The Entrance Roundtable: Women’s Basketball

It’s that time of year people. Basketball season is fast approaching with the women’s team opening its season on Nov. 7 against Villanova and the men beginning their campaign on Nov. 9 versus American. Both teams finished with losing records last season, with the women having offensive struggles all year long and the men imploding after a six-game winning streak near the end of the conference schedule.

As part of our annual basketball week, Center Field will be posting daily stories relating to Marist and MAAC basketball. First up, the women’s basketball roundtable.

Last season’s 8-21 record was Marist’s worst under Brian Giorgis. What went wrong for the team last year?

Jonathan Kinane, Editor-in-Chief: Oh man, pretty much everything. Injuries always played a factor, especially when starting point guard Kiara Fisher went out for the season in January. But the main factor was that the Red Foxes couldn’t hit the ocean from the beach, shooting 34 percent from the floor and especially anemic 24 percent from three on the way to averaging just 53 points per game, dead last in the MAAC.

What struck me was a quote from Brian Giorgis after Marist got eliminated from the MAAC Tournament last season:

“These kids have to be able to shoot the ball better,” he said. “They have to be willing to spend some time in the gym and if they don’t want to spend that time in the gym, then they don’t need to be at Marist.”

Yeah, it was concerning that shots didn’t fall but there also seemed to be an underlying issue with the culture and chemistry of the team. It’s hard to win games when everyone isn’t on the same page. Giorgis won’t let that happen again.

Issy Cicinelli, Assistant Editor: It is no secret last year was not a “typical” Marist women’s basketball season. After winning the MAAC Championship a year prior, there were high hopes for Giorgis’s team who finished at a lowly 8-21. 

As Jonathan stated, injuries were a huge factor in last year’s squad that I don’t think can be overlooked. Kiara Fisher received a lot of buzz coming into the season and losing her early on did not help. However, good teams find ways to win without their star players and good teams fill the gaps with the “next man up” mentality. The Red Foxes last year did not find ways to fill these injury gaps early on and that hurt them.

A lowly shooting percentage of just above 34 percent from the field coupled with a -8.4 rebounding margin were some of the keys to last year’s failure of a season. However, I have high hopes for Giorgis in his final year at the helm and I am optimistic this team finds a way to turn things back around in the right, “typical,” Marist direction. 

Kira Crutcher, Contributing Writer: Obviously, injuries had a massive impact on the squad, most notably losing Kiara Fisher right as she was starting to really settle into the team and making a big difference. The gaps were not filled early on, which other schools exploited. Overall, there was an overall lack of depth, especially when it came to guards. 

Technically, there were several notable issues: shooting, rebounding, and turnovers. Statistically, Marist came near the bottom, if not last in all the main categories in the MAAC. 

What really killed them however, was the chemistry. On paper, Marist should have performed better than they did. The players and coaches had the stats. But it just wasn’t working. As Jonathan said, it felt like the team was on different pages. 

Danny Destler, Contributing Writer:  A lot went wrong for this team last year, injuries, bad shooting, you name it. Jonathan alluded to this already, the team could not find their rhythm all year as they were last in the MAAC in all of the main categories.  I highly doubt that coach Giorgis will let this happen again, especially in his last season. Look for this team to make a big leap from last year.

Which returning player takes the biggest step up this season?

Jonathan: Provided she stays healthy, Fisher is my answer. A year older and wiser, the junior point guard is the team’s primary offensive threat heading into this season. She averaged a team-high 12.6 points per game and dished out nearly four assists per contest. Fisher’s main bugaboo last year was turnovers. She gave the ball away over four times per game, often forcing the issue a bit more than advisable.

Fisher’s ability to drive and get to the hoop is elite by MAAC standards. If she can be a bit more patient and find some more success from outside (she shot 29 percent last season), Fisher could go from a preseason third-team selection to one of the very top players in the league.

Issy: While I agree with Jonathan that Kiara Fisher is going to take a huge step up this season, my answer is Zaria Shazer, the six-foot-one junior forward from Elmira, New York. Shazer took a huge step forward from her freshman to sophomore year and I think those numbers are going to grow further from where she was a year ago. 

Appearing in 28 games and starting in 27 of them, Shazer will be a key to the Red Foxes’ starting line-up yet again. She averaged 9.9 points, 7 rebounds, and .9 assists on the season as well as 1.4 blocks. She was unstoppable during Marist’s game against Niagara where Shazer tallied a career-high 23 points and 5 blocks and helped the Red Foxes secure a big 72-65 victory. 

Giorgis will look to depend on Shazer yet again and be a contributing leader to this team even more than she was last year. Being named to the Preseason All-MAAC Third Team, I think Shazer is in for a huge year three with the Red Foxes.

Kira: While I agree with Jonathan and Issy, I’m going to have to side with Danny and say Kendall Krick.

As a grad student, Krick brings experience to a fairly young team. This season, Krick needs to step up and be a leader for the Red Foxes on and off the court.

