Marist women’s basketball seeks to build off of an existing foundation while transforming certain elements of their game to take the next step as a team.
The Red Foxes are coming off their second consecutive losing season, having posted a 12-18 record (8-12 in the MAAC conference) and losing in the first round of the conference tournament to Rider. While Marist already has star players to build around, a highly touted new head coach in Erin Doughty and a track record of sustained success in women’s hoops, there are some major points of emphasis the team wants to improve upon.
The first requirement for the team’s desired evolution is having senior point guard Kiara Fisher and senior forward Zaria Shazer do a better job of making the players around them better. By now, the duo’s individual accolades are well-known: the two just earned Preseason All-MAAC First Team honors, with the recognition coming after Shazer led the Red Foxes in scoring and rebounding last year while Fisher led the team in assists and three-pointers made.
The duo is not satisfied with the individual recognition, and are instead focused on creating an offensive attack that often defers to their teammates and isn’t as overly reliant on their individual skill sets.
“I think our roles are going to decrease in how much we have to put the ball in the basket because we have a lot of other people who are going to help us do that,” said Fisher.
Last season, Fisher finished seventh in the MAAC with 3.4 assists per game, while Shazer finished 14th by averaging 2.2 dimes. With defenses keying in on them, Doughty hopes to see them both move up the assist leaderboard and generate open looks for their teammates who don’t warrant as much defensive coverage.
“I think [Fisher and Shazer] draw so much attention. We worked hard on making sure that the players around them, they were comfortable on distributing to them as well, which I think they’ve done a nice job of so far,” said Doughty.
With Fisher fighting through physical limitations in the home opener, this strategy was evident, as she racked up 10 assists while finishing fourth on her team in scoring. Junior guard Catie Cunningham and sophomore guard Jackie Piddock each benefitted, both scoring 17 points after they each averaged under four points a game in 2022-23.
While Fisher sacrificed her own scoring to set up her teammates, Shazer played her usual role, leading the way with 21 points after finishing last season as Marist’s top scorer.
“I think I’ll have more opportunities to find people and I think we’ll hit more shots than we did last year, and I think Zaria’s role never changes. She’s still gonna score, she’s still gonna rebound, she’s gonna do it all,” said Fisher.
While the first point of emphasis has to do with divvying up who will be doing the scoring, the team’s other top priority is about making strides in how they go about scoring. The bottom line is that the Red Foxes were simply not efficient enough from three-point range last season, finishing eighth in the MAAC in three-point percentage.
Doughty has tried to remedy the issue through a combination of personnel tweaks and skill development. She brought in deep threats such as freshman guard Julia Corsentino, who hails from Fair Haven, NJ, and redshirt sophomore guard Lexie Tarul, who transferred in from Fordham. Both are known for their ability to go on hot streaks and consistently knock down catch-and-shoot threes. Additionally, Corsentino possesses the ability to facilitate things as a second ball handler, while Tarul has specialized in learning how to get herself open to take perimeter shots.
Also joining the starting lineup during the opener was sophomore center Morgan Lee, a transfer from Georgetown. Doughty touted her above-average three-point shot for a big, as well as her passing capabilities and ability to play back to the basket.
“That was one of our things when we looked at the transfer portal as well as our recruiting for last year’s class was people [have] got to be able to shoot the ball,” said Doughty. “That opens up lanes for Kiara and Zaria and stops people from doubling.”
While the new additions are encouraging, it would be unfair to expect them to solely cure the team’s three-point woes. Internal improvement from holdover players such as Piddock is also essential to the team’s plans. The entire team spent the spring and summer working on skill development by making sure their form was correct, practicing shot selection and getting in numerous reps. Sure enough, Piddock went 4-6 from deep in the opener while the team collectively shot 37.5% from three-point range.
With a new season and new strategies come new expectations, and the expectations are certainly higher for this year’s squad. With Marist netting two of the conference’s five Preseason First Teamers, they ultimately placed fourth in the Preseason Coach’s Poll behind Niagara, Siena and Fairfield, which has varying success rates in ultimately predicting season outcomes.
“We see it as motivation obviously because we want to be number one, we think that we’re number one, every team should go in this season thinking that they’re going to be the best team out there,” said Shazer.
Doughty sees this year’s MAAC conference being a competitive one. While she acknowledges that Niagara and Siena are ahead of everyone on paper, she expressed her belief that the standings will ultimately boil down to individual matchups and that six or seven teams possess the ability to remain competitive within the conference.
If she has it her way, Doughty’s team will emerge from the pack and do so using a renewed strategy with contributions coming from up and down the roster.
Edited by Ben Leeds
Graphic by Gavin Hard; Photos via Kira Crutcher and Jaylen Rