---- — By Todd Hummel
For The Daily Item
The Patriot League is coming off one of its most exciting women's basketball seasons in many years.
Army and Navy finished tied atop the conference with 11-3 records, while six of the eight teams in the league finished within two games of .500.
Once tournament time rolled around, No. 8-seed Colgate stunned top-seeded Army on the road.
The 2013-14 season should be just as scintillating when it kicks off with five games tonight, including Bucknell visiting American University.
The returning talent is stunning in the league this season as 25 of the top 30 scorers are back, as well as 15 of the top 20 rebounders, and the entire top 10 in assists. Seven of the 10 schools finished their non-conference seasons this year with a .500
Once again the two service academies have to be considered the favorites entering the league season.
Army (currently 8-3) finished last year as No. 1-seed for the tournament, but lost to the Red Raiders and wasted a 22-win season. Sophomore Kelsey Minato will have a lot of work to top a debut season which saw her win both the Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year awards in the Patriot League. Minato is averaging 19.2 points per game and 38 percent from behind the 3-point arc this year. Jen Hazlett, a senior forward, chips in with 11.9 points and 6.4 rebounds per contest.
Navy (8-3) is coming off a 21-12 season and a Patriot League Tournament title before losing to Kentucky in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Senior guard Kara Pollinger leads the team in scoring at 13.5 points per game, while Jade Greif, who led the league in field-goal percentage, averages 11.9 points and 8.7 rebounds. The six-foot senior forward is shooting 53 percent from the floor this season.
The Bison have a tough start to their league season with road games at American and Colgate to start. American is 7-4 on under new coach Megan Gebbia. She came to the Eagles from Marist where she was the associate head coach for a Red Foxes squad that won eight consecutive Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference titles and made an appearance in the NCAA Sweet 16. Senior point guard Alexis Diggs leads the team at 15.4 points and 5.7 assists per game, but is the lone Eagles player in double figures.
The Red Raiders (4-7) are looking to build on the last year's PL tournament upset of Army. Colgate is led by its backcourt of senior Lauren Kobiela (11.3 ppg) and junior Mariah Jones (10.5 ppg). Junior Carole Harris provides Colgate a post presence with 10.5 points and 7.6 rebounds per game.
There are several other teams with a chance at the league title if either of the service academies doesn't claim it.
Long-time league power Holy Cross (8-3) looks to return to the top of the league this season. The Crusaders, whose coach Bill Gibbons in his 29th season, have won 11 Patriot League titles, but haven't been at the top since the 2004-05 season. Holy Cross has one of the top backcourts in the league with Alex Smith (14.4 ppg) and Brisje Malone (10.5 ppg) each averaging more than five assists per game. Sophomore forward Raquel Scott leads the team with 15.5 points per game and 8.7 rebounds per game.
Lehigh (7-4) is looking to bounce back from a down year. The Engineers finished 6-8 in the Patriot League last season, the first time in the five seasons Lehigh finished outside the top three. Sophomore forward Kerry Kinek, the league's leading rebounder last season, is averaging 18.6 points and seven rebounds per game, while senior guard Katie O'Reilly chips in 11.9 points per contest.
Lafayette (6-5) got off to a quick start to the season, but has lost five of its last seven games. Emily Homan, a senior guard, leads the team at 13 points per game, while 6-foot-7 senior senior Danielle Fiacco adds 9.7 points and 7.6 rebounds per game.
Two new teams join the Patriot League this season in Boston University and Loyola (Md.).
The Terriers (5-8) made the Women's National Invitational Tournament last season, but have to replace three senior starters. Senior guard Danielle Callahan (11.2 ppg) and senior forward Rashidat Agbola (11 ppg, 6.8 rpg).
The Greyhounds (3-8) have struggled away from home in the pre-conference schedule, going just 1-6.