For the second straight year, we asked some of our writers to answer questions about the upcoming season as part of Basketball Week. First up is the women’s basketball roundtable, in which the writers give their takes on how much things have changed since last season and what to expect this year.
What do you make of last season?
Jonathan Kinane: Can you call a 26-4 record and a share of the MAAC regular-season title a disappointment? Sadly, you can. Last season was supposed to be the year where everything came together for a terrific senior class that had patiently waited for its moment. After three seasons of failing to do so, the goal was obvious: Make the NCAA Tournament. It looked like the Red Foxes were well on their way to accomplishing the objective before COVID threw a wrench in their plans. The most exciting team in recent memory never got to prove themselves on the big stage. How can one call that a success?
Nick Stanziale: One word and one word only comes to mind, heartbreaking. They finished the season as one of the best teams in Marist history and tied at the top of the MAAC conference, primed to win the conference championship. After a potential conference tournament title, I know a deep run was in store for the NCAA tournament. To see all their hard work come crashing down in a span of what felt like five minutes was truly heartbreaking. My heart still goes out to that team, especially the seniors.
Bridget Reilly: The 2019-20 team was straight-up robbed. We knew this team was going to take home the MAAC Championship. They were destined to, and the stars were aligning for them to make the push for the NCAA tournament. However, COVID-19 had other plans for them, cutting their season short with an overall record of 26-4 and Rider being crowned the champion. It’s difficult to call this season a success or a failure. It was simply unfinished.
Mackenzie Meaney: When I think of this team last year, the first word that comes to my mind is chemistry. The team worked extremely well together. They trusted each other with the ball and when someone was hot, they knew how to get it to them. Understanding each other so well helped them become elite and eventually MAAC regular-season champions. They were so fun to watch, and we all knew how good they were, which made the tournament getting cut short all the more devastating. Even after something heartbreaking like that, these players carried themselves well, and I think they are going to use that as motivation to be even better than last year.
Carissa Kellman: Last season was unlike any other. The players were full of energy and passion for the game, and I could not have imagined the heartbreak they felt when COVID-19 hit. All I can say is the season was one that fans will never forget, not only because of the abrupt ending but because the MAAC title was practically theirs. I think that in the future, we can take what we saw last season and only become even more thrilled to see them play and strive for top in the conference.
Marist lost one of its best senior classes in program history to graduation after last season. Is there any way this team can replace Rebekah Hand, Alana Gilmer, and Grace Vander Weide?
Jonathan: The Marist seniors accounted for 52 of Marist’s 73 points per game last season. Talent like Hand, Gilmer, and Vander Weide does not simply grow on trees. Give Brian Giorgis credit for bringing in a strong recruiting class with some players that should contribute right away. The Red Foxes will not be able to replace the losses from last season, but they can manage them. Marist is not going to score 73 points per game like they did last year, nor will they have the experience that is so valuable in late-game scenarios. Returning players like Willow Duffell, Sarah Barcello, and Allie Best all need to step up, and the younger players need to fill the supporting roles. The Red Foxes can and will be a solid team, but they will not look as good as they did last year.
Nick: The seniors that the team lost last season seem irreplaceable, but this is the challenge that comes along with collegiate sports. Every four years, you have to cycle in new players and teach them your system. If there is a coach in the NCAA that can minimize the loss of these seniors, it is Brian Giorgis. Since taking over the program almost 20 years ago, Giorgis has transcended the program to a powerhouse within the MAAC conference. It will not be an easy task considering the Hand twins, Gilmer, and Vander Weide were the core of teams past. Although true, nothing will change this season. Giorgis will take his returning and new players and continue to win basketball games, something he has done his entire life.
Bridget: The talent that Hand, Gilmer, and Vander Weide brought to the table was undeniable. Replacing this triple threat, along with the Hand twins’ smiles, will be quite difficult to achieve. This new squad will not be able to make up for the losses last season and will not be as high-scoring. The 2019-20 team significantly outplayed opponents in almost every category, including average points per game, field goal percentage, rebounds, and assists. Therefore, seniors Allie Best, Willow Duffell, and Sarah Barcello will need to step up while the underclassmen fill in as need be. This team has the potential to be successful as long as they have the time to adjust and work out the kinks of the new program.
Mackenzie: The senior class last year was one of the best, well-rounded groupings of athletes that the program (and arguably the school) has seen in a long time. The elephant in the McCann Center is how do you replace something like that? It is undeniable that the Hand twins, Gilmer, and Vander Weide were stars, and there will never be athletes who are exactly like them. Now though, it is time for the underclassmen to show us what they got. I would argue that the next Hand twins, Gilmers and Vander Weides are all sitting in that locker room ready for their moment to shine. Giorgis is a coach that trusts his players and knows what they can do. There is no replacing, just improving.
Carissa: These seniors dominated the court as the powerhouse of the team. Anyone can look at them and see that the team has lost some of their most talented players, but that is what makes the team itself stronger together. New talent comes in every year, and as we have seen in the past, the freshmen class continues to grow and become better. This loss will only result in the team wanting to emulate the energy that these seniors brought to the court. Especially after the way the season ended, I have faith that these girls are not going to let anything bring them down and away from the title this time around.
Give us one strength and one weakness for the team heading into the season.
Jonathan: There are some things Brian Giorgis-coached teams always do well. They run the motion offense effectively, they hustle, make their layups, and they usually do not beat themselves with sloppy turnovers. The strength of this team lies within the system if that makes any sense. Marist is going to compete in pretty much every game this season, not because they have the most talent in the league. They do, however, have a coach that gets the most out of his system. This team will have some deficiencies, certainly more than last year’s squad. It seems like the Red Foxes may struggle with scoring from the perimeter. Grace Vander Weide, Rebekah Hand, and Molly Smith were all deadly three-point snipers. All are gone now. Who fills the void? Sarah Barcello and Allie Best both shot 32 percent from beyond the arc last season, but they will need to improve upon that mark to give Marist a real perimeter threat. We know Willow Duffell can score inside, but the offense needs to have more than one dimension. Perimeter scoring is where freshmen Anabel Ellison and Emma Wax can have a real impact.
Nick: This team has two simple weaknesses. The first is experience. The Foxes only have two seniors on the roster, Willow Duffell, and Allie Best, and only have two returning starters from the previous season in Duffell and Sarah Barcello. The lack of experience in Giorgis’ system will show early this season, especially since there is not much time to practice and perfect his offense. The other weakness comes from three-point shooting. Last season, the three-point shooting was lights out due to seniors like the Hand twins and Vander Weide. The losses of these players mean not as many three-pointers, and fewer points scored. The strength of this team, believe or not, is the system. If you have made it this far into my ramblings, I think you know my respect and love for Brian Giorgis. I truly believe he is one of the best coaches in the country and that he doesn’t get the national attention he deserves. Giorgis-run teams rely heavily on the fundamentals, and he is going to engrave those fundamentals into his young roster. I expect the team this season to be scrappy, play great defense, and move the ball well. They will be reliant on getting the ball in the paint to Duffell and letting her do her thing, and I think that will work out well. It won’t be what Marist fans are used to, but Giorgis will make this team a competitor this season.
Bridget: As for weakness this year, the remaining players do not have much to show for outside shooting. The senior class had Hand, along with Vander Weide, in regards to three-pointers. Barcello proved herself to be a notable contender from the three-point line and will have to continue this in the upcoming season. This also means that Best and Duffell will have to be more willing to take those shots. The three-point shooting centric style of basketball has trickled down from the professionals to college ball, pushing more aggressive play to the side. The 2020-21 squad will have to make adjustments here this season. However, one of the biggest strengths of this program comes from the coaching staff. This year will be head coach Brain Giorgis’ 19th season. He clearly has a well-developed program that knows how to run the offense smoothly. The flow of the offense, incorporating crisp and thoughtful passes and moves is almost like watching a movie. It’s so well-orchestrated – it’s more like Love for Basketball than Love and Basketball. Their defensive and rebounding skills are also top-notch, and where there are gaps, they make up for offensively.
Mackenzie: One strength that I see coming into this season (and something we have all mentioned) is the offense. You can tell that whenever Marist steps onto the court, they have run offensive plays over and over and over again until they got perfect in practice, and then kept doing them just to be sure. They do it so much that they can play it in every spot on the court. The team this year, though, has to catch up on some experience. A few players saw time off the bench last season, but last year’s team was heavily reliant on the senior class. The team is young, and some of them have not played much college ball.
Carissa: Heading into this season, I believe Marist’s strength is their team dynamic. Under Coach Giorgis, this team is unstoppable when it comes to offensive plays. They’ve also achieved the most records under Giorgis, and I believe we are going to be seeing more record highs for Marist this upcoming season. Despite the loss of the talented seniors, this team’s players will continue their high energy plays. Their weakness, however, is their defense. Though Willow Duffell ranks in the top 15 of the conference in blocked shots and defensive rebounds per game, the rest of the players will have to assist in defensive plays against teams like Manhattan and Quinnipiac.
