Now that we’re midway through the college basketball season, we asked our staff to rehash some thoughts from the preseason — and expand on some new predictions — as the women’s basketball program storms toward a possible tournament run.
1. Now that we’re halfway through, who’s someone you wish you would’ve seen coming at the season’s start?
Will Bjarnar: Their comprehensive and astounding beat writer, Jonathan Kinane.
Lily Caffrey-Levine: I’ll never forget the deafening silence in the McCann gym when Hannah Hand hit her first three since February 2018. After a promising freshman season followed by two knee surgeries, Hannah’s contributions in her freshman and sophomore seasons seemed to be all Marist would get from her. That’s why her comeback against Albany where she shot 100% FROM THE FIELD is so, so, sweet. She has gotten solid minutes in this season and has made some respectable contributions on the court. It might not be the MVP performance of the team but damn has Hand made us all wish we saw her coming.
Jonathan Kinane: I’ll go with Molly Smith. She was forced to step into the starting lineup when Willow Duffell went down with a leg injury in Florida. In the seven games she started, she didn’t put up any crazy numbers, but she did an admirable job on the defensive end. She has a solid mid-range game and can step out and hit the occasional three, evidenced by her performances against North Florida and Monmouth. Smith has seen her minutes dwindle with the return of Duffell but has entrenched herself into Brian Giorgis’ rotation as a solid role player.
Connor Kurpat: I wish I had noticed Grace Vander Weide, Marist’s redshirt senior guard, before the season began. She has been a key piece in the Red Foxes’ success this season. As I’m writing this, she currently leads the team in offensive and defensive rebounds for a combined 111 rebounds on the season. She also leads not only the team but the MAAC as well in assists with a whopping 103 total assists. Vander Weide finds ways to put it in the basket as well, averaging 12.6 points-per-game and boasting a .441 shooting percentage from the three-point line. What I’m saying is, she has been invaluable and absolutely dominant all season.
Jess King: January comes to an end and the women’s basketball team is cruising with a 14-3 overall record, 7-1 in the conference. The collection of basketball players the team has had working towards one goal, a MAAC championship, is special. I think their team chemistry is unmatched this season, their talents wide, and their potential is endless. It’s something you don’t want to give into before the season starts, as a disappointing season and heartbreak is right around the corner, but halfway through the season… I’ll give in. All this success the team has experienced wouldn’t have occurred so smoothly without the assistance of Willow Duffell. She’s been heating up in 2020, racking in 14 points to bring Marist a win over Monmouth. I’ve been waiting for the year to see Duffell fully develop into the player we see this season. Overall, Duffell is being more active this season and therefore comes out to be a crucial member of this team. She’s averaging 24.8 minutes per game, slightly higher than her 22 minutes the previous two years. While her total field goal attempts this season sits at 60, lower than previous years, it seems as though she’s taking smarter shots now. As she slowly starts to develop into a leader on this squad, it’s fun watching her (hopefully) transition into a playmaker on this team as we’ll soon have to say goodbye to our impactful senior class.
2. And their MVP?
Will: Their comprehensive and astounding beat writer, Jonathan Kinane. And the entire team. You go, girls.
Lily: It is hard not to Mean Girls it and break off a little piece of the MVP title for everyone on this team. Everyone is making the most of their minutes and clearly it’s working. Now I’m not trying to take the easy way out. But it is just too hard to pick from Marist’s “big three.” In the process of attempting to answer this question, I did Google “statistical measure of clutch.” Gilmer, Hand, and Vander Weide all deserve a fair look for MVP. Gilmer is shooting .533 from the field, Hand is shooting .420 from three, and Vander Weide has been absolutely crushing it on the boards. Maybe the next 12 games will change something, but I don’t particularly care as long as the clutchness stays clutch.
Jonathan: How does one assign value? I could go with points per game but then we’d have a tie (Alana Gilmer and Rebekah Hand both average 17.8 points per game). I’m going with Grace Vander Weide. She’s third on the team in scoring (12.6 points per game) and first in both rebounds and leads the MAAC with 6.1 assists per game. She is the proverbial straw that stirs the drink, consistently getting Gilmer and Hand great looks from the floor. She’s also not afraid to call her own number, which keeps opposing defenses honest and what makes her so dangerous.
Connor: Honestly, it’s hard to pick the MVP of this team, especially considering that it would either have to go to Rebekah Hand or Alana Gilmer. I think that I would have to call it a tie between the two because it would be too hard to give it to one over the other. They have been an absolutely unstoppable duo all season, with both averaging an identical, team-best 17.8 points per game. Gilmer leads the team in field goals made, while Hand leads the team in three-pointers made. If Marist was without either of these stars, then they frankly wouldn’t be the same team.
Jess: For me, it’s no competition. Alana Gilmer is the crucial member of this team, offensively and defensively. She’s exploded on the floor, scoring a career-high 30 points versus long-time rival Quinnipiac. She raked in 36 played minutes and 14 made field goals. While the box score shows raving reviews about Gilmer’s performance over the course of this season, when she’s on the court she’s everywhere. Consistently on the ball, dominating the floor, hitting shots from various spots on the court, always keeping her defenders guessing. I like to think of her as a secret weapon for the team. In her record 30 point game, Giorgis didn’t even realize she had 30 points. A quiet, explosive performance on her end. But Alana, we see you poppin’ off!
3. What (or who) has been the most surprising factor in their success?
Will: This is a boring answer. I haven’t been surprised by this team. Back in November, I did, in fact, pick them to defeat Oregon in the NCAA Championship game in April. Okay, so maybe that won’t happen. But I have had my non-exaggerated expectations met precisely. Everything about this team coming into the preseason was pointing toward prolonged and consistent success, a call to which they’ve answered handily. The senior leadership has been dynamite, as expected — the team’s three leading scorers in terms of both total points and points per game are Alana Gilmer, Rebekah Hand, and Grace Vander Weide — but ample production has come from sophomore Sarah Barcello, junior Allie Best, sophomore Kendall Krick, and even freshman Trinasia Kennedy. I guess my one surprise, if I’m to stretch to find one, would be that this is a much more complete team than I expected. And yet what else should you expect from the likes of Brian Giorgis? See, now I’m just out here acting like a buffoon.
Lily: I never thought this team would do anything less than at least a solid and respectable run at the title. I had them going 17-4 in conference play at the beginning of the season. Currently, at 7-1, there is still time, but their solid performances against high caliber teams up to this point show a level of preparedness and dedication that can become crucial in the back half of the season. So I’m not surprised by their success at all. It was, in fact, expected. What I am pleasantly surprised by is the ability to still be going with the rigor that they are. They are showing no signs of slowing down All but one of their last 10 wins have been won by at least 10 points (and three of them by 20 points). Their only loss in the last 10 games was in overtime by four points. With 12 games left they are only facing three opponents they have yet to meet this season. They are showing no signs of slowing down. There could be worse surprises.
Jonathan: Coming into the season, we knew this was going to be a deep team but not THIS deep. Giorgis will often throw 10 or more players into the game before halftime. With other MAAC teams, you often see a significant drop in quality from the bench, but the Marist reserves never skip a beat. Allie Best, Molly Smith, Kendall Krick, and freshman Trinasia Kennedy have all been terrific in their roles. Giorgis has even invented the “Red Raider” group, which resembles a line change in hockey. The Red Raiders come in for a few minutes, play tight pressure defense and hustle their tails off. Deep teams make runs in March. That’s a fact.
Connor: I think what’s the most surprising factor in the Red Foxes’ success has been their ability to move the ball around the court. Marist currently leads the MAAC with 330 assists and 19.4 assists per game. The next closest? That would be Fairfield, with 246 assists. That’s right. I think their ability to distribute the basketball, creating different shooting opportunities, definitely contributes to the team’s offensive, and overall, success.
Jess: There’s a word that’s used to describe a team like this one. One that, fundamentally, is a good team, filled with different talents, and a head coach that knows how to lead young athletes. Their success comes down to chemistry. Chemistry between the individual players and chemistry between the players and their coaching staff. As Giorgis enters into his 18th season, there’s a consistency that brews a trust within the program, a culture that many players and staff buy into. Now I wouldn’t say that this factor is surprising, Giorgis has many accolades throughout the years that prove his talent in coaching. However, this specific roster is what makes the team so successful. As the senior class has come so shy of winning a MAAC championship in their years here, there’s a different level of motivation pushing them. Somewhat of a last-call to redemption. I think with the leadership on this team brought on by team captains, Alana Gilmer and Rebeka Hand. Chemistry will continue to bring them success.
4. The season is obviously winding down. With that in mind, can you predict the team’s success for the remainder of the season?
Will: Unless the unexpected happens — which it always can; ever heard of expecting the unexpected? — this team wins the MAAC handily and then steals a game in the NCAA tournament. At least a game. The only thing standing in their way is Rider, a team riding high on a twelve-game winning streak and manning a 15-2 overall record. Marist’s lone MAAC loss came at the hands of the Broncs, 76-72, and their stellar guard Stella Johnson (ha-ha, stellar, Stella), who’s currently averaging 26.4 points per game. Yeah. That leads the country. So she’s a bit of a daunting opponent, but there’s no “I” in “team.” As I said, Marist is one of the more complete teams in the conference and country, a skill and privilege that not many teams can say they’ve achieved. Marist has another go at Rider — Feb. 11 in New Jersey — one that could serve as a real litmus test as to how far this group can really go, how successful they can really be. To win in March, you have to win the toughest games. I say they do, but it’ll be really interesting to see what Feb. 11 can indicate moving forward.
