It’s Time for Women’s Basketball to Breathe New Life into an Old Rivalry

There was a time not too long ago where Marist women’s basketball was the unquestionable class of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. The Red Foxes won 11 consecutive regular-season MAAC titles and appeared in a stretch of nine straight NCAA tournaments from 2006-14. Brian Giorgis’ squads gained national notoriety as a potential bracket buster, winning games in multiple tournaments, including a sweet sixteen run in 2007.

In the 2013-14 season, the last year Marist won the MAAC, the conference was joined by a dashing newcomer, the Quinnipiac Bobcats, fresh off a trip to the tournament as representatives of the Northeast Conference.

The Red Foxes and Bobcats had only met once, a 60-58 Quinnipiac win in 1985. Despite a lack of familiarity, the teams would quickly become accustomed to seeing one another, especially in March. The 2013-14 season saw three tilts, with Marist completing the season sweep with a 70-66 victory in the MAAC Tournament championship game.

The seeds for a rivalry were planted and were indeed nurtured when the Bobcats completed a three-game season sweep which also culminated in a MAAC Tournament championship.

The series between the two teams was turning into the MAAC equivalent of Duke-North Carolina from the ACC or Syracuse-Georgetown from the old Big East. Marist-Quinnipiac, while not having the same name-brand recognition, did have many of the characteristics of a blossoming, meaningful rivalry.

The hatred between fan bases might not have been near the level of the other rivalries, but you knew how important the games were. The MAAC either ran through Poughkeepsie, N.Y. or Hamden, Conn. The teams always played each other twice in the regular season, with a third meeting in the conference tournament a near certainty.

The power conference rivalries get more attention, more buildup, and the primetime slot on ESPN. The mid-major rivalries like Marist-Quinnipiac get none of this glamour. But when they meet in March, so much more is on the line.

In a one-bid league like the MAAC, the conference championship means everything. A win means an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament and a loss could spell the end of the season. The absence of a conference championship banner since 2014 has been a tough pill to swallow for fans of the Red Foxes, who had raised nine straight at that point.

Since the 2015 championship game, won by Quinnipiac, the series has been one-sided. It is as if the hypothetical gardener who planted the seeds to this rivalry went away on a four-year vacation without letting anyone know.

Marist’s last win against Quinnipiac came in December 2015, a 56-47 win in Poughkeepsie. The Bobcats, under head coach Tricia Fabbri, simply elevated themselves to a higher standard. Quinnipiac made a sweet sixteen run a decade after the Red foxes did so in 2007.

Marist has endured some painful losses in these last few years, including a 34-point embarrassment in the McCann Center in 2017 and two more conference championship losses (including an 81-51 rout last year).

The Red Fox senior class which includes Hannah and Rebekah Hand, Alana Gilmer, Claire Oberdorf, and Grace Vander Weide, has two notable absences from their resume: a win over Quinnipiac and an NCAA Tournament appearance.

A win Thursday night against a Quinnipiac team, who is rebuilding after losing much of their production to graduation, won’t put Marist in the NCAA Tournament. It will, however, enable the senior class to put a checkmark in one of the rare boxes they have yet to fill in. It will also breathe much-needed life into a rivalry that is on a ventilator.

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