Leaving the Game Behind for the First Time

Senior guard Allie Best and senior forward Willow Duffell began their college basketball journey for the Marist Red Foxes four years ago, in the fall of 2017, which led to two remarkable careers. Now, the two seniors will be moving on from basketball.

Prior to Marist, Best was the captain of her high school basketball team at Voorhees High School in Glen Gardner, New Jersey. There, she was the Hunterdon County champion, player of the year and throughout her high school career, she totaled 1,331 points which was second all-time at Voorhees High School and 10th in the county.

Before playing at the collegiate level, Duffell played basketball at Monroe Woodbury High School, where she was the First Team All-Conference player. She also helped lead her team to a Section 9 Championship in her junior year and was named the Section IX Player of the Year during her senior season. 

Both Best and Duffell had exceptional high school careers that translated over to the Division I collegiate level. Over the course of the past four years, the two soon-to-be graduates, have won two out of three MAAC (Metro-Atlantic Athletic Conference) Championships, appeared in the NCAA Tournament, and have broken individual records at the college. The most important accomplishment to both was not achieving their personal goals, but fulfilling their team goals and expectations.

“Winning a MAAC Championship was Allie and I’s goal every year, especially winning the MAAC this year,” said Duffell. “It was just a great note to end our career on.”

Like everything this past year, their senior season was very unpredictable with countless rules and regulations put in place due to the COVID- 19 pandemic. On top of that, this year’s team looked a lot different from last season, as six players from the 2019-20 season graduated or did not return.

For the 2020-21 season, there were five incoming freshmen making the team fairly new with almost half of the team being freshmen and only a total of four upperclassmen. The new changes from the pandemic, and to this season’s roster, did not stop the two captains from achieving their team’s goals and personal goals in a season of many unknowns.

“This year was very difficult, especially for the underclassmen because of everything we had to deal with like the COVID-19 protocols,” said Best. “We just tried to be there for them, guide them through it and teach them the best that we could. I really give them all the credit because they really wanted to learn. They put their all into it. We [the seniors] just wanted to be good leaders and show them the way that Marist basketball works and they picked up on it really quickly.”

Both seniors started all 22 games in their final season, as they led the newly young basketball team to winning the MAAC Championship and made an appearance in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 2013-14 season. Best and Duffell both ended their collegiate basketball career on a high note and exceeded their expectations for this season.

Best had an unforgettable senior season as she led all of NCAA Division I in assist/turnover ratio with 4.48, which is fourth all-time in the NCAA since 2008. She also set a personal record of 112 assists which was 33rd in the nation, averaging 5.1 assists per game. In the MAAC championship game, Best totaled 23 points and 19 assists where she earned MAAC All-Championship Team honors.

“I’m just very proud of this season,” said Best. “I am proud of all of my teammates. I am very happy for everything that they were able to accomplish. Proud that we were able to prove a lot of people wrong. That’s something we all took a lot of pride in throughout the entire season. It was something that we were able to do because we believed in each other.”

Best finished ninth all-time in Marist history with 354 assists. She also recorded 100 career three-pointers and shot 78.8 percent from the foul-line in her four years.

In addition, Duffell also had an exceptional senior season as she ranked in the top 15 in the MAAC in multiple categories including scoring and rebounding average as well as field goal and free throw percentage to name a few. She was named the MAAC Tournament MVP because of her outstanding performance throughout the playoffs.

“We had a lot of fun this season,” said Duffell. “It just all came together, the ending we wanted.”

Duffell finished her career ninth all-time in Marist history with 730 career rebounds and tenth all-time in school history with a field goal percentage of .472. Out of the 114 games she played, she started 102 games and recorded nine double-doubles.

“I have learned so much about myself since I’ve been here and a lot of that was through playing basketball,” said Duffell. “While there were downfalls, we would get right back up and keep taking it a day at a time. There were lots of ups and downs, it was a rollercoaster, but that is what makes us grow as people and players.”

Both Best and Duffell were as consistent on the court as they were in the classroom. Both were three-time MAAC All-Academic Selections, holding at least a 3.2 cumulative grade point average.

The two seniors will be moving on from Marist and their basketball career after four years of dedication, hard work, and a lot to be proud of. In the upcoming fall, Best will be attending the University of Wilmington for graduate school studying marine biology and plans to attend veterinary school in her future. For Duffell, she will be continuing her education at Harvard University for the next two years where she will be studying biology statistics.

Edited by Ricardo Martinez and Bridget Reilly

Photo Credit: Marist Athletics

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