The First Round of the “What Was the Greatest Marist Women’s Basketball Team of All-Time” Tournament

At this point in April, the national champions on the men’s and women’s side of college basketball would have already been crowned. We know this is not the case anymore. We have had to settle for self-quarantining and reliving the championship moments of our favorite teams of yesteryear. It has been well-documented how this historic year for the Marist women’s team was cut short before they had their chance to clinch a bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Instead, a different selection committee came calling. The Greatest Marist Women’s Basketball Team of All-Time selection committee, that is. Unlike the NCAA selection committee that works collaboratively, this one is purely autocratic. A 16-team tournament, played at various neutral sites, with the teams going up against one another in heated competition. 10 automatic bids were handed out, along with six at-large selections. A team received an automatic bid if they appeared in the NCAA Tournament. These teams make up the first 10 seeds, while the at-large teams—the best of the rest, make up the final six seeds.

To no one’s surprise, the Sweet 16 squad from the 2006-07 season earned the number one seed. A pair of 30-win teams from 2007-08 and 2010-11 follows at number two and three respectively. Seeds four through ten are all dangerous but have the potential to get lost in the shuffle of great teams. The most controversial team is the 11th-seeded squad from this past year. There were grumbles that this team could have been a much higher seed but the committee remained steadfast in their placement. Marist’s current senior class places three teams in this tournament. Can any of them make a run?    

It should be interesting to see how 14 different versions of Brian Giorgis coach against one another and it should be fascinating to see how players perform against older and younger versions of themselves. Will there be confusion? Probably. Will there be heartbreak? Most definitely. Will there be madness? You know it.                                           

Editor-in-chief Will Bjarnar and I are your guides to this tournament for the ages. Here is the first round.

Coach's Chair: Brian Giorgis, Marist College – Women's Hoops World

No. 1 2006-07 (29-6, Sweet 16) vs. No. 16 1989-90 (18-10)

Prudential Center, Newark, NJ

Will Bjarnar: Seems pretty simple. Here we have the program’s most prosperous team, at least in terms of NCAA tournament success, and an ‘89-90 squad with a lone claim to fame: owning Marist’s best conference-play record (12-4, second overall) from their time in the Northeast Conference. But if we know anything about a Brian Giorgis-led team — ‘06-07 was his fifth year at the helm; Ken Babineau helmed their opponent here — it’s that they refuse to go through the motions. So I won’t either in detailing their hypothetical (and lopsided) matchup. 

In the interest of historical ramifications, though, I’d be remiss if I didn’t lay out exactly what we’re dealing with here, as these two teams couldn’t be distanced further apart when it comes to overall triumph. The ‘06-07 team is of the variety a coach mentions when he’s recruiting; “Look at what we did in 2007,” he’ll say. “You could be part of history.” From any other coach at any other program, such a line might be lip service. Here, it applies. The ‘06-07 team went 17-1 in the MAAC on their way to a conference championship, and then went on to dispatch fourth-seeded Ohio State in the first round of the NCAA tournament (as a 13-seed, mind you) and fifth-seeded Middle Tennessee in the second round. They only finally met their maker when they met eventual national champion Tennessee, coached by Pat Summitt and led by (gulp) Candace Parker. Even the most valiant of efforts wasn’t going to halt that train. 

I already told you exactly what the ‘89-90 team accomplished. Need I go further?

Now for this imaginary game (I love this format. All credit to Jonathan there). From the tip, the discrepancy is clear. The five-headed monster of Alisa Kresge, Nikki Flores, Julianne Viani, Rachele Fitz, and Meg Dahlman is unstoppable; they combine for 68 of the team’s 86, and Kresge — the program’s all-time leader in assists — tallies 15. Babineau is at a loss, so much so that he gets thrown out trying to protest a charge call just as it looks like his squad might make something resembling a run. The key word there is might: ‘06-07 thwarted practically every attempt at a comeback from the ‘89 group in an embarrassing 86-49 drubfest.

