Many people were itching to turn the calendar over to the school year 2021/22. Of course, there have been several events over the past year that have priority over sport.
But Quinnipiac athletes have a tough time.
The vast majority of teams were only allowed to play games in conferences, which severely restricted travel. The seasons have been shortened for some, like the men’s and women’s basketball teams. Both played about 20 games, a clear shortcut to their usual 30-game schedule.
Some teams had shortened their season and moved it to a completely different part of the year. The rugby team only played two games last year, in spring instead of autumn.
But apart from some sort of pandemic, everything seems to be back to normal for Quinnipiac athletics. The fall sports teams actually play in the fall, their seasons don’t seem to be postponed, and fans are allowed to march inside or outside stadiums to cheer on their bobcats.
As the calendar moves forward quickly, here are some of the key storylines for the 2021-22 season.
1. The rebounding champion is back
Kevin Marfo’s name for graduate students is likely familiar to those who have been on the Quinnipiac campus, despite not being on the basketball team last year. That’s because Marfo was a dominant force for the Bobcats a year earlier.
He started his career at Quinnipiac in the 2017/18 season as a Redshirt runner-up. Reaching 6 feet to 8 inches tall, Marfo was the rock of the lineup. He was a straight center capable of double digit rebounds every night.
But as a Redshirt Junior he flourished and his name became known far beyond Hamden. His 13.3 rebounds per game led the entire NCAA in 2019. He had 17 double doubles in the 30-game season, stepping into the MAAC. During his historic season, he moved to Texas A&M to play his final undergraduate season. At a school with a higher profile, Marfo served as a rotation player averaging 12.8 minutes and 3.7 rebounds per game.
But the COVID-19 pandemic granted athletes an additional year of athletic eligibility, and Marfo decided to take advantage of that opportunity. Marfo is now back in the squad, which was denied the opportunity to play in the 2019-20 MAAC tournament due to the pandemic, and is ready to repeat it one last time in Hamden.
2. No injuries, no problem
The offseason for the women’s soccer team was rather short. Normally, in a season that is undistorted by pandemics, the team plays its season in the fall, rest until the next fall, then repeats itself. But since last year’s season was postponed to spring, the turnaround is much tougher.
And considering injuries were an issue for the team last year, that’s not good news.
Still, the Bobcats emerged as one of the best teams in the MAAC preseason coach survey. The team finished second among the eight teams due to their incredibly strong young core ready to take the reins of the retired seniors.
Junior goalkeeper Meaghan Phillips, a former MAAC rookie of the year, has worked her way back from an injury-ridden 2020 season, as evidenced by MAAC Defensive Player of the Week, which she brought home on Aug. 30.
Second year striker Rebecca Cooke is already a star, with a MAAC Rookie of the Year award for her four goals in seven games that finished third in the MAAC. Their appearance was one of the main reasons the Bobcats weathered the storm last year.
After struggling with injuries in 2020, the Bobcats were still riding a talented group to a semi-finals. Now that the team is healthy again, the sky is the limit.
3. Loaded trophy case
The men’s soccer team striker Eamon Whelan graduated only two years ago. He was one of the most prolific goal scorers the Quinnipiac field had ever seen. But the Bobcats still led the MAAC in last season’s goals (18 goals in nine games).
The Whelan-sized hole was partially filled by junior striker Brage Aasen, who made a major breakthrough in his second year in 2020. Aasen led the team in both goals (5) and assists (4), with an average of 1.5 points per game. And he has the awards to back that up.
He ended up in his second year in the All-MAAC team and in the United Soccer Coaches All-East Second Team and was a newcomer to the All-Rookie team. This is an impressive achievement for a player with only two years of experience.
Aasen is simply faster than the defenders he is up against, and it’s that simple. The Bobcats enjoyed using the wing a lot in the 2020 season, which is only possible if you have a Brenner like Aasen on the pitch. Combine that with his spatial awareness and fit and you have a player named MAAC Preseason Player of the Year in the 2021 Preseason Coach Survey. His best is yet to come, and he’s only been in his Quinnipiac campaign for two years.
4. Women’s basketball ready for amortization
The women’s basketball team was very popular at the 2021 MAAC tournament in Atlantic City, New Jersey. It entered the playoffs and was seeded as No. 2 and prevailed against the No. 7 rider. Despite the low seeding count, the 2021 rider team had plenty of young talent who hit the iron at the right time and sent the Bobcats home much earlier than they expected.
At the forefront of the entire Bobcats conference attack are Senior Guard Mackenzie DeWees, reigning MAAC Player of the Year, and Junior Center Mikala Morris, who brought home MAAC Defensive Player of the Year.
In recent history, a loss like this is an outlier. The women’s basketball team completed a historic run and won the MAAC tournament in 2015 and 2017-19. There’s no reason to believe that this team won’t be able to return to production when the games are the most counting. While doing guard Shaq Edwards, who averaged 12.5 points per game in her last full season, and guard Vanessa Udoji, who was one of the better perimeter defenders on the team, isn’t ideal, the award-winning core returns. Time will tell if this team is hungry enough to overcome last year’s disappointing result.
5. Darkest before dawn
After winning the first game of the season, the softball team dropped 11 contests in a row. The team then lost 14 of their last 16 games.
The team hit .249 collectively, but as the age-old saying goes, pitching and defense win games. The Bobcats had an ERA of 5.74, the second worst in the MAAC, and made the most mistakes in the conference (63).
The only positive side for the softball team is that the team’s best players are returning. In fact, it was last year’s newbies who did much of the heavy lifting for the Bobcats. The sophomore infielder Kayla Thomas was the stick in the middle the Bobcats desperately needed, bringing 33 RBIs and three home runs to the top of the team.
On the other side of the ball, second pitcher Tori McGraw held a 4.75 ERA and set a 5-7 record. Her ERA was the lowest of all pitchers on the team, with more than four appearances. This team benefits from having youth, but it will likely be tough to break last year’s 8-28 overall record.
6. Fans are back
Not a single student enjoyed the hurry to get student tickets to men’s ice hockey games. It was nerve-wracking, exciting and absolutely no fun.
But something tells me that’s all today’s students want to do.
Indoor athletics was closed to fans and spectators, so students looked inside out when it came to a particular pastime on Saturday night. Yes, Toad’s Place was closed, but that’s not what I’m talking about.
Students missed packing in the student department at hockey games and losing their minds. Students missed watching the Teletubbies dance. Students missed the thrill of seeing their national hockey team play right in front of their eyes every week.
The school year 2021/22 offers fans this opportunity again. And after a long year, it’s not a second too early.