since 1990-91. The 5-foot-5 guard was named to the third team All-Atlantic 10 after averaging 10.8 points and 4.5 assists a game and ranking third in the A-10 in steals with 2.17 a game. She is joined in the back-court by 5-foot-10 guard Chrissy Donovan, a deadly three-point shooter who ranked sixth in the A-10 with a .402 percentage.
The Flyers will be without the injured forward Cyndi Stull, who last season led the team in points (11.2) and rebounds (7.5). Filling in will be 6-foot-1 senior Kristy Hineline, who scored 9.0 points a game and grabbed 4.8 rebounds. If she can fill in and produce, the Flyers could pull off an upset in the A-10 tourney.
5) Richmond Spiders
After a successful season in the Colonial Athletic Association, the Spiders appear ready for the move up to their first year in the A-10. Richmond returns three starters, including a total of two seniors
Senior Michel Koclanes leads the team. The 5-foot guard led the team in scoring with 12.1 points a game and dished out 7.4 assists a game last season. She and junior Elise Ryder, who put up 8.4 points a game and shot 35.7 percent from beyond the arc, should be a dangerous combination in the back-court.
Another threat is junior Ebony Tanner, the 6-foot-2 center who averaged 7.1 rebounds a game last season. While the Spiders are young, they are talented and could have an impact in their first A-10 season.
6) La Salle Explorers
Record Last Season: 15-14, 8-8 in A-10 (6th)
Head Coach: John Miller (16th season)
Plays GW: February 3 at La Salle
La Salle Coach John Miller has posted 14 winning seasons in his 15 years with the Explorers. To avoid his second losing season, he needs a lot of production from an inexperienced team.
La Salle lost five seniors to graduation, including three players with more than 1,000 career points. The three returning starters will have to dramatically step up their play to fill the hole. Senior Suzanne Keilty leads all returning players with 8.6 points a game. Last year, the 5-foot-9 guard slid in the second half of the season.
With three seniors, four juniors, one sophomore and four freshmen, this group will have to learn quickly and improve steadily. If not, the Explorers will be looking up at the rest of the A-10.