No. 2 2007-08 (32-3, Round of 32) vs. No. 15 2014-15 (21-12, NIT First Round)

The Palestra, Philadelphia, PA

Jonathan Kinane: This is a matchup between two teams at opposite ends of the same dynasty. The 2007-08 squad was the third straight Marist team to appear in the NCAA Tournament. The 2014-15 Red Foxes ended the streak of nine consecutive appearances in the big dance. They struggled with injuries for some of the season, but are back at full health for this one. The 2014-15 team gets out to an early 10-point lead thanks to Tori Jarosz’s commanding inside presence and a couple of three-pointers from Madeline Blais. The 07-08 team, who finished the regular season with a top-25 ranking, can’t seem to get anything going. Marist all-time leading scorer Rachele Fitz, is held to one-of-six in the first half and has two of her shots rejected by Jarosz. The 14-15 team takes a 39-31 lead into the half. 

All across the country, people take note of the potential upset and tune into the Red Fox Network’s exclusive coverage. Alas, the 14-15 team cannot channel their inner Florida Gulf Coast and fall victim to an early second-half run. Fitz hits a trio of threes in two minutes and fellow guard Julianne Viani adds another on the next trip down the floor. Once the 07-08 Red Foxes get the lead, they do not give it up. In a game reminiscent of their tournament win over DePaul, they go on a 19-0 outburst to establish control. Blais and Sydney Coffee try to keep it interesting but their opposition is simply too tough. Fitz leads all scorers with 23 points and her team gets a 73-60 win at the Palestra.

No. 8 2013-14 (27-7, Round of 64) vs. No. 9 2005-06 (23-7, Round of 64)

Island Federal Credit Union Arena, Stony Brook, NY

WB: Two teams at opposite ends of the spectrum, much like Jonathan’s matchup from above, though this one involves a different spectrum: not dynastic success, but age. Both Giorgis-coached teams, the ‘13-14 squad boasted juniors and seniors galore (Tori Jarosz, Leanne Ockenden, Emma O’Connor, Casey Dulin, Natalie Gomez-Martinez, and Bri Holmes all serving as starters or rotation players), while the ‘05-06 basically served as a prelude to the ‘06-07 All-Star squad (Kresge, Viani, Dahlman, and Flores were all on the roster; they were only missing the eventual banner-bearer Fitz).

With both teams possessing conference DPOYs in their respective seasons (Ockenden in ‘13-14 and Kresge in ‘05-06), I assumed this affair would be ugly. As I simulated it in my brain, well, shoot, I found I was correct! Though as with any eight-nine matchup, it’s both ugly and beautiful, a toss-up for the ages.  The beautiful thing about the ‘05-06 team is that though Kresge was perhaps the most impressive of the teams’ defensive stalwarts, they could rely on Meg Dahlman — who was third and fifth in conference scoring and shooting percentage, respectively — to preserve the paint while Kresge maintained the perimeter. Dahlman was third in the MAAC in blocks, making her a perfectly proficient rim protector to face the scoring duo of Dulin and O’Connor should they decide to attack. 

And they did, a lot, finding a bit more success than anticipated due to the surprise prowess of a young Tori Jarosz — not yet the All-MAAC forward she’d become, but certainly one capable of holding off Dahlman some of the time. After the first half, with O’Connor and Dulin creating at a relative will, the ‘13-14 roster leads 31-24. Jarosz has contained Dahlman for the most part, though the shot-blocker was still able to send two layups back, preventing the lead from growing any more than seven in the first half.

As if the poets scripted it — and they did; let’s call my brain a poet for today — ‘05-06 storm back in the second half to tie it down the stretch of the fourth quarter. Kresge’s been denied all evening by Ockenden, whose four steals led the team by a wide margin, but it’s Viani whose long-range consistency kept the ‘05-06 squad in the game (she finishes with 24 points and a five-for-eight clip from 3). It’s an atrocious 56-52 game with 18-seconds left when Kresge finally gets by Ockenden, who had otherwise been immovable. Here’s the thing: she was moved, literally, by an illegal screen from Nikki Flores, a rare mistake. ‘05-06 Giorgis is sent into a tizzy; ‘13-14 Giorgis remains as stoic as ever as his team’s win is all-but sealed. 59-54, final. 