Which returning player do you expect to improve the most this season?
Jonathan: I am keeping my eye on sophomore guard Trinasia Kennedy. She averaged about six minutes per game last season, mostly in garbage time. Kennedy showed some speed and playmaking ability, but she also turned the ball over 29 times, compared to just 11 assists. She has been living on the outside basketball court on campus and will likely be the backup to Allie Best at point guard this season. I think with a year of experience and a chance for more playing time, Kennedy will shine in her second season.
Nick: The player I expect to improve the most this season is Trinasia Kennedy. She did not start a single game during her freshman season due to the experience and age of the team last year. Although she did not start, she appeared in 26 total games, and her stats are not eye-popping, but her play on the court is fun to watch. She is quick, shifty, and can beat anyone off the ball. Giorgis had enough trust to put the youngster in almost every game last year, absent of four, which tells me he believes she will be the leader of the future. Giorgis also has high praise for the Binghamton native saying, “she is one of the most athletic kids we’ve ever had in our program.” I expect a huge step forward in Kennedy’s play this season and look forward to the impact she has over the next few years for this team.
Bridget: In terms of upperclassmen, I believe that Allie Best will be the most likely to improve. Last season, she notably had 87 assists. Now, she is the leading guard that will need to pave the way for scoring. She is the playmaker. Close behind her, I believe Trinasia Kennedy will be a player to watch. Last season, she tallied 11 assists and 12 steals, but that did come with 29 turnovers. After now having the first season jitters under her belt, the sophomore guard has the chance to get more touches on the ball and continue to prove her skills.
Mackenzie: This might be a little out there, but I think that this year is going to be a big year for Kendall Krick. She didn’t show up all that often on the score sheet last season, but she has shown that she can shoot threes, which may come in handy now that the team is without Vander Weide and Hand. Krick saw limited minutes off the bench, but she appeared in 29 games. She is only a junior, but I think she will get more playing time and really grow this season.
Carissa: I’m definitely looking forward to seeing Trinasia Kennedy on the court again. Her strengths seem to have no end. Coach Giorgis mentions her ability to shoot the three and take it right off the dribble while also being one of the fastest players on the team. As I said before, the freshmen on this team are only going to get stronger. Kennedy was already one of the most promising players, and I believe her skills will only improve this upcoming season.
Who or what is your X-factor for the upcoming season?
Jonathan: This is a tough one for me because there really are a few. My X-factor is close games. Last season, many of Marist’s games were decided well before the buzzer sounded. When things did get close, the Red Foxes had an experienced core of seniors to lean on. This team still has some veterans, but Duffell and Barcello are the only returning starters who have been on the floor in crunch time. Marist is going to be in its share of tight ones this year, and how this team performs in the clutch will determine if they contend in the MAAC.
Nick: The x-factors of this team are Willow Duffell and Sarah Barcello. But there is someone else on this roster who needs to step up for this team to have a good season. This X-factor is senior guard Allie Best. Not a regular starter in her tenure at Marist, Best should see a significant jump in play and could become a regular starter for the Red Foxes. She knows the system and should become a leader this season for the younger generation of Foxes. Just like Kennedy, she does not have eye-popping stats, but there is something about her play that stands out.
Bridget: I believe the x-factor this season will be Sarah Barcello. With the three-point drainers now gone, eyes will be on her. Last season, she was sitting at third for most three-pointers on the team with a total of 24. This season, she has the opportunity to step up and fill the gaps that are now missing in this category.
Mackenzie: I agree that Duffell and Barcello are going to be in the X-factor conversation, but I want to throw Allie Best in there too. She is right in the mix with them. She can shoot 3s and is a great passer, which is everything you want in a point guard. Last year, she had pretty good stats, and I think now is her moment to step up and take on some of the responsibility that the seniors had last year.
Carissa: Willow Duffell is my pick for this season’s X-factor player. Last year, she hit her career-high in rebounds against Niagara and is on track to have the best season of her Marist career. She dominated the court with her efficient field goal percentage and will prove to be a real asset to the team with last season’s seniors gone.
Who is the team to beat in the MAAC?
Jonathan: Not Marist. I think Fairfield is the team to beat in the MAAC this year, but the separation between the Stags, Manhattan, and Quinnipiac is razor-thin. Fairfield has the MAAC Preseason Player of the Year in Lou Lopez-Senechal and also returns Katie Armstrong, a fellow all-MAAC caliber player. This team returns most of the talent that earned a series split with Marist last season. The Stags are always near the top of the MAAC in scoring defense, but it is their potent offense that should get them over the hump.
Nick: Simply put, Marist is too young and is not the team to beat. It’s no secret that the top three teams in this conference are Fairfield, Manhattan, and Quinnipiac. The separation between these three is not much, but I’m giving a slight advantage to Fairfield. Fairfield gets the nod because of Lou Lopez-Senechal, who was voted the Preseason Player of the Year. The France native averaged 15.5 points per game last season, which was fifth-best in the conference, and scored double digits in 18 of 20 conference matchups. She was only a sophomore last season, and her play will only get better, giving Fairfield the edge in my book.
Bridget: With the 2020 class now gone, I don’t believe the team to beat is Marist. I believe the real competition is either Manhattan or Fairfield. The Jaspers have both former MAAC Defensive Player of the Year, Courtney Warley, and 2019-20 MAAC Rookie of the Year, Emily LaPointe returning this season, and both have been selected to the Preseason All MAAC First-Team. As for the Stags, the Preseason Player of the Year Lou Lopez-Senechal will be on the court. She led the team in scoring last season and ranking in the conference’s top-10 in scoring. Katie Armstrong, now a graduate student, will also be returning this season. She finished in the top-10 in the MAAC in points per game with 14 per contest. With this, I believe that Fairfield will be the team to beat.
Mackenzie: Regardless of what preseason polls say, I have to give Quinnipiac as my team to beat. Tricia Fabbri is one of the best coaches in the MAAC. This will be her 26th year. During her time at Quinnipiac, the team has made some amazing strides and achieved multiple eye-popping accomplishments. They are one of the more recent teams from the MAAC to make it to the Sweet Sixteen, and I think Fabbri is a huge part of that.
Carissa: I’m going to agree with the preseason poll for this one and say that Manhattan will be the top team to beat. They finished last season 15-14 overall and tied third in the MAAC rankings, their best position since 2011. Manhattan will also return with eight players who were letter winners, making them look very promising. I think Marist will have to bulk up on their defense to stop Gabby Cajou and Courtney Warley.
What record will the team finish with? Where will they finish in the MAAC? How will they do in the conference tournament?
Jonathan: Things are up in the air because of the MAAC’s overhaul of the conference schedule. All we know is that Marist is scheduled to play 24 games (20 in conference). Do they play them all? Who knows? There are no home-and-home series this year, so the luck of the draw with the schedule is quite important. I think the Red Foxes finish with a 13-7 conference record and third in the conference standings.
Nick: Given the nature of this weird season, predicting a record is not easy. I don’t want to jinx anything, but there is a chance the Red Foxes may not finish the season. I hope that’s not the case again this season, but it’s a very real possibility. The disadvantage this season for the young team is not enough warm-up games and practices. This team will immediately jump into conference play following only four non-conference games, and the beginning of the season may look ugly, resulting in a worse conference record than we’re accustomed to seeing. I think the Foxes will hit their stride eventually, but those first few conference games will be difficult. I believe the Foxes finish fourth or fifth in the conference and have a record of 12-8 within the MAAC. The conference tournament will be tough, and I don’t see the Foxes making it far. I would be fairly shocked if we see them in the semifinals, and that’s why I’m saying they are only going to go as far as the quarterfinals.
Bridget: Well, this is difficult to predict in a normal setting, and we are certainly not in a normal setting. It’s uncertain if the team will be able to play all of their scheduled games, 20 being in conference play. This year, I believe they will have a conference record of 11-9, taking the fourth or fifth spot in the conference standings. I am a bit doubtful they will make it to the semifinals. However, this is all if they make it this far in the season, which, as much as it pains me to say, I believe is highly unlikely.
Mackenzie: I think that a lot of teams around the MAAC are going to think that this is a rebuilding year for Marist. I wouldn’t say it’s a rebuilding year, by any means, just a year to work out some of the kinks as they go forward. Will it be a step down from last year’s 18-2 conference record? Unfortunately, yes, but it won’t be that far off. My prediction is that Marist will stay above .500, somewhere between 13-7 or 11-9 in conference. It’s hard to make a sound prediction on the tournament yet, because we haven’t seen them play, but I think they will be in the middle of the pack heading there.
Carissa: I do agree with Mackenzie that Marist’s record this season will be a step down from the last. The loss of the seniors will impact their season indefinitely, but I think Marist will still rank within the top 5 in the conference. This season, they will most likely not play all scheduled 24 games, which makes it difficult to say a definitive number. I think the team cannot waste any time getting comfortable on the court. They have to come together as a powerhouse from game one if they want to have a memorable record this season and rank in the top five.
Edited by Dave Connelly and Jonathan Kinane