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Dayton women picked first in A-10

Dayton women’s basketball coach Jim Jabir has four starters back from a team that rolled through the Atlantic 10 regular-season without a loss last season and reached the NCAA tournament for the fourth straight year.

And a statement Jabir made this week may send shudders through the rest of the league: The returning players all have gotten significantly better.

UD was the overwhelming pick to win the A-10 in a poll of the coaches Tuesday, getting 12 of 13 votes. Saint Joseph’s, which also played in the NCAA tourney last season, earned the other first-place vote and is second in the poll, followed by Duquesne, Fordham, George Washington, Richmond and VCU.

Junior guard Andrea Hoover, who averaged a team-high 12.9 points a year ago, and junior forward Ally Mallott (10.7) are preseason first-team all-conference picks, while sophomore guard Amber Deane (9.9) earned a second-team nod. Sophomore guard Kelley Austria made the all-defensive team.

“Amber’s intensity and focus and aggressiveness are much, much greater. Hoover’s playing like Hoover plays. Ally is being way more aggressive and assertive. Cassie Sant (a two-year starter at center) has become way more complete and is finishing much better. Those kids have really improved,” Jabir said.

“I like our versatility, our athleticism and our length. I think we’re really pushing the ball at a much greater pace than we did last year. … We have a lot of options, a lot of possibilities as far as offensive scenarios go, and that’s exciting.”

The Flyers, who finished 28-3 last season and lost to Kentucky in the second round of the NCAA tourney, have to replace point guard Sam MacKay, who averaged 10.5 points and five assists last year. Austria and freshman Celeste Edwards are fighting for that job.

“I think both Kelley and Celeste have shown they’re very capable. They have work to do, but I think both are going to be good for us,” Jabir said.

The Flyers have become the premier program in the A-10 after averaging 23.8 wins over the last six seasons, but Jabir doesn’t expect to waltz through the league.

“I think there are going to be some really good teams. People are getting better,” he said.

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