The 2021-22 season was less than ideal for Marist women’s basketball. The season started on a high note with a win at Drexel but quickly morphed into a campaign filled with injury struggles and offensive ineptitude.
The Red Foxes finished 8-21 overall and 6-14 in the MAAC, going out in the first round of the conference tournament after scoring 29 points against Saint Peter’s.
As a team, Marist averaged just 52.7 points per game, last in the MAAC and 338th out of 348 Division I schools. The Red Foxes did not have a player shoot better than 30 percent from three-point range and were the fifth-worst outside-shooting team in the country.
The offseason saw the departures of Trey Kennedy (George Mason) and Anabel Ellison (Stetson) along with Siobhan Boylan and Emma Wax, who are now playing at the Division II level.
The coaching staff turned to the transfer portal and brought in Maeve Donnelly (Hawai’i) and Samantha Chadwick (Central Connecticut State). Donnelly will be a contributor right off the bat as she brings considerable height at 6-foot-5 and offers an inside scoring and shot-blocking presence the team sorely lacked last season.
These more experienced transfers will join a freshman class that features four newcomers – Jackie Piddock (Adams, NY), Morgan Tompkins (Red Hook, NY), Ciara Croker (New Rochelle, NY), and Jayne Whitman (Orange, CT).
Let’s learn a bit more about this iteration of the Red Foxes.
An Experienced Core
Kendall Krick, Kiara Fisher, and Zaria Shazer are the three returning players Brian Giorgis will lean on for both production and leadership.
Fisher, the starting point guard, was the team’s leading scorer last season, averaging 12.6 points per game and just about four assists per game. She was effective in getting to the hoop, but there were moments when she tried to force the issue and do too much, explaining why she turned the ball over four times per contest.
Coming into year two in Poughkeepsie, she will once again slot into the lead guard position after last season ended prematurely because of a shoulder injury.
“She just has to do the things she’s been doing,” Giorgis said of Fisher. “One of the things we’ve been talking about is getting her more options. In our two scrimmages, she hasn’t taken more than about eight shots combined. That’s not enough. She’s not a selfish person. She tries to make the right plays, but she knows that we’re counting on her.”
She formed a solid partnership with Shazer, her former AAU teammate and Southern Tier native. Shazer had a solid start to last season, but her numbers took a dip once Fisher went out for the year.
After Fisher’s injury in late January, Shazer only topped 10 points three times after scoring 23 in the last game she played with her point guard.
Giorgis knows having that partnership is crucial for the team’s success, but he is also aware that Shazer is continuously maturing as a player.
“Zaria’s coming into her third year, and it used to be that she was always rushing,” Giorgis said. “Sometimes, when the game got fast, she got too fast. Last year, she got better, and this year she’s relaxed and just takes the game as it comes.”
Krick, the third part of the triumvirate, emerged as Marist’s main scoring option toward the end of last season. She went for 20 on the road at Rider in late February and scored 21 in what we thought would be her final game in McCann on senior night against Manhattan.
“Kendall came back and has really put the time and effort into it and has been a leader,” Giorgis said. “I don’t think she wanted to end her career on an eight-win team, and she set the example for the seniors (Julianna Bonilla and Sam Bailey) who said, ‘we want to do better for our senior year.’”
Newcomers Looking to Make an Impact
Any time you can get a player that broke a scoring record held by Breanna Stewart, you’ll take them. That’s exactly what the Red Foxes have in Jackie Piddock.
Piddock, a native of Upstate New York, broke Stewart’s Section III all-time scoring record. She comes to Poughkeepsie as a point guard that can score and distribute. Giorgis calls her the “consummate point guard.”
“There’s the whole thing about her breaking Breanna Stewart’s record, but you wouldn’t know it by the way she plays,” Giorgis said. “She’s gonna make everyone out there better. I have never seen a person, and I mean never in 44 years, communicate better than she does.”
While Piddock and Fisher share a position, Giorgis plans on playing them together at times.
The same can be said for Donnelly and the incumbent center Sam Bailey. Donnelly, from the Binghamton area (yes, she played AAU with Fisher and Shazer), was a player the coaching staff recruited out of high school but ultimately ended up going to the University of Massachusetts before transferring to the University of Hawai’i.
Donnelly’s 6-foot-5 frame will boost pretty much every asset of the team’s inside game. For Marist, one area that took a dive last season was rebounding. The Red Foxes were last in the MAAC and bottom 10 in the country on the boards. One person can’t solve all of that but Donnelly’s height will certainly help.
“So far, she’s shown that she definitely clogs up the lane,” Giorgis said. “It’s been a long time since we’ve been able to lob to someone, and she has the ability to score inside.”
Giorgis also highlights Donnelly’s leadership, even though she is still new on campus.
“I would make her a captain except she’s only been here four months,” Giorgis said. “She’s been such an exceptional teammate so far.”
Tompkins and Croker, both local products, are two other freshmen to watch. Tompkins, a 5-foot-11 guard, played at Red Hook and brings in a lot of raw athleticism.
“She may be the most athletic kid we have,” Giorgis said. “Right now, she’s just gotta get used to not having to do it all. We don’t need you to do everything, just make the right decisions. She’s done well in both scrimmages but she still has to learn the team defense a little more.”
Croker, from New Rochelle, is a strong, physical 6-foot forward with a solid mid-range game, who, according to Giorgis, is “like a bull in a china closet.”
A Deeper Team
Last season, the Red Foxes lacked four out of their top five scorers from the 2021 NCAA Tournament team, and the fifth, Kennedy, only played half the season. Couple that with Fisher’s injury, and there were not many options to go to.
You can never predict injuries, but the roster for this season is a lot deeper than it was at the end of 2021-22.
“Last year, we had kids playing major minutes who weren’t used to playing major minutes,” Giorgis said. “The kids this year know that if you’re not doing it that day then we’re not gonna give up on you but there is someone else that could possibly do it.”
The team figures to go around 10-deep if not further. There are multiple options at point guard and center along with slotted-in starters at one of the guard spots (Krick) and at forward (Shazer).
At the other guard spot, Giorgis and the staff have a few options. Bonilla, a senior who started two games last season, will be up for minutes against Tompkins and Catie Cunningham, the Syracuse native who showed plenty of hustle last season. There is also the chance of seeing the aforementioned Fisher-Piddock duo on the floor together.
Expect to see junior Erin Fox and Croker getting some minutes as backup forwards. It will be interesting to see how the coaching staff manages the four and five positions. Marist has the potential to play big or go small. Having options isn’t the worst thing.
Restoring the Culture
Yes, the shots not falling was the most frustrating part of last season, but some of the team culture was also lacking.
“With the newcomers this year, it’s just so refreshing,” Giorgis said. “They all bring teamwork to the table. It’s not all about ‘I, I, I.’ We got rid of ‘I’ and brought in ‘we.’”
There is more leadership on this team. Krick, now working on her MBA, is in her fifth year. Bonilla and Bailey are both seniors who have been through good and bad, and Donnelly also adds a veteran presence.
How Much Will the Offense Improve?
Well, in the two scrimmages the team played, it shot 58 and 59 percent from three-point range, with Krick shooting 6-for-6 from deep in the second game.
Scrimmages aren’t meaningless but, at the same time, the games don’t start to count until they actually count. All this team has to build on offensively from last year is the foundation. The Red Foxes have to improve because they can’t get much worse.
Last season, all defenses had to do was pack it in and force Marist to shoot over the top. Usually, that didn’t go too well for the Red Foxes.
Donnelly could well be the X-factor. She has only played in 14 games over the last two seasons. If she can stay healthy and establish herself as a scoring presence (her best season was six points per game in 2019-20) to go along with Shazer, then that should open up some opportunities from the perimeter.
This team has no proven perimeter threat after last season. Krick, Bonilla, Fisher, and even Bailey all have the three as part of their repertoire. If defenses are going to make Marist beat them from deep, these are the players that will need to step up.
In a sense, the inside and outside games have to work with each other. If the offense can be multi-dimensional and rebound to somewhere around average in the major statistical categories, then a traditionally strong defense should keep the Red Foxes in most of their games.
This team will not allow Giorgis to go out with another 8-21 season. The roster is better than it was last season, not just in terms of talent and health but also in leadership. Fisher will need to be more consistent and less turnover-prone if the Red Foxes want to push back into MAAC contention.
Several of the newcomers can come in and contribute while there is a solid core of returners who are all another year older.
Can this team contend for a MAAC crown? I think we should all pump the brakes there, but Marist does have the potential to be a winning ball club. If the new can effectively gel with the old then this team should go into March with a solid conference record and the hope of making a push in Atlantic City.
Edited by Isabella Cicinelli and Andrew Hard
Photo from Marist Athletics