As the winners of two of the last three America East (AE) championships, expectations are high for Maine heading into 2020-21. Despite losing the reigning AE Player of the Year, senior guard Blanca Millan, to injury before conference play last year, the Black Bears were still able to finish second in the regular season and reach the AE championship game. With Millan healthy and back for her fifth year with the team, she is expected to lead the Black Bears on both offense and defense. Prior to her injury, she was averaging 18.2 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. In Millan’s absence, senior forward Maeve Carroll stepped into a leading role on the team last year, and was named second-team all-conference. She will be the top returning rebounder in the AE after averaging 8.2 boards per game last season. Millan and Carroll were among three Black Bears named to the preseason all-conference team, along with senior guard Dor Saar. Maine went 12-4 last season in conference play, finished third in scoring at 62.3 points per game and fifth in defense. With the team now fully healthy, the Black Bears are the favorites to win the AE this season, and Millan is the favorite to once again win AE Player of the Year.
2. Stony Brook
Last season was historic for Stony Brook. The Seawolves went 28-3 overall, including going 14-2 in conference play. With the top defense and the second-best offense in the AE, the team reached the championship game and were set to play Maine with a trip to the NCAA tournament on the line. However, the COVID-19 pandemic got in the way of Stony Brook’s tournament dreams and the AE championship game was canceled. By virtue of being the higher seed, Stony Brook was crowned AE champions, earning its first title in program history. Senior forward India Pagan, who was the team’s leading scorer last season and the only returning player from last year’s AE all-conference first team, will lead this year’s Seawolves roster as they seek to defend their championship title. Although Pagan returned to the team this season, two key contributors graduated. Guard Kaela Hilaire was second on the team with 13.3 points per game, and forward Cheyenne Clark led both the Seawolves and the AE in rebounding last season. Alongside Pagan, junior guard Anastasia Warren and senior guard Victoria Johnson are the team’s second- and third-best returning scorers, and are expected to fill the gap. After the heartbreaking cancellation of last season’s title game, the Seawolves are expected to compete for an NCAA Tournament bid once again this season.
3. UMass Lowell
With the best season in the program’s Division I history, UMass Lowell took the AE by surprise last season. After finishing 7-22 in 2018-19, the River Hawks bounced back and went 11-5 in conference play and finished last season with a 16-15 record overall. Despite finishing sixth in scoring and seventh in defense last season, the team earned the third seed in the conference tournament. The River Hawks defeated UMBC in the AE quarterfinals before losing to Maine in the semifinals. A huge part of last season’s turnaround was junior guard Kharis Idom, who led the River Hawks in scoring with 12.3 points per game and was tied for fifth in the AE with 1.7 steals per game. After breaking out last season, the River Hawks will look to continue their success under third-year head coach Tom Garrick as they set their sights on success this season.
After winning six straight conference titles from 2011 to 2017, Albany was upset in the conference semifinals in 2018, and have failed to find a return to form since. After finishing 5-11 in the AE and 9-21 overall, the Great Danes snuck into the playoffs as the No. 8 seed. Facing off against No. 1 Stony Brook in the quarterfinals, the team gave their in-state rivals a run for their money before eventually falling in overtime. As they look to return to their past glory, the Great Danes will need their young roster to bring the program back. After being named to the preseason all-conference team, senior guard Kyara Frames is expected to lead Albany this season. Frames averaged 8.6 points and 4.9 rebounds per game last season. Sophomore forward Helene Haegerstrand is the team’s top returning scorer after averaging 8.8 points per game. The team will have to make up the points lost from center Alexi Schecter, who averaged 12.5 a game in her senior season before graduating. However, with good playoff experience against Stony Brook for their young, talented roster, things seem to be coming together this season as Albany looks to return to its past success.
