As the two-time defending champions and the unanimous number one in the preseason coach’s poll, expectations are high for Maine in the upcoming season. The Black Bears will be led by senior guard Blanca Millan, the reigning AE Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and Conference Tournament Most Outstanding Player. She led the conference in scoring and steals and was third in blocks. Beyond Millan, Maine returns their AE leader in rebounding, senior forward Fanny Wadling, and its starting point guard, junior Dor Saar. As a team, the Black Bears led the conference in scoring last season and were third in points allowed. Last December, the team defeated Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) member North Carolina on the road. In league play, the Black Bears lost just one conference game, falling to Hartford early in the season. When they take the court this season, the Black Bears will look to become the fifth team in AE history to win three consecutive conference championships.
With the top defense and second best offense in the conference last season, Stony Brook finished the regular season in third place and advanced to the AE semifinals before falling to Hartford. Following the graduation of guards Shania Johnson and Jerell Matthews, their top two scorers, the Stony Brook offense will have a different look this season. The pair was second and third in the conference respectively in scoring last season. Junior forward India Pagan, the team’s third-leading scorer from a year ago and their top returner, is expected to fill the void for the Seawolves. After finishing first in the conference in shooting with 52.4 percent accuracy, Pagan was selected to this year’s preseason all-conference team. In addition, she led the team in rebounding and averaged 12.8 points per game. If other players can fill in for Johnson and Matthews, the Seawolves can contend for a conference title this season.
After winning six straight conference titles from 2011 to 2017, Albany was upset in the semifinals of the 2018 tournament. Last season, the Great Danes finished with a losing record for the first time since 2009-10, but still advanced to the conference semifinals. This season, a young team with six freshmen and seven returners will look to bring Albany back into the spotlight of the AE. Other teams are taking notice of the Great Danes’ development. With the league’s coaches not allowed to vote for the own team, Albany received Maine’s vote in the preseason coach’s poll. In addition, junior guard Kyara Frames was named to the preseason all-conference team after leading her team in scoring with 12.8 points per game and finishing fifth in the conference in assists. With the development of a few young players, the Great Danes can pose a serious threat to Maine in the conference tournament this season.
The last two seasons have been a story of just falling short for Hartford. The Hawks advanced to the last two AE championship games but were defeated both times by Maine. Last season, the Hawks earned a bid to the Women’s National Invitation Tournament (WNIT), falling to Providence in the first round. However, the leadership on this year’s team has been changed on and off the court, with Morgan Valley taking over as head coach of the Hawks following Kim McNeill’s resignation. In terms of game performance, the team will have to replace the productivity of guard Lindsey Abed, who graduated after leading the Hawks in scoring and finishing fourth in the conference in that category. With an overhauled roster, the team has added five newcomers this season. It will be a challenge for the Hawks to achieve the same level of success that they had in the past two seasons, and AE coaches appear to have noticed that, picking the team fifth in the preseason coach’s poll.
Following back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances in 2009 and 2010, the last nine seasons have been disappointing for Vermont. The Catamounts have not earned a winning record, overall or in conference play, since 2010, and have finished higher than sixth in the AE standings just once. After serving as interim head coach last season, Alisa Kresge was formally named head coach last April. The Catamounts return three starters from last year, including preseason all-conference team selection senior forward Hanna Crymble. Crymble was the fifth-highest scorer in the conference last season, the third-best shooter and the most accurate free throw shooter in the league. The team has six newcomers on the roster this season, all freshmen, and will look to return to their old form under their first year with Kresge officially at the helm.
Just three years removed from a 15-1 AE record and a conference regular season title, last season was a challenge for New Hampshire. The Wildcats finished with just six overall wins and three in conference play. The team qualified for the playoffs as the eight-seed but was blown out 69-36 by Maine in the quarterfinals. New Hampshire finished the season ranked last in team defense and eighth in scoring. Additionally, it was last in shooting percentage for both field goals and 3-pointers. Injuries plagued the Wildcats all season, with several of the team’s seven freshmen being forced to play significant minutes. This year, led by longtime head coach Maureen Magarity, New Hampshire will add five freshmen to a young roster as it looks to rebuild and regain competitive status in the conference.
After starting its conference season 1-12 last year, UMBC rallied to win two of its final three matchups and reach the AE Tournament as the seven-seed. The Retrievers started strong with a 7-6 record in the nonconference season, but faltered throughout league play until their late rally allowed them to sneak into the playoffs. They were then handily defeated in the quarterfinals by eventual AE runner-up Hartford. Despite its conference record, UMBC was in the middle of the pack statistically, finishing fifth in scoring and sixth in defense. Following the season, Johnetta Hayes was hired as the new head coach of the Retrievers. Hayes previously served as the head coach of Texas Southern University, earning a 115-73 record in six seasons. She reached the NCAA Tournament in 2017. UMBC will look to rebuild the program under new leadership this season to become more competitive in the conference.
Last season was a rebuilding year for UMass Lowell. Under first-year head coach Tom Garrick, the team started 2-2 in conference play. However, the River Hawks lost eight consecutive matchups and ultimately finished dead last in the conference standings, becoming the one team in the league to miss the AE Tournament. The team finished seventh in team offense and defense, as well as shooting percentage. UMass Lowell lost its top two scorers to graduation in the offseason, and the team added eight newcomers, including five freshmen. After opening the season on the road against ACC member Boston College, UMass Lowell will look to win double-digit games for the first time since 2014-15.