January 2, 2021
Patriot League: Bucknell the team to beat; COVID-19 triggers re-shuffle of games
The Bison were selected as the favorite to claim a third consecutive title; Lafayette senior forward Natalie Kucowski named Preseason Player of the Year
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The Patriot League begins its season on Saturday, a delayed start due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The reboot includes changes to reduce travel and overnight stays. Modifications for this year consist of three newly-created divisions and a 16-game schedule. Teams will compete against one opponent per week, playing a home-and-home series on consecutive days in a Saturday-Sunday format.
Eight of the 10 conference teams will be playing their first contest of the year. Army (3-2) and Navy (0-4) were the only programs permitted to compete in non-conference play.
On Monday, the conference announced its results for preseason honors. League head coaches and sports information directors voted on a predicted order of finish, the All-League team, and Player of the Year.
Patriot League Women’s Basketball Preseason Poll
Bucknell – 160 (15 first-place votes)
Boston University – 145 (5)
Lafayette – 121
Lehigh – 112
American – 91
Colgate – 69
Loyola – 62
Army West Point – 59
Holy Cross – 58
Navy – 24
Two-time defending champion Bucknell received 15 votes for the top spot. The Bison return four starters and also welcome back point guard Marly Walls, who started 15 games before suffering a season-ending knee injury mid-year.
Boston University likewise returns four starters from last year’s 18-12 squad and received the remaining five first-place votes. The Terriers are led by senior point guard Katie Nelson and last season’s Rookie of the Year, Maggie Pina. Coach Marisa Moseley also adds Villanova transfer Emily Esposito to the mix.
Due to the league’s modified schedule, Bucknell and BU will not face each other in the regular season. They split outcomes last season, each winning at home.
Preseason Player of the Year
Lafayette senior Natalie Kucowski has been named Preseason Player of the Year. The 6’3” forward is the league’s most prolific rebounder, hauling in 12.8 per game last season, good for second in the nation. She eclipsed the 1,000-point and 1,000-rebound marks last year, becoming the program’s all-time leading rebounder.
Kucowski posted 19 double-doubles, averaging 13.5 ppg and 12.8 rpg in leading the Leopards to a 15-14 record — their first winning season since 1997-98.
Kucowski also led the league in overall rebounds, rebounds per game, blocked shots per game (2.76), and blocks (80) while finishing second in double-doubles. She started all 29 games and averaged 31.9 minutes per game. She was named to the All-League First Team and the All-Defensive Team.
Preseason All-Patriot League Team
Jade Edwards, American, Junior, Guard
2019-20: 14.5 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 45.8% FG, 39 steals, 29 games played, 29 starts
Katie Nelson, Boston University, Senior, Guard
2019-20: 12.4 ppg, 3.6 apg, 39.4 minutes per game, 27 steals, 30 games played, 30 starts
Abby Kapp, Bucknell, Senior, Guard
2019-20: 10.9 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 40.6% 3PT FG, 78 made threes, 30 steals, 30 games played, 30 starts
Avery LaBarbera, Holy Cross, Junior, Guard
2019-20: 13.7 ppg, 101 assists, 40 steals, 36.5% 3PT FG, 62 made threes, 82.7% FT, 30 games played, 29 starts
Natalie Kucowski, Lafayette, Senior, Forward
2019-20: 13.5 ppg, 12.8 rpg, 75 assists, 80 blocks, 19 double-doubles, 29 games played, 29 starts
Last minute changes due to coronavirus hamper opening weekend
The rollercoaster ride of playing in a pandemic has already provided teams with unexpected twists and turns. One the eve of opening day, the Patriot League postponed two games and added a last-minute rescheduled matchup.
Two-time defending champion Bucknell was scheduled to play Navy, but both games against the Midshipmen on Jan. 2 and 3 have been postponed due a positive COVID-19 test within the Navy women’s basketball program’s Tier 1 group.
American University’s games this weekend versus Loyola have also been delayed and must be re-scheduled due to COVID-19 testing. The Patriot League addressed the issue in a Friday night release:
The American University Department of Athletics is awaiting the required test results to satisfy university and Patriot League testing protocols.
The league also announced a newly scheduled match-up for this weekend as a result of the postponements:
The Patriot League women’s basketball games between American and Loyola Maryland scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 2 and Sunday, Jan. 3 have been postponed. The Greyhounds will instead meet Bucknell on Saturday and Sunday.
Loyola will travel to Lewisburg to face Bucknell at Sojka Pavilion on Saturday, Jan. 2 at 2 p.m. The Greyhounds will host the Bison at Reitz Arena in Baltimore on Sunday, Jan. 3 at 6 p.m.
Loyola and Bucknell were originally scheduled to play the weekend of Feb. 6-7.
Tune in to Patriot League action:
(Note: The Patriot League is no longer streaming games for free on the Stadium platform. All games are now streamed through ESPN+ for a subscription fee. Click here for the video link to all league competition.)