Sorry, ‘05-06. I guess there’s always next year… literally.

No. 7 2012-13 (26-7, Round of 64) vs No. 10 2003-04 (20-11, Round of 64)

The RAC, Piscataway, NJ

JK: I could start by making a joke about Rutgers or New Jersey but that would be too easy. Vegas installed the 2012-13 team as a seven-point favorite and the line has gone up to nine, minutes before tip-off. 74 percent of brackets on ESPN Tournament Challenge have the 7-seed going through to the next round. Many experts seem to think the 10-seed is just lucky to be in the field by virtue of their 76-74 win over Canisius in the MAAC title game. The 2012-13 team has won a whopping 21 consecutive games heading into the tournament. With 10 minutes left in the game, the streak looks like it will extend to 22. The 7-seed leads 54-43, as the 2003-04 squad has struggled mightily on offense. Then, the underdogs dialed up a full-court press. The 2012-13 Red Foxes began to turn the ball over and squander the chances they did have. With two minutes left, they were clinging to a 64-61 lead.

After a pair of missed free throws, the 03-04 team grabbed the rebound and headed up the floor with a chance to tie the game. The ball went down low, to star forward Stephanie Del Preore. She turned, drew contact, and laid the ball in. The subsequent free throw tied the game at 64. Both teams missed on their next possessions. With 35 seconds left (and a 30-second shot clock), the 12-13 squad was content to hold the ball and try for the last shot. Eventually, the ball goes down low to Emma O’Connor and a reach-in foul is called on Del Preore, causing the opposing bench to go bananas. Even the broadcast team of Geoff Brault and Steve Eggink have a difficult time making sense of the call. With seven seconds left, O’Connor misses the first free throw but regains her composure and drains the second. The 03-04 Red Foxes call their final timeout. Everyone knows where the ball is going. Guard Alissa Kresge catches the inbounds pass and feeds it to Del Preore. The ball is nearly tipped away but she makes the catch, faces up from the high post and shoots over two defenders. Never a doubt. Final score 66-65, the upset is complete. Del Preore has a game-high 29 points and 14 rebounds. The victorious Brian Giorgis tells his counterpart, “You got a great team here. You’ll be back one day.”

No. 4 2008-09 (29-4, Round of 64) vs. No. 13 2017-18 (20-14, NIT)

Rose Hill Gymnasium, Fordham, NY

WB: We’ve talked a lot on this website about how this particular program’s kryptonite was the Quinnipiac Bobcats (save for this year, one where it seemed like Marist and Rider were on a collision course; last stop, title game). And we aren’t necessarily wrong; in recent years, Quinnipiac was often the team to send Marist packing once the conference tournament rolled around. But I don’t think we’re considering overall trends where we absolutely should be. Saying Marist’s kryptonite was strictly Quinnipiac is like saying the only distraction I faced while writing my portions of this article was my cat. It’s untrue and it’s far too limited; I also had my phone, too much coffee, hunger, the TV, music, my mom chewing on pretzels across the table, and how good Jonathan is at this whole writing thing. Marist’s kryptonite might have been, in part, Quinnipiac. In reality, though, their kryptonite was teams like Quinnipiac: teams with a strong offense coupled with a stronger defense that Marist simply couldn’t keep up with, and whether that was an overall trend or happened on one particular evening didn’t matter.

The ‘08-09 Marist team performed quite well during their regular season, and actually (read: frighteningly) averaged similar offensive and defensive numbers to the ‘17-18 Quinnipiac squad that ended Marist’s NCAA tournament hopes. That year, the Bobcats averaged 71.8 points per game while only giving up 58.9. The ‘08-09 Marist team scored 72.7 while giving up 57. Also of note, on their run to the MAAC championship, this team downed Loyola (MD) by a score of 81-27. You’re not reading that wrong. That’s still a tournament record for least points scored and widest margin of victory. It also made me whimper. And I’m just a man (hiding) behind a laptop.

