When people think of the Marist women’s basketball team, their minds usually go to 2007, the year in which the team made the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament. It was the first time a school from the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference reached that round. It put the program on the map.
That was the second year of a stretch where Marist made nine consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances. Between 2006-2014, the Red Foxes won their conference tournament and made some noise in the national spotlight. This included knocking off major programs such as Ohio State and Georgia, and hanging in with Candace Parker and the Tennessee Lady Volunteers, all in 2007.
The Red Foxes are by no means a major national name in women’s college basketball, but have most certainly made a name for themselves in the mid-major circuit.
Mid-majors are schools that belong to “non-Power Five” conferences. The Power Five conferences are the Atlantic Coast (ACC), the Big Ten Conference, the Big 12 Conference, the Pac-12 Conference, and the Southeastern (SEC).
Since Marist belongs to the MAAC, they are considered a mid-major program. With all of that said, there is a separate poll from the NCAA Top 25 rankings that only includes mid-major programs across the country. It is the CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major Top 25 poll, where a committee made up of two representatives from each mid-major conference vote each week to determine the rankings of the top mid-major programs.
The Red Foxes are currently ranked tenth in the most recent poll, published on December 3rd, after their loss to #15 Central Michigan on November 30th.
Players on the team are aware of their ranking, and believe it represents the nature of their work ethic, but it doesn’t prove anything.
“Overall, we think it’s awesome,” said redshirt senior Alana Gilmer. “It’s a great accomplishment, but we feel we still have a lot to prove.”
The Marist players and coaches believe that they play for an elite mid-major program, such as Gonzaga, South Dakota, or Florida Gulf Coast, and that the program has been elite for at least the last decade and a half.
“I would put us in this category,” said head coach Brian Giorgis, “I would say we are one of the top 25 mid-major programs over the last 15 years.”
“I think so,” said redshirt senior Grace Vander Weide, “I’m thinking back to the run Marist had making 10 straight NCAA appearances. We are a known mid-major.”
Giorgis is the chairman of the voting panel. He votes based on teams’ previous week performances along with another factor.
“I take all the games of anyone [on the ranking sheet] that played, and I put a result next to their name,” said Giorgis, “whether it was who they played or where they played. This goes on every week throughout the season.”
It is Giorgis’s fifth year as head of the voting panel, and he took over the position after former Marist men’s basketball head coach and current Army West Point women’s basketball coach Dave Magarity stepped down as chairperson.
“From my knowledge, we do play like a top 10 mid-major team,” said Vander Weide. “Our job is to just stay focused and when we win games, we’re just going to keep moving up the rankings.”
The Red Foxes use the rankings as a motivating factor in their performance, especially their own position. It forces other schools to take notice about who they are and their style of play. They play with chips on their shoulders.
“It definitely motivates us,” said Gilmer. “It shows others that we are a talented team. We want to step up to the plate and show our talent.”
Vander Weide cited the team’s underdog mentality. She knows that when they play bigger schools that they aren’t expected to win.
“All of these games help us figure out who we are, what works, and what doesn’t,” said Vander Weide. “The ranking is great but our ultimate goal is to win that MAAC Championship.”
The upcoming stretch of games against other top mid-major programs will be a strong determining factor in the Red Foxes’ postseason hopes. Their next two games are at home against Princeton (ranked fourth) and Green Bay (ranked 11th). They will also play one on the road against the University of Texas-Arlington, who isn’t in the rankings but have the most votes to technically be ranked 26th.
Central Michigan and Princeton were in the NCAA Tournament last season, Green Bay has made appearances in the Tournament in recent years, and UTA made the second round of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament last season after finishing with a 24-8 record.
This Marist team looks to make waves in the postseason. They were picked to finish first in the MAAC preseason poll and this tougher schedule will help them prepare for their conference. They want rings, they want the tournament, they want the recognition, they want the glory.
Edited by David Bieber