Saturday, Jan. 2
^Loyola at American 12:00 p.m.
Lehigh at Lafayette 12:00 p.m.
#Navy at Bucknell 2:00 p.m.
++Loyola at Bucknell 2:00 p.m.
Colgate at Army 3:00 p.m.
Sunday, Jan. 3
Lafayette at Lehigh 2:00 p.m.
Colgate at Army 2:30 p.m.
#Bucknell at Navy 3:00 p.m.
^American at Loyola 6:00 p.m.
++Bucknell at Loyola 6:00 p.m.
Monday, Jan. 4
*Holy Cross at BU 2:00 p.m.
Tuesday, Jan. 5
*BU at Holy Cross 2:00 p.m.
^Postponed due to testing protocols with American University
#Postponed due to a positive Tier 1 test in the Navy women’s basketball program. Tier 1 covers student-athletes, coaches, athletic trainers, equipment staff, medical staff, physical therapists, and officials.
++Newly scheduled game due to issues related to coronavirus with originally scheduled opponents.
*Date change due to Boston University’s testing schedule
What’s the can’t-miss match-up of the week?: Lafayette vs. Lehigh
This weekend marks the first two of four meetings between rivals whose campuses are separated by just 17 miles. In a series that dates back to 1975, Lehigh has claimed nine of the last 10 games and leads the series 52-45, overall. The programs will face off in the newly formed Central division, joining Bucknell in the league’s most competitive re-alignment.
Lehigh, last year’s preseason pick to win the conference, enters Week 1 with modest expectations after the departure of six seniors. The arrival of six freshmen makes the Mountain Hawks one of the youngest squads in the league.
Lafayette opens the season with the optimism of a contender. Preseason Player of the Year Natalie Kucowski leads a Leopards team projected to place third by the league’s coaches and sports information directors. The senior forward posted 18.5 ppg and 15.0 rpg in splitting two games with the Mountain Hawks last season. Classmate Drew Freeland (9.5 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 27 starts) joins the attack with Kucowski as they seek a record-setting season in Easton. Can the Leopards perform under the pressure of expectation?
The key battle to watch will be in the post. Lehigh’s defensive scheme as a unit and individual match-ups versus Kucowski will tell the story. Expect forwards Emma Grothaus and Mariah Sexe to draw the assignment against the versatile forward. Lehigh will likely employ a mix of 2-3 zone and man-to-man defense that includes double-teams for Kucowski who committed a team-high 106 turnovers last season.
The last meeting: a 73-66 home win for Lehigh last season. The loss snapped a five-game win streak for Lafayette and pulled the teams into a tie in league play. The Mountain Hawks jumped out to a 14-point halftime lead due to superior perimeter play. Lehigh converted 11 three-pointers behind the hot shooting of Megan Walker (7 threes, 23 points) and Mary Clougherty (3 threes, 19 points).
News and Notes:
Last year’s Patriot League Player of the Year, Ellie Mack from Bucknell, now plays for Oregon State as a graduate transfer. Mack has made six starts for the Beavers and is averaging 6.3 points and 4.2 rebounds per game.
Junior guard Jennifer Coleman led Navy with 25 points, 10 rebounds, and 7 assists in a 67-63 loss to Morgan State. Coleman played all 40 minutes for the Mids, who were hampered by 25 turnovers.
Lehigh lists six players on the roster who hail from the state of Minnesota; the University of Minnesota has three.
The head coach for Holy Cross, Maureen Magarity, makes her debut for the Crusaders against BU this opening weekend. Magarity leads her group in the North division (Holy Cross, Army, Boston University, and Colgate) and tips off on Monday.
Navy’s first-year head coach Tim Taylor was set to make his league debut this weekend until a Tier 1 positive test in the program required a postponement of play. Taylor leads Navy (0-4) in the South division (Navy, American, and Loyola). The Mids are on a 15-game losing skid dating back to last season.
Bucknell enters the season on a nine-game winning streak. The defending champs open against Loyola, who managed to upset the Bison last January, 60-50, in one of just two conference losses on the season.
Senior guard Sophie Gatzounas has been a force for Navy in their limited non-conference action. She led Navy in shooting last season (45.5%) and has picked up right where she left off. Gatzounas is shooting 52.0% from the floor, averaging 18.5 points and pulling in 7.8 rebounds per game.
Kate Murray is averaging a double-double for Army. The junior forward is scoring 15.4 points and grabbing 10.2 boards per game.
Bucknell’s scoring defense was ranked eighth in the nation last season, allowing 53.6 points per game. The Bison held opponents to 50 points or less 14 times.
Written by Todd Goclowski
Todd Goclowski currently covers the Patriot League for The Next. Goclowski brings 25 years of coaching experience to his role as an analyst and writer, including 19 years of coaching women's basketball in the NCAA at the D1 and D3 levels.
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