The Entrance Roundtable: Women’s Basketball

The roundtables are back for the third consecutive year as part of Basketball Week. First up: the women. Fresh off an NCAA Tournament bid last season, we asked some of our writers to answer the burning questions about Brian Giorgis’s squad.

What do you make of last season? Last year, the women went to the first round of the NCAA tournament, competing against second-seeded Louisville. Do you think this team can make it back to March Madness this year?

Jonathan Kinane: It’s funny how this team is in such a similar position to where they were at the beginning of last season. If you recall, few believed that this team could win the league last year after losing so much talent after the 2019-20 season. Now, they’ll have to surprise us again, since Willow Duffell, Allie Best, and shockingly Caitlin Weimar are gone.

There are some questions that they will need to answer in the non-conference slate, but for me, it’s the unknown that’s so intriguing. Trinasia Kennedy and Syracuse transfer Kiara Fisher should form the most dynamic backcourt in the league, but without a presence like Best, they will not be as consistent as last year. It took about five minutes to see how good this team was last year. I think it’s going to take a little longer this season, especially with leading returning scorers Sarah Barcello and Kennedy each making their way back from off-season surgery. With Brian Giorgis at the helm, a tournament run is never surprising, but navigating the MAAC will not be nearly as easy as it was in 2020. 

Bridget Reilly: Last season, the women impressively fought their way to the NCAA tournament with a young team. This year, I believe we may be in for yet another surprise. This season, head coach Brian Giorgis is faced with yet another young group of players with two senior players. Several players have had little time on the collegiate basketball court, but that does not mean the team can adapt to this new era of players. With the team being led by the talents of seniors Kendall Krick and Sarah Barcello, the Red Foxes will be competitive in the conference, yet an appearance in the NCAA tournament may not be in the cards this year.

Mackenzie Meaney: Just like Bridget said, last year was unexpected to most people because the team from the season before, with all their senior talent, really felt like the team who could make a deep run. Their time got short due to COVID, and I think that the 2020-2021 team stepped up and played like there was some unfinished business. You had spectacular seasons from Willow Duffell, Allie Best, and Trinasia Kennedy. The freshmen stepped up big, and they were even ahead of Louisville after the first quarter. This year will be different with the loss of Caitlin Weimar, one of the most talented players on the team last season, but Marist will adapt. Head coach Brian Giorgis will make sure of it. I think we are in for a very exciting regular season and a deep run into the MAAC tournament. I think we have to wait and see about an NCAA tournament bid, but I am not ruling it out yet. 

Isabella Cicinelli: I would have to agree with my fellow writers on this one. As they all said, last year was a pleasant surprise for the Marist women’s basketball team. In my opinion, I do not see any reason why the women cannot make a similar run as they did last year, but it will be difficult, as it always is. If one thing is for sure, with a head coach like Brian Giorgis at the helm, anything is possible. Giorgis has proven to be one of the best coaches in the MAAC and builds competitive teams each year. There are very few conference games where Marist is viewed as an underdog. That comes with the reputation Giorgis has built for Marist. 

With the return of players like Trinasia Kennedy, Kendall Krick, and Sarah Barcello leading the way for the Red Foxes, I think there is no reason why this Marist team can get back to where they were last year. Key returners like these three will be core pieces to Marist’s success this season and with the addition of Syracuse transfer Kiara Fisher, I think Marist’s offensive production will improve immensely. Defensively Marist will have to look to newcomers and second-year players to get more involved with the departure of Caitlin Weimar and Allie Best. The Red Foxes this year will definitely be strong competitors in the MAAC, but inexperience could prevent them from making it into the NCAA tournament. However, as we all know, anything is possible with these women.

Connor Kurpat: I think a lot of people, including myself, expected the team to take a step back last season. They had just lost star players like Rebekah Hand and Alana Gilmer to graduation, so it made sense for the team to give its young talent time to grow. But instead of having a quiet year, Marist ended the season at the top of the MAAC with a 13-3 record and made it to the NCAA tournament. I’m not entirely sure if this team can find the same type of success as last year, especially since they lost Allie Best and 2020 Co-Rookie of the Year Caitlin Weimer. So right now, I’m cautiously optimistic. I think this team can do some good things this season, but there will be some growing pains along the way.

Give us one strength and one weakness for the team heading into the season.

Jonathan: I mentioned this in my first answer, but I think the Red Foxes have something special with Fisher and Kennedy at the guard spots. The Southern Tier natives played together at the AAU level and now find themselves reunited in Poughkeepsie. We already know about Kennedy’s quickness, but Fisher brings another element as the likely ball-handler. She has an accurate three-point shot, and if defenses key in on that, she can put the ball on the floor and drive past them. That could help open things up for Barcello, who struggled from three-point range last season.

The glaring weakness, for me at least, is free-throw shooting. The team shot a not-so-great 68 percent from the line last season and lost Duffell and Best, who were two of the more reliable options from the charity stripe. This team will be in close games, so you need to have foul-shooters that you trust with the ball in their hands down the stretch. Fisher made seven of her eight free-throw attempts in orange, but is that a large enough sample size? Barcello only made 67 percent of her attempts, and Kennedy was worse at just 57 percent. Kendall Krick made 18-of-20 last season, so she could be an option at the end of games. I think more often than not, Marist fans will be sweating it out when their team is trying to ice games at the line.

Bridget: One of the biggest parts of the game that Giorgis-coached teams do well is hustle. The Red Foxes give it their all on both sides of the court. They run their motion offense efficiently and play aggressive defense. This hustle and foundational plays will be crucial to get down for a successful season. However, little moments of rebounds, foul shots, and turnovers add up to determine any game. Last season, the team gave up 15 points on turnovers over their opponents below 10, and, as Jonathan mentioned, they had a free throw percentage of 68 while their opponents were 71.2 percent. With new blood on the team, these will be crucial to get down. In addition, the Red Foxes need to establish a new center this year. Will it be junior Samantha Bailey to take the spot? Last season she had a field goal average of .550 and .500 on three-pointers, yet she still needs more time on the court to see where she fits best. 

Mackenzie: I think that the Red Foxes’ biggest strength this season is going to be playing together and having some good chemistry. Multiple pairs of players were on the same teams in high school, and with fewer COVID protocols, they have been able to have practice more regularly without the fear of getting extremely sick. One weakness that I saw last season was the team’s ability to finish. Too many shots rimmed out of the basket, and they were not there to get the rebound. Barcello is returning as one of the best shooters on the team which will be good for the Red Foxes to complete their shots. The top rebounders last season were Weimar and Duffell, who had 63 and 60 offensive rebounds, respectively. After that, it’s Demember-Shazer, who had 38 offensive rebounds. She will need to continue to hit the boards to ensure Marist puts up as many points as possible. 

Isabella: One strength this team has is the ability to be competitive in every game. This success comes from Giorgis and his staff and the impact they have in the locker room. However, this also comes with success in production in terms of scoring and defense. I think the Red Foxes will be much bigger threats offensively this season. Last year they scored 62.6 points per game compared to their opponents 51.1 points per game average. I believe the addition of Fisher and Kennedy’s progressions will help Marist build on their offensive production. In addition, Marist is always a scrappy defensive team, and I think sophomore forward Zaria Demeber-Shazer and junior forward Samantha Bailey will see a lot more time this season in the paint. Marist averaged 38.4 rebounds per game and 14 turnovers per game which proved to help them succeed in transition and second shot opportunities. 

In terms of Marist’s weakness this season, I would have to agree with Jonathan. Free-throw shooting was a struggle for the Red Foxes last season, and I believe it will be for them this season too. Free throw shooting is a critical aspect of the game, and having struggles with finishing these shots can prove to be an area of concern for the Red Foxes. Duffell and Best led the way for the Red Foxes free throw shooting last year, but without them, players like Kennedy, Fisher, and Krick will need to step up.

Connor: One of Marist’s biggest strengths is the team’s ability to shoot often and with efficiency. Last season, Marist led the MAAC with a .408 field goal percentage on 1,268 attempted shots. They also ranked third in three-pointers made with 126. They also still have Sarah Barcello, one of the team’s best shooters in 2020, where she posted 81 field goals and a .418 shooting percentage. There is no doubt that head coach Brian Giorgis will look for Barcello to lead the team’s offense in 2021.

As for their weakness, I would say it’s going to be the team’s ability to get big under the net. As Mackenzie said, Marist has lost both Weimar and Duffell, who both led the team in rebounds last season. I think the loss of these two will impact Marist’s ability to defend shots in the paint and their ability to get second-chance points. This may not be a season-long issue, but it’s a major problem that the team will suffer from in the first chunk of games.

Which new player do you predict to make the biggest impact?

Jonathan: I’m not going to count Fisher as a new player, because if we do, she’s the answer. I’m torn between my fellow Syracuse native Catie Cunningham and Philly product Siobhan Boylan. They both play on the wing, so they’ll battle each other for playing time. I’ll say Boylan because she’s the perfect example of a 3-and-D player that Giorgis likes to recruit. She might not blow you away on the stat sheet, but it seems like she’s got the intangibles to blossom into a great player. Expect to see her backing up Barcello at the three. 

Bridget: I am interested to see the impact of Kiara Fisher on this year’s team. The sophomore guard is transferring from Syracuse where she averaged three points a game in the 10 games she played. She also had a season-high of 11 points and three triples. The chemistry between her and former high school classmate Demember-Shazer will be interesting to see as well. Fisher has collegiate basketball play under her belt already, which will heavily contribute to this young team. As for the freshmen, I cannot help but be drawn to the fellow Philadelphia area player Siobhan Boylan. She averaged nine points and two assists per game in her junior year, going 20-6 that season.

Mackenzie: I’m also extremely interested to see how Fisher plays this season with a fresh start at Marist, but I am also excited to see if freshman Siobhan Boylan gets any playing time. She comes from a quality high school and AAU program, and Giorgis speaks very highly of her. She is tall, can hit threes, and is a lockdown defender. 

Isabella: Following the majority here, I am also super excited to see what Fisher brings to Marist this season. She has high school and AAU experience playing with Demeber-Shazer and Kennedy, which I think will make for a dangerous backcourt threat. I think Fisher will really help Marist’s offensive production this season as she dropped seven threes at Syracuse last year in her 10 games played. 

In addition to Fisher, I am also excited to see if freshman forward McKenna Rife can work her way into the lineup. We saw how productive freshman Caitlin Weimar was for the Red Foxes in the paint last year, and with her leaving, Rife, standing at six foot three, may be of help. Rife averaged 10.3 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 1.1 steals per game in high school and can make her way into the rotation down low for the Red Foxes this year.

Connor: I’m going to go with freshman guard Catie Cunningham on this one. In her junior year at West Genesee High School, Cunningham averaged 16 points, eight rebounds, three assists, and three steals. To me, the standout stats aren’t the points. She can get rebounds and generate turnovers. That makes me think Cunningham can potentially play a major role on the team since she is so effective on both sides of the ball. Also, don’t sleep on the six-foot-three forward Mckenna Rife. She has a chance to get some in-game reps and make an impact on a now revamped forward group. 

Who or what is your X-factor for the upcoming season?

Jonathan: I think how the frontcourt plays is the biggest X-factor of this upcoming season. We know what we’re getting in the backcourt, but the loss of Weimar really throws things for a loop. Zaria Demember-Shazer will see a starting role at the four after a solid freshman campaign. If Giorgis chooses to employ a traditional lineup, then expect to see Sam Bailey step in at center. On the offensive side, it would be nice to see Demember-Shazer improve on last season, where she lacked polish on that end of the floor. Both will need to step up on defense to replace Duffell and Weimar. If the bigs can hold their own, I think that puts Marist in the MAAC title conversation.

Bridget: Outside of the upperclassmen, I agree with Jonathan, and I am excited to see Demember-Shazer improve on her previous season. She ended the season with 5.5 points and 4.3 rebounds per game. Demember-Shazer was right behind Caitlin Weimar in time on the court for freshman players and therefore will have to will those shoes. 

Now that Allie Best and Willow Duffell have left, guards Trinasia Kennedy, Kendall Krick, and Sarah Barcello will be heavily relied on as playmakers this season. All three of these remaining guards are the X-factors for this upcoming season, as they all makeup for the previous leaders in their own ways. Last season, Krick shot 42 percent from the field and finished with 31 assists. Barcello and Kennedy are the team’s top returning scorers. These three players will be the keys to running the offense and keeping Marist competitive in the MAAC. 

Mackenzie: I am hoping that sophomore Anabel Ellison has a breakout season this year. She played in 21 games off the bench last season and had a total of 40 points. She came into last year with a reputation as a knockdown shooter. She struggled from the field last season, but hopefully, a full preseason will help her hit some threes. She has the qualities of a good leader combined with her skills. 

Isabella: Trinasia Kennedy is my X-factor player this season. We have seen massive improvement from Kennedy from 2019 to 2020, and I expect to see an even bigger jump this year in 2021. Last season Kennedy averaged 9.7 points per game. She took on a big responsibility last season, starting at the two, and I think she will be a critical voice for Marist again this year. Her workload may be heavier, but with the addition of Fisher to the frontcourt, who is a familiar face to Kennedy, I think she will be much more confident. Kennedy will be a familiar face for the Red Foxes this year. I think with Barcello getting back in the line-up and increasing the role of forwards Demember-Shazer and Bailey, there will be much more room for Kennedy to grow into the X-factor player she is capable of being. 

Connor: If there is going to be an X-factor for this team, then I think it’s going to be Demember-Shazer. She had a solid freshman year, where she averaged 4.3 rebounds per game. Now, she is being asked to fill the shoes of Duffell and Weimar. If she can find success in this expanded and more demanding role, then she is going to be one of the biggest difference-makers for this team.

We know they’re useless, but what record will the team finish with? How will they fare in the MAAC? How will they do in the conference tournament?

Jonathan: It’s funny because I wrote this question saying they’re useless and here I am making a prediction. The non-conference schedule (yes, that’s back) is no joke. It features a game at national runner-up Arizona and games against three other teams that made the NCAA Tournament. I wouldn’t be shocked to see them with a losing record heading into a deeper MAAC than we’ve seen in a while. I’ll say they finish 18-11 with a 14-6 mark in the conference. I’ll wait until the mid-season roundtable to make my postseason prediction.

Bridget: Out of the 29 games the women will play (20 in-conference), I believe the women will finish the season 18-11. But, as Jonathan said, these are useless. The unknown is certainly exciting!

Mackenzie: I see Marist finishing with a conference record of 17-3 this season. Quinnipiac is always a tough team to play against and was picked to finish at the top of the conference with six first-place votes. Fairfield will also be tough. Those two will be the hardest teams they face in the MAAC this season. The out-of-conference competition is tough, as they play Arizona, the runner-up of the 2021 NCAA Championship.

Isabella: As Jonathan mentioned, Marist’s non-conference games show some serious competition, specifically Arizona and Arizona State. Of their 20 in-conference games, I believe the Red Foxes will finish at a record of 16-4 with two losses coming from Fairfield, one from Manhattan, and one from Quinnipiac. Marist was ranked fourth in preseason polls, and I think this is a fair estimate of where they will be by the end of the season. Overall, I think Marist will finish with a record of 19-10, picking up three out-of-conference wins over their nine-game stretch before MAAC play. 

Connor: As Isabella and Jonathan both made clear, the Red Foxes aren’t going to have an easy start to their season, as they are playing against Arizona and Arizona State. Once they get into it though, they should be able to find a good amount of success in MAAC conference play. Their toughest competition will come against Quinnipiac, Manhattan, and Fairfield, who were all ranked above Marist in the MAAC preseason poll. So, I agree with Bridget, and I think this team will finish around fourth in the MAAC this year. Their overall record will probably be about 17-12 by the time the regular season ends.

Edited by Ricardo Martinez and Jonathan Kinane

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