So I see the ‘17-18 team watching history repeat itself, though this time it won’t be at the hands of Quinnipiac, but at the hands of their program elders. It’s never really close; the ‘17-18 squad upholds their reputation as a middle-of-the-road team in terms of scoring, as they struggle to convert from really anywhere in the first half, trailing 41-27 at halftime. Sophomore Rebekah Hand did lead all scorers, though, with 13, while Maura Fitzpatrick held Julianne Viani scoreless. The ‘08-09 simply had other options to carry the load.

In the second half, nothing changes. The third quarter is as one-sided as it gets; at one point, Viani finds Rachele Fitz on four straight possessions for four straight layups, one of which she finishes through contact from the imposing but overmatched Lovias Henningsdottir. Hand is held scoreless in the third, while Marist succumbs under the defensive pressure that the ‘08-09 squad is heralded for. Geoff Brault — torn, as both teams represent something he loves — praises the efforts of both Giorgis’s, though he acknowledges that the ‘08-09 squad seemed to come in knowing what they were facing while the ‘17-18 squad looked a little lost.

They’d finish with more than 27 total points — no records broken here today — but Fitz’s 18 and Viani’s eight assists are too much. 76-55 is the final. “I Got a Feeling” blasts through the arena’s speakers. Young fans wonder aloud, “Who sings this song?” The ‘08-09 team dances along to the number-one hit from their glorious year.

No. 3 2010-11 (31-3, Round of 32) vs. No. 14 1992-93 (19-10)

Chase Arena, Hartford, CT

Corielle Yarde - Women's Basketball - Marist College Athletics

JK: The 1992-93 team had a difficult time adjusting. They could not believe they were transported 27 years into the future to Hartford, Connecticut, of all places. There was a ceremonial gift exchange at half-court before tip-off. The 2010-11 squad received Marist-themed beepers while the 92-93 team were in awe of their brand new iPhone 4’s. This was the closest the teams would come until the post-game handshake line. The 2010-11 team was miles ahead of their opposition and raced out to a 12-point lead in the first six minutes. Corielle Yarde and Kate Oliver were the driving force for these Red Foxes. Oliver was able to assert her dominance in the paint and Yarde established herself as the best player on the floor, scoring from all three levels. The lead was 43-25 at the half. The 92-93 squad could not help but appreciate the talent of their opponent, it was the best they had ever seen. “They play a game of which I am not familiar,” said Coach Ken Babineau.

 They did their best to hang around in the second half but the 10-11 Red Foxes simply had too much talent. Erica Allenspach and Brandy Gang did most of their damage in the second half and they equaled Yarde and Oliver with 13 points apiece. The team would advance to the second round with an 82-58 victory. It was not an unhappy ending for the 92-93 Red Foxes. In a move straight out of Back to the Future II, the players pooled their money together for a sports almanac and all became millionaires soon after they returned to their time.

No. 5 2011-12 (26-8, Round of 32) vs. No. 12 2018-19 (23-10)

Reilly Center, St. Bonaventure, NY

WB: Some of these matchups look a lot easier to parse on paper than they actually are. This isn’t one of them; not in my book. We have a tournament team against a team that’s season ended on what is perhaps the most disappointing end to a Marist season… ever? What’s to quarrel with? What’s to grapple over? 

While there’s obviously more to it than that — that the ‘18-19 team actually was quite successful and just ran into a Quinnipiac team that wasn’t going to be dropped by even the most upstart of opponents, as one might argue Marist was — I see this as a relative wash. I see a team that’s a year away (2018-19) coming into the Reilly Center, a daunting venue for away teams, to face a 2011-12 team headed up by MAAC Player of the Year Corielle Yarde and a veteran group that I’d prematurely say is destined for a run in this tournament. 

Just because a game is a wash doesn’t mean it’s at least close. Sometimes it just means that the favorite is the favorite and that, in the end, they do come out on top. That’s what happens here. The ‘18-19’s group of juniors — Rebekah Hand, Grace Vander Weide, Alana Gilmer, and Molly Smith — along with seniors Lovisa Henningsdottir and Maura Fitzpatrick are, in fact, a group equally matched with Yarde, Kelsey Beynnon, Kristina Danella, Brandy Gang, and Kristine Best.

And at the game’s midway point, it certainly looked like the upset bid was alive and lavish. Not only was Fitzpatrick bullying Yarde into passing up the scoring opportunities she’d usually thrive on, forcing her to dump passes to capable but underwhelming scorers in Beynnon and Best, but Alana Gilmer didn’t miss. No, I mean it: she didn’t miss, scoring a whopping 16 through two-quarters on six-for-six shooting and nailing four free throws. Still, ‘18-19 only led 39-33 at halftime. 

Once Yarde’s teammates got open and helped get her open, that meager lead dissipated… rather rapidly. With three minutes left and the ‘11-12 group leading by five, Yarde used a Gang screen to get by Fitzpatrick, drove to the rim but rejected the chance at a layup to find Danella — a 41% shooter from 3 — in the corner. If open, she won’t miss. She was, so she didn’t. Suddenly, a five-point game became an eight-point one. A bunny miss from Gilmer, only her second of the game as she finished with 22, fell to Yarde who shot a three-quarter court pass to a wide-open Gang for a layup. It’s funny how quickly the script can change. 70-62, final.   

Personally, I think it was the team’s epic intro that sealed it from the start.

No. 6 2009-10 (26-8, Round of 64) vs. No. 11 2019-20 (26-4, ?)

Carnesecca Arena, Queens, NY

JK: I can already hear it. I know this team is much better than the 11-seed in this tournament. Before you write a sternly-worded letter, consider this. The best Marist teams have been under-seeded in the NCAA Tournament. Our top seed was a 13-seed in the tournament and none of the terrific teams in this field made it any higher than the 7-line. If everything had proceeded as normal, the ‘19-20 team would not have been much higher than a 13-seed in the NCAA Tournament. 

This team is a microcosm of Marist Basketball in March, an underdog, who has to fight for respect. The 2009-10 team is not the easiest draw in the first round, although they had a bit of a down year compared to the teams that predated them. They still come out with all the confidence of a team expecting to win. The combo of Corielle Yarde and Rachelle Fitz, at opposite ends of their careers, is enough to rival the ‘19-20 squad’s big three—Rebekah Hand, Grace Vander Weide, and Alana Gilmer. With enough depth to rival their opponent, the ‘09-10 team fights ahead in the early minutes. For most of the first half, Yarde and Fitz are the tone-setters, while the big three is held in check on the other side of the court. It is the depth of the ‘19-20 Red Foxes that keeps them in this game. Willow Duffell, Sarah Barcello, and Allie Best make enough plays to cut the deficit to 41-36 at the intermission.

Rebekah Hand drains a three-pointer on the first possession of the second half. Vander Weide does the same on the next trip down. Hannah Hand makes an amazing hustle play, diving into the second row of seats to save the ball, which results in a Gilmer layup on the other end, a five-point deficit has turned into a three-point lead. The Brian Giorgis from 10 years ago calls timeout and institutes a full-court press. It works. With two minutes left, his team leads 73-69. It has been an exciting, up-and-down second half. Fitz makes what appears to be a dagger three, but upon closer inspection, it is ruled a two.

With the press now off, the ball makes its way up the court unabated and Gilmer drills a crucial three-pointer. 75-72. After a defensive stop, Rebekah Hand draws a foul and hits both from the line. One-point game with 25 seconds left. The ‘19-20 Red Foxes do not foul quickly enough. Instead, trying for a steal that does not materialize. With six seconds remaining, Fitz, a career 85 percent foul shooter, is sent to the line. She swishes the first one. 76-74. Her second effort looks sure to follow. No. It goes around and out. Gilmer grabs the rebound and outlets to Vander Weide. Four seconds left. She dribbles up the court and leaves the ball for a trailing Hand. Rebekah puts up the shot just as the horn sounds.

Swish.

The arena erupts into pandemonium. The 2019-20 team finally has its March moment. By a score of 77-76, they advance to the next round. How much further can they go?

Edited by Bridget Reilly

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