setting the scene
The Warriors entered the 2016-17 season with the motivation to return to the postseason after narrowly missing out on the Northeast-10 Conference Championship last year. The Navy and Gold entered the year with a multitude of key returners including senior captains My'Asia Alston and Savannah Johnson. Merrimack featured a roster with nine underclassmen, seven newcomers and five freshmen - marking an influx of talent into the program.
The Warriors entered the year motivated as they were selected to finish sixth in the Northeast Division for the second straight year and on the outside-looking-in on the play picture in the NE10.
With a new-look roster, Merrimack won three of its first six conference games through the first nine contests of the season. Merrimack began NE10 with a strong performance against No. 1 Bentley, missing a triple at the buzzer to force overtime. The Warriors' first NE10 win of the year came at Stonehill, and featured 34 combined points on eight 3-pointers from sophomores Hannah Neild and Lindsay Werner.
The month of November also featured one of the most impressive individual performances of the season from Werner, who sank nine 3-pointers to break Merrimack's single-game record when the Warriors went on the road to face Division I UMass. Merrimack's final two league wins of stretch came against Saint Michael's and Franklin Pierce - with the win over the Purple Knights proving crucial as the year progressed...
drive for five...straight
Capping off their first run through the Northeast Division with a narrow defeat to SNHU, Merrimack faced a 4-7 record with one game remaining in the calendar year before 2016 flipped to 2017. That game - a 45-37 win over Holy Family - started a five-game winning streak for the Warriors that turned the season around.
Freshman Denia Davis-Stewart won her first of three NE10 Rookie of the Weeks during the month of January at the start of the winning streak, igniting the Warriors' success. From the Holy Family game on, Davis-Stewart started every contest for the Warriors while averaging 8.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 4.0 blocks per game during the five-game run.
Sophomore Lexi Martin was also pivotal during the stretch, leading the Warriors in scoring, finishing in double figures during the final four wins. She took at least nine shots in every game, shooting a team-best 57.5 percent from the field
playoffs locked up
The Warriors entered February with a 7-7 conference record, and began their second go-around through the Northeast Division with a postseason spot within their grasp.
Merrimack started the month by sweeping the season series with Saint Michael's and six days later knocked off Stonehill by 10 to sweep the Skyhawks. Savannah Johnson led the charge with a double-double of 18 points and 12 rebounds, and Werner came off the bench to add 15 points on five 3-pointers.
Those two victories cemented a playoff spot for the Navy and Gold, as the Warriors, Skyhawks and Purple Knights all entered the regular-season finale with identical records of 10-10. Merrimack qualified for the NE10 Championship as the fifth seed from the Northeast Division and travelled to Pace for the opening round.
Playing in its first NE10 Championship game in two years and looking for the program's first postseason win in four years - Merrimack traveled to Pleasantville, N.Y. to face fourth-seeded Pace University - the same place where the Warriors made their three-game run to the NE10 Semifinals in 2013.
Lexi Martin led Merrimack with 18 points to go along with nine rebounds, Davis-Stewart recorded a double-double and Neild chipped in 13 points off the bench as the Warriors dispatched the Setters, 63-51.
Merrimack advanced to play top-seeded and nationally ranked Bentley, which marked an end to the 2016-17 edition of the Warriors in the NE10 Quarterfinals.
Davis-Stewart and Alston each were named all-conference recipients, with the former landing on the all-rookie team. The Dorchester native led the Warriors in rebounds (8.4) and blocks (2.8) per game, and led all freshmen nationwide in blocking average and total blocks (79).
Alston led the Warriors in scoring with 10.2 points per game, finishing in double figures on 15 occasions. She was also one of the best on-ball defenders in the NE10, ranking fourth in the league in steals (57) and swipes per game (2.0).
Only two Warriors depart from the 2016-17 squad, and the Warriors return five rising juniors and five rising sophomores to form a group that will have immense experience in 2017-18. In addition to Davis-Stewart, freshman Emily Houle, Giulia Orlando, Kathryn Roberts and Alyssa Torres all return after experiencing their freshmen seasons.
The core of Martin, Neild and Werner as well as Karlee Alves and Emily Stephens will be relied upon heavily as they join rising senior Cecilia Reyes as upperclassmen next fall. The five sophomores combined to average over half of Merrimack's scoring output this season, totaling 53 percent of Merrimack's scoring.