Caitlin Weimar and Zaria Demember-Shazer did not know what to expect from an unprecedented college basketball season, but they helped Marist continue their dominance for another year.
Flashback to March 12, 2020. It’s a day before the MAAC women’s basketball tournament semifinals. The Marist Women’s Basketball team is in Atlantic City preparing for their matchup with third-seeded Fairfield when they receive the news. The MAAC and the NCAA canceled all the remaining games of the season due to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
The team that just went 18-2 in the conference and was seen as one of the favorites to win the conference tournament went home with nothing. Five incredible seniors had their final chance at a title stripped from them in the blink of an eye. With the unknown quickly closing in on them, Marist had to start preparing for the next season.
Fast forward to December 5, 2020. Marist is now getting ready for their first game since the MAACs in March. Those five seniors are all gone, and Marist quickly went from the favorites of the conference to the middle of the pack. They had some solid players returning, but a huge freshmen class incoming. Five players to be exact. With question marks surrounding the season, Marist knew they needed those freshmen to step up if they wanted any chance to ascend to the top of the MAAC once again.
Head coach Brian Giorgis and his staff are no strangers when it comes to finding good recruits, and that is exactly what they got in Caitlin Weimar and Zaria Demember-Shazer. Weimar hails from Cortlandt Manor, New York, and Demember-Shazer from Elmira. The rookies came to Poughkeepsie with the expectation to win, and they did exactly that this season. It was obvious from the beginning that Giorgis had trust in these two young women.
“Caitlin is one of the most highly recruited players that we have ever signed at Marist,” Giorgis told the media after Weimar committed to Marist.
“It’s definitely nice because he’s such a great coach,” Weimar said in response to that comment. “He is one of the reasons why I came here, and I feel honored that he could say something like that about me.”
Giorgis did not hold back on the other star freshman either. “Zaria is a dynamic athlete who hasn’t even come close to reaching her ceiling yet,” Giorgis told the media after Demember-Shazer committed to Marist. He was not wrong in that assessment as it seems Demember-Shazer is only getting started.
The 6-foot-1-inch forward played in 21 of Marist’s 22 total games and started in three of those games when her 6-foot-4-inch companion Weimar went down with a knee injury towards the end of the season. Demember-Shazer provided a spark off the bench all season long, averaged 5.5 points-per-game, and put up a career-high 10 points against Albany.
“I was really trying to contribute in any way that I could. I knew we lost a lot of seniors the year before,” Demember-Shazer said. “I just wanted to come in and be a team player.”
As for Weimar, she appeared in 20 total games and started in 19 of them. The lone non-start was the quarterfinals of the MAAC tournament against Fairfield as she was still recovering from the knee injury. Weimar averaged 8.6 points-per-game and put up a career-high of 19 points against Niagara in January.
“Coming into a young team, I just came with an open mind and just tried to learn everything,” Weimar said. “I wanted to help the team as much as I possibly could because it was a whole new level of basketball.”
Like Giorgis himself, the rest of his staff believes in the entire team, the freshmen players, and love what both Weimar and Demember-Shazer brought to the table this season.
“We had so many freshmen this year, we knew we needed them to do something, but what Caitlin and Zar did I don’t know if I could have expected that at all,” assistant coach Brittney Parker said.
Parker specifically works with post players and she spends the majority of her time in practice with both Weimar and Demember-Shazer. She has seen the two girls transform not just their games from the first practice, but also their mentality.
“Caitlin is a lead-by-example type of a person. She doesn’t talk much, but on the court, she’ll say what she needs to say,” Parker said. “As for Zar, she is similar to Caitlin in that respect that she leads by example, but she also brings a lot of energy.”
“I do believe that they will end up being great local leaders,” Parker added.
Weimar and Demember-Shazer helped the Red Foxes win their first MAAC championship and earn an NCAA tournament bid since 2014, their 11th appearance in program history. The team finished with a total record of 18-4, with the final loss coming at the hands of two-seed Louisville. Although they were excited to be a part of the special season and the NCAA tournament, they were a little shocked with the 15-seed they were given by the selection committee.
“We were waiting the whole time just anticipating when our names would come up on the screen,” Weimar said in regards to their watch party at the McCann Center on March 15. “When we were called, nobody was expecting it since it was the 15 and 2 matchup, we thought we were going to be ranked higher, but we were excited to see our name on ESPN.”
After a crushing defeat to the Cardinals on March 22, Weimar, Demember-Shazer, and company now have to start focusing on next season. The two freshmen quieted the critics this season and the question mark surrounding if they would still be the team to beat. They also helped put a band-aid on the wound of last season being canceled in the midst of what could have been a historic run.
As for next season, the women are excited to get back to the tournament and hope to do so for their remaining three years in Poughkeepsie. Although the season may not have ended as they wanted in the loss to Louisville, that won’t stop them from taking what they learned into next season, and beyond.
“I think the blueprint [Willow Duffell] left on the team is going to be really important to mimic in the next coming years,” Demember-Shazer said about moving forward as a team next season and for the years to come. “She was really good at keeping everyone together and just being a great leader.”
Edited by Jonathan Kinane and Bridget Reilly
Photo Credit: Marist Athletics