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After finishing last season 10-18 and losing to UMass Lowell in the quarterfinals, UMBC will look to take the next step as a program in 2020-21. The Retrievers, allowing 61.4 points per game and scoring 58.3 points per game last season, finished fourth on defense and fifth on offense before earning the No. 6 seed in the AE tournament. Much of their success last season was due to their leading scorer, guard Te’yJah Oliver, who averaged 17.9 points per game in her season. With Oliver having graduated, UMBC will have to rely more on its second-highest returning scorer, senior forward Janee’a Summers, who averaged 12.5 points per game last season. Summers was second on the team in rebounds, averaging 7 per game. She will be a key contributor this season as UMBC hopes of taking the program into the top tier of the AE.
Following back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances in 2009 and 2010, the last 10 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. The Catamounts finished 6-10 in the conference and 12-18 overall, losing to the second-seeded and eventual AE finalist Maine in the quarterfinals. Vermont was solid on offense, finishing fourth in the league with 60.3 points per game, but struggled on defense, finishing eighth. The Catamounts lost their leading scorer, forward Hanna Crymble, to graduation after she averaged 16.6 points per game last season. The pressure will fall on senior guard Josie Larkins, the team’s second-highest returning scorer at 13.2 points per game, to help the team bounce back. Larkins is joined on this year’s team by another double-digit scorer, sophomore guard Emma Utterback. Utterback was one of the top freshmen in the league last year, averaging 11.3 points per game. Tied with Albany for the second-most AE Championships won overall, Vermont has the potential to return to its former glory in 2020-21.
After making it to back-to-back America East Championship games in the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons, a perfect sequence of problems hit Hartford last season. After a coaching change, significant roster turnover and major injury problems, the Hawks narrowly avoided a winless season, defeating Stony Brook in their season finale and finishing 1-28. Finishing last in the conference, Hartford was the lone team in the AE to miss the conference tournament. After suffering through an abysmal first season, second-year head coach Morgan Valley is expected to help the team improve this season. The Hawks ranked last in offense and defense in the AE last season, scoring 52.7 points per game and allowing 67.5 points per game respectively. This season, however, Hartford has a good mix of young and experienced players looking to rectify last year’s struggles. Senior guard Jada Lucas led the team in scoring last season with 12.9 points per game. As the team looks to return to the playoffs after a one-year absence, she will have to contribute once again this season for the Hawks.
9. New Hampshire
Just four years removed from a 15-1 record in the AE and a regular season title, the last few years have been challenging for New Hampshire. After finishing with a losing record in the last two seasons, the Wildcats will look to claw their way back to winning ways in the AE. Last season the team finished 7-9 in conference play and 10-19 overall, ending their season with quarterfinal loss to Binghamton in the playoffs. The Wildcats ranked sixth in defense and seventh in offense in the AE last season, allowing 62.6 points per game while scoring 57.0. Losing their leading scorer, senior center Ashley Storey, who averaged 16.3 points per game last season, New Hampshire will have to rely on its younger talent to carry the torch. The team will look toward senior guard Amanda Torres, who averaged 10.4 points per game last season, to lead them to another playoff spot in March. Under the guidance of new head coach and alumna Kelsey Hogan, the Wildcats should be able to sustain their moderate success this season.
As the newest member of the AE, NJIT will look to make an impression in its first year in the league. However, the team has had historic struggles in its previous conference, the Atlantic Sun Conference (ASUN). The Highlanders went 4-25 last season, winning just one conference game. The team has not won more than ten games in a season since 2016-17. Led by third-year head coach Mike Lane, the Highlanders will hope for a fresh start for the team in a new conference. After losing their leading scorer from last season, former guard Danielle Tunstall, who averaged 13 points per game, NJIT will look toward sophomore guard Kenna Squier to take up the scoring role against tougher AE opponents. Squier averaged 10.9 points per game last season. As the newest additions to the conference, it’s hard to anticipate exactly how the Highlanders will look against AE opponents. However, if last year’s ASUN record is any predictor of their performance this season, NJIT will need to reinvent itself if it wants to compete for a conference title.
Correction: In the original version of this article, we reported that Maureen Magarity was the head coach of the New Hampshire Wildcats team. However, Magarity left the program last spring to assume a head coach position at the College of Holy Cross. This article was updated to include current head coach Kelsey Hogan. Pipe Dream regrets the error.