Women’s basketball takes on FCGU in season opener

Kriby Paulson and Tom Cunningham

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Courtesy: Quinnipiac Athletics

Courtesy: Quinnipiac Athletics

Two of mid-major basketball’s best will tip-off the season against each other at Lender Court on Friday as the Quinnipiac women’s basketball team plays host to Florida Gulf Coast University. This marks the third year in a row that the Bobcats and Eagles will face off, with the Eagles coming away victorious in both of the previous matchups.


Both the Bobcats and Eagles are coming off impressive 2015-16 seasons. The Bobcats won 19-straight games leading up to the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Championship game where an injury to senior star Maria Napolitano proved to be too much to overcome as Quinnipiac fell to Iona. The Eagles also reached their conference championship game, but they were also upset in the title game. FGCU fell to Jacksonville in the Atlantic Sun Conference Championship game after an impressive 21-game winning streak of its own, including a 14-0 mark in conference play.


The Bobcats return nearly a full roster from last season, including reigning MAAC Rookie of the Year in Aryn McClure. McClure, along with, Paula Strautmane, Adily Martucci, Morgan Manz, and Carly Fabbri are just a few of the names returning to a Quinnipiac team poised for a deep postseason run.


FGCU does not return nearly as many players as Quinnipiac. The Eagles graduated eight players from last year’s team and will have a new look coming in to the 2016-17 season. Red-shirt junior guard Taylor Gradinjan returns after starting in all 39 games last season for FGCU. The team will need to rely heavily on newcomers if head coach Karl Smesko and Co. look to have another successful season.


Players to watch

Paula Strautmane; Quinnipiac So. Forward

The 6-foot Latvian returns for her sophomore campaign after being one of the most productive players for head coach Tricia Fabbri a year ago. Strautmane was a three-time MAAC Rookie of the Week and was a unanimous selection for the 2015-16 MAAC All-Rookie Team in addition to being named to the 2016 MAAC All-Tournament Team. Strautmane certainly filled the stat sheet for the Bobcats averaging 8.8 points, 6.0 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.4 blocks, and 1.1 steals as a freshman. Strautmane did tend to get in to foul trouble a year ago, but with a year to mature look for her foul numbers to go down as she defines herself as one of the premiere players in the MAAC.


Taylor Gradinjan; Florida Gulf Coast R-Jr. guard

 Gradinjan was one of the most consistent players for the Eagles a year ago averaging 9.6 points per game, in just under 30 minutes per game. With the teams two leading scorers from a year ago, Kaneisha Atwater and Whitney Knight, graduating, Gradinjan will be looked on to carry more of the load on the offensive end of the floor. Look for Gradinjan to make herself known beyond the arc as her 90 three-pointers last season landed her in the top 20 in the entire country. Gradinjan scored just four points against the Bobcats a year ago; that number will need to increase if the Eagles want to have a shot to take down the Bobcats on opening night.



Quinnipiac: Jen Fay

 Fay missed the entire 2015-16 season with a torn ACL, but is primed for a breakout season this year. Fay was part of the Quinnipiac team that won the MAAC Championship two years ago and has experience playing in big games. Fay may come out rusty, since she is playing in her first live game-action in over a year. If Fay comes out and plays like she is expected to play, the Bobcats have a great chance of rolling to a victory to start the season.


Florida Gulf Coast: New Player Contributions

If the Eagles stand a chance at defeating the Bobcats they are going to need a full team effort, especially from the eight new players on the roster. With Jordin Alexander and Mikala McGhee being transfer, redshirt-seniors, they provide experience that could pay dividends in a game like this. Playing on the road against a team as deep as Quinnipiac is going to be a tough test for FGCU. The new players are going to have to step up quickly and contribute right away if they want to make it three straight victories over Quinnipiac.