Why are fans so drawn into the women’s basketball team? The players often talk about the McCann Arena faithful, saying that they’re different from every other Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference school.
“The atmosphere at Marist is just remarkable,” red-shirt senior captain Alana Gilmer told the Red Fox Network after Saturday’s senior day win, in which Marist claimed a regular-season Co-Championship with Rider. “You don’t see that anywhere else, especially for a mid-major school. I’m so blessed that I’ve been able to come here and play for a crowd that just supports you endlessly.”
According to the MAAC website, the women’s basketball team draws an average of 1,476 fans per home contest, peaking at 1,848 when they hosted Manhattan on Play4Kay night on February 8th. Saturday’s Senior-Night contest with Siena fell just behind at 1,825. The #2 team on the MAAC attendance list is Quinnipiac, who drew 860 fans per home contest.
So what creates this level of interest for some of Marist’s most devoted fans?
For Dr. Craig Fisher, it started about 30 years ago. Dr. Fisher was an Information Systems professor here at Marist, and he would bring his grandkids to the games. In those days, attendance was low, so he could set his grandkids free in the arena and never lose sight of them.
Dr. Fisher then had a women’s basketball player, Kristen Keller, in his classes. They bonded over their passion for basketball, and Keller introduced Dr. Fisher to the coaches, led by then-head coach Kristin Lamb. The next season, new head coach Brian Giorgis asked Dr. Fisher to be a mentor to the team. Dr. Fisher was already an avid fan of the team, so it was an offer that he couldn’t refuse. Dr. Fisher credits the student-athletes he mentored for breaking the college-athlete stigma of, “They just play ball.”
“So many professors think that they get all of the breaks,” Dr. Fisher explained. “But let me tell you, they’re very serious students. They had to know so much to prepare for games, and then I watched them bring their laptops on road trips to do homework.”
Dr. Fisher retired in 2011 and when he retired, he had to stop being a mentor. But that didn’t stop his passion for Marist women’s basketball. He is still a season-ticket holder and a regular at McCann Arena.
“I follow them very closely,” Dr. Fisher said. “I get joy from watching Hannah Hand recover from her knee trouble. I sit here watching the team and she’s always in good spirits and smiling, whether she’s in the game or dealing with injuries. It’s a pleasure to see the way she approaches the game.”
Senior Juan Casanova follows the women’s basketball team for a different reason: the aura of McCann Arena when they play, and their clean, unselfish style of play.
Juan Casanova cheering at the Senior-Night game.
“I like the atmosphere that the women give off,” Casanova explained. “The guys are so intense, the women really know how to work together and their style of play is fun to watch.”
Casanova started following the team as a freshman. He goes to all of the home games that don’t interfere with his school or work schedule and watches the road games when they’re on a free streaming service. If he can’t watch, he follows along on social media.
“They’re so fun to watch and they play smart,” Casanova explained. “They’re so good at passing and, unless it’s a fastbreak, they get like five touches before taking a shot. It’s so smart to move the ball and wait for the right shot instead of just launching it.”
The computer science major doesn’t know any of the players well but has met a couple of them around campus. He had a brief encounter with junior guard Allie Best at the Cabaret. He started referring to her as “Apples” because, as Casanova said, “She only bought apples.” He also took a physics class with senior guard Rebekah Hand and junior forward Willow Duffell.
“I recognized Willow because she was a head taller than everyone else, but I didn’t know I worked with Bekah until after we did our project,” Casanova said while trying not to laugh. “When I found out, I was like ‘Oh my god, that’s Bekah!’’”
Senior Chris Bedard brings a different perspective to the bleachers. He’s a tuba player in the Marist band.
Chris Bedard calling a travel on Canisius. Grace Vander Weide clearly agreed.
“I’ve been at every single home game that I could attend since my freshman year,” Bedard said. “They’re great to watch and I look forward to every game.”
Bedard was a resident assistant in Upper Fulton housing during his sophomore year. Grace Vander Weide, Molly Smith, Alana Gilmer, Hannah Hand and Rebekah Hand lived there so Bedard got to know them a little bit. He makes signs to hold up at games, and one of them references this.
“My favorite sign says ‘5D’ because that was their house that I RA’ed for,” Bedard said. “Nothing is greater than when one of them sees me holding the sign mid game and smiles. Having some level of connection to the people that I’m cheering for just amplifies my love for the team and their success.”
Bedard believes that the band is part of the home court advantage that so many Red Foxes talk about.
“I have been at games over school breaks when the band is not present,” Bedard explained. “These two experiences are totally different because I feel as though we really do impact the atmosphere of the arena. It’s a great feeling when we start to get the crowd going with our shenanigans in the bleachers.”
Bedard and the band followed the Red Foxes to the eventually cancelled MAAC Tournament in Atlantic City, New Jersey. With such a tragic ending to a memorable season, it’s easy to say the team made the school’s supporters prouder than ever to support the Red Foxes after a season no fan will soon forget.
Edited by David Connelly
Photos from Mike Cahill