Jonathan: The four games that loom large for the rest of MAAC play are the two against Fairfield and return trips to Rider and Quinnipiac. Win those three and a 19-1 conference should be good enough for the top seed in the MAAC Tournament. I think the Red Foxes will take one more loss in conference play, either at Rider or at Quinnipiac. An 18-2 MAAC mark may still be good enough for a regular-season championship if Rider slips up a few times. Regardless, I still think this team is too good to not win the MAAC Tournament in a thriller against Rider.
Lily: Chris Berman once said “[They]…could…go…all…the…way!” Call me naive, a hopeless romantic, what have you, but this is the year. Our comprehensive and astounding beat writer, Jonathan Kinane, put it best when he pleaded for us all to “party like it’s 2015.” Have at it! Play “Hello” by Adele! Turn on an episode of Mad Men! Let’s get back to laughing at Vines! Marist women’s basketball is bringing back their successes of 2015, a long five years later. Quinnipiac embarrassed them at the Times Union Center just over a year ago in an 81-51 loss for Marist, who hadn’t beaten Quinnipiac since 2015. That is until Jan. 23, 2020…when they did. Once the Bobcats fell to Marist in a 60-73 loss, that cemented it for me. The rest of the season can smoothly, maybe chalking up only two or three losses, then You know what? Throw the stat sheet out the window (sorry Dr. Zach Arth!). This is a destiny team.
Connor: I think Marist will lose one or two more games in the final stretch of the season. The Rider Broncs’ should be a really tough opponent to beat, especially when considering that Marist will have to try to win at Rider. Also, the matchups against the Fairfield Stags will be a challenge, as Marist has yet to play them this season. While the Stags have an overall record of 9-8, they still place third in the MAAC, with a record of 6-2 in the division. It should be interesting to see how the Red Foxes compete against these teams these next few weeks.
Jess: After losing in the MAAC championship game against Quinnipiac, I’d predict that this team is headed for a win this time around. As the team sits at a 7-1 conference record, and they’re not slowing down. I think the taste of a long sought after win against Quinnipiac last week can push the team to further dominate.
The Marist women’s basketball team will strut into the Jim Whalen Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City for the 2020 MAAC Championships. Who do they need to knock down in order to rise victorious? The Rider Broncs, the only team in the MAAC to rank before the Red Foxes with an 8-0 conference record. When the Foxes met the Broncs in Poughkeepsie this season, the Foxes suffered an overtime loss to the Broncs, 72-76. Close, but not close enough. I predict the Foxes will rise to the occasion and show their grit on February 11 when they face off again on Rider territory, then again in Atlantic City when they inevitably take on the Broncs in the championship game.
5. So… how far can this team go?
Will: I’m sticking to it – 33-0, defeating Oregon in the title game. Eat your heart out, Shea Serrano.
Jonathan: I will put on my bracketology hat and say if Marist makes the NCAA Tournament, they would likely be a 12 or 13 seed. Brian Giorgis has done it before from that position and I think this team can pull off another first-round victory this year. Maybe things really get crazy and they win multiple tournament games or maybe it’s another trip to the WNIT. This team will go as far as their senior leaders take them and they’re not going out with a whimper.
Lily: See above. And you know, while you’re at it, turn on “Viva La Vida” by Coldplay and throw in a run to the Sweet Sixteen as well. Party like it’s 2008, baby!
Connor: If this team can keep the momentum they have right now, then there is nothing that can stop them from making third consecutive championship appearance. And if this team can find out a way to slow down Stella Johnson and the Rider Broncs, then they have a legitimate shot at winning the MAAC championship this year.
Jess: After they dominate in the MAAC championship, I think the NCAA tournament opens up a new world of opportunity for the Red Foxes. People will call this crazy, and some of those people might not even understand the accolades head coach Brian Giorgis has on his resume. He’s taken the Foxes to 10 NCAA appearances, five NCAA tournament victories, and a Sweet 16 appearance. He’s a man of poise, passion, and expertise. I’m a strong believer in the momentum of a sporting event. The NCAA tournaments are the pinnacle of that momentum. A tournament run is more likely than most think. While the competition is more demanding than the teams that make up the MAAC, anything’s possible… right?
Edited by Will Bjarnar