Last season she saw more playing time, and a collegiate high points per game at 7.6. Against Manhattan she played a career-high 41 minutes, recording a career-high 21 points, including 5 three-pointers. 

Hopefully, along with the six other returning players, she can help Marist return to their successful ways, and patch up the errors repeatedly seen last year. Furthermore, being neglected from any pre-season selection, and playing in her final collegiate season, Krick has something to prove. 

Danny: My answer is Kendall Krick. Krick saw her numbers go up last year, including her points per game and her minutes as well. Her veteran leadership is going to be a factor as she is a graduate student. She wanted to come back and make an impact on her team and I think she will do so. Her points per game were 7.6 and she averaged 31.0 minutes per game as well, both collegiate highs.

Kendall Krick found herself as one of the team’s primary scorers by the end of last season (Marist Athletics)

Besides shooting the ball, what is one area where this team has to improve in 2021-22?

Jonathan: One thing I remember talking about ad nauseam last season was Marist’s struggles on the boards. The Red Foxes finished dead last in the MAAC in rebounding margin, getting beat on the glass by an average of over eight rebounds per game.

The lack of a real post presence was the main reason for these struggles. After Caitlin Weimar transferred, Sam Bailey and Zaria Shazer were the team’s tallest players left on the team at six-foot-two and six-foot-one respectively. Bailey plays more as a stretch four (or five) while Shazer consistently found herself up against bigger opposition.

Luckily Marist went into the portal and got 6-foot-5 center, Maeve Donnelly, from the University of Hawai’i. It will be interesting to see how much playing time she gets right away but her presence should help the Red Foxes be better on the boards.

Issy: Have to agree with Jonathan here and hark on rebounding. This Marist team really struggled on the boards last year and as any basketball fan knows, rebounding is critical, especially in close games.

Getting those second-chance opportunities, or on the other hand, limiting your opponent to those second and third-chance baskets are the difference makers in games. As Jonathan said, Sam Bailey and Zaria Shazer did all they could in the rebounding department, but losing Caitlin Weimar did not help. However, with the addition of Maeve Donnelly who adds a substantial amount of height to the Red Foxes line-up, I think this area can be especially improved. 

One more thing here, in addition to rebounding, I think the Red Foxes can look to capitalize off turnovers more. Only averaging 15.2 points off of turnovers where their opponents averaged nearly 18 turnovers per game, I think there is a big opportunity there to grab some easy buckets off of their opponents’ mistakes. 

Kira: Mindset will play a crucial role in the success of the season. 

Last season, the bench was fueled with energy and support during moments of success. This intensity should continue this season. 

Yet after going down, or when the team was struggling, the bench was often silent – little, if any support or encouragement. An increase would benefit team relationships and may inspire players on the court to keep fighting. 

All the other writers bring up great points, a common theme throughout is the need to be sharp. To succeed, Marist has to be ready and hungry – the passion has to be there. Everybody has to want it and be willing to work to contribute their best effort to the team. 

Danny: Marist really struggled to win away from home, as they went 2-12 last season on the road. In order to be a good team you have to be able to go into the other team’s gym and beat them. The only teams they beat were Rider and Drexel. The lack of road wins was concerning especially in conference play as they went 1-11 on the road. If the team wants to get back to where they were two seasons ago when they made the NCAA tournament, they need to be able to win on the road.

Which newcomer (freshman or transfer) are you most excited to see in action?

Jonathan: I’m going to return to my Central New York roots and say Jackie Piddock. What you need to know about the freshman guard from Adams, N.Y. is that she holds the Section III all-time scoring record for boys and girls. Do you know who else played in Section III? Breanna Stewart.

I think Piddock’s scoring prowess is just what this team needs. In high school, Piddock was able to score from inside the arc with ease while still proving she was a threat from deep. At the Division I level, it might not be as easy to get to the hoop, so it’s important that she be able to score from the perimeter. I don’t know how Giorgis will use Piddock but she has the potential to quickly play her way into significant minutes.

Issy: I am excited to see what Morgan Tompkins, the five-foot-eleven freshman guard, from Red Hook, New York brings to the table for the Red Foxes this year. Tompkins is a two-time NYS Basketball Coach Association Player of the Year, Daily Freeman Player of the Year, and was named the 2022 Poughkeepsie Journal Player of the Year. Tompkins has scored over 1,000 points during her high school career and is known to be a crafty guard with a nice shot. 

A member of the 2022 First Team All-State, Tompkins will look to add to her resume here at Marist. She has a history playing AAU with Jackie Piddock, Jonathan’s notable freshman to watch, and I think this can be a huge help to Tompkins during her early days at Marist. Keep an eye out for the Piddock-Tompkins connection.  

Kira: I am very excited to see Morgan Tompkins in action. As Issy said, Tompkins proved herself to be a well established guard in high school, scoring over 1,000 points, and receiving several accolades as Player of the Year. 

Especially having lost Trey Kennedy, who transferred to George Mason after last season, Marist needed a star guard, and Tompkins has the potential to be just that.

Having played in the AAU, Tompkins is familiar with high-level play, which could benefit her greatly in her transition to Division 1 hoops. 

Marist can benefit from Tompkins’ shot-making abilities, an area they greatly struggled in last season, as well as her play-making abilities. In particular, her connection to Piddock could be a deadly force that racks up a lot of points. 

Danny: Jonathan alluded to this newcomer earlier but I think it is going to be the six-foot-five center from Hawaii, Maeve Donnelly, who decided to come to the Hudson Valley for her senior year. She is going to be a presence on the boards for this team– an area where this team struggled last season. I am interested to see what her role will be this season. 

The Red Foxes need someone who can grab rebounds on both ends of the floor. Donnelly bounced around schools from the University of Massachusetts to the University of Hawai’i and then landed at Marist, so hopefully, she will find a home here and contribute to this team this season.

Who or what is the X-Factor for the team this season?

Jonathan: Frankly, this is the easiest answer (and I was the one who wrote the questions). The X-factor is whether or not this team can make shots. Last year’s team was able to get open looks but they just could not knock them down. Giorgis stated multiple times last season that he’s never had a team practice outside shooting harder, but still, the makes just wouldn’t come.

Based on the sample size from 2021-22, you can’t boil last season’s shooting performance down simply to bad luck. You can call it an outlier. It’s difficult to be that bad two seasons in a row. After last season, when the team failed to have a single player shoot above 30 percent from beyond the arc, I think Marist is due to see those numbers rebound somewhere closer to average. That could be good enough to win the Red Foxes some games they would have lost last year.

Issy: The X-factor for this Marist team, in my opinion, will be what it always is: Giorgis’s defense. Even when Marist struggled last year in shooting and scoring, they always put on strong defensive efforts and performances. That is the key to all of Giorgis’s teams and I think it will be especially present this year because of his last year here in Poughkeepsie. 

A total of 244 steals, 101 blocks, and 520 caused turnovers on the year last year, I think this Marist team can take a huge jump from these already strong numbers. Defense wins games and Giorgis knows that which is why that will be the “X-Factor” for this Marist team in 2022-2023. 

Kira: I completely agree with Jonathan on this one, the X-factor is definitely Marist’s ability to make shots. Last year’s team struggled with conversion from all areas on the court and lost several winnable games as a result.

Although they had a good number of opportunities, getting more shots off could help Marist make up for this. 

Danny: I am going to switch gears and go to a player who I think is the X-factor this year, Kiara Fisher. Fisher was injured for about half of the season last year. She appeared in 15 games last season, starting in 13. Her numbers were pretty solid as she averaged 12.6 points, 3.8 assists, 3.3 rebounds, and 2.3 steals per game. She was a must-watch on defense with her steal numbers. I believe that if she can stay healthy, watch out for her as the junior is playing with something to prove this season.

Kiara Fisher showed flashes of brilliance but struggled with consistency last season before going out with an injury (Marist Athletics)

Give us your predictions for Brian Giorgis’s last dance. What will Marist’s overall record be and how will the conference season play out?

Jonathan: Honestly, I’m probably more optimistic about this team than I should be. Last season was an outlier and I expect the players to be all-in for their coach’s last season. I think this team will some near .500 and be in contention for a spot in the top four of the MAAC.

The offense can’t really be any worse than last season and Giorgis’s teams always defend well. I’ll say Marist finishes the regular season with a 15-14 overall mark with a 12-8 MAAC record. This team will earn a bye in the MAAC Tournament and maybe they’ll even make some noise in Atlantic City. 

Issy: I have to say my hopes are high as well for this Marist team. Maybe it’s because I am a senior and feeling nostalgic in my own way or nostalgic for Giorgis, but I think this team is going to really come together, more than last year, and figure out a way to make this year memorable for Giorgis and the entire Marist community. 

With that, I think the Red Foxes will finish with a 15-14 mark overall with an 11-9 record in MAAC play. Do I think they can win the MAAC Championship? Never say never, and miracles happen, but I do think they have the ability to make a deep run in Atlantic City. Who knows, maybe this is the year the MAAC Championship title comes back to Poughkeepsie. 

Kira: For the future of the program, Marist has to have a better season than last year, and I believe they will. I see them finishing in the top five of the MAAC, and making it to at least the quarter-finals of the MAAC Tournament. Like Issy, overall, I think they will finish with a 15-14 record, going 11-9 in the MAAC. 

On paper, this team has what it takes. Hopefully they can show that when it counts and make Giorgis’s last season in charge one to remember.

Danny: Hard to imagine a season like last year in Giorgis’s last season as head coach. I believe that this team can be around a .500 team. This team needs to prove itself as the coach has set up a difficult non-conference schedule. This team needs to set a dominant presence early when they get into MAAC play in late December. As for my record prediction, a 14-15 overall record along with an 11-9 record in the MAAC, perhaps enough for a first-round bye. Hopefully, this team makes some noise. This team has all the pieces to be a good team, now it is up to them to put it all together.

Edited by Andrew Hard and Ricardo Martinez

Photo from Marist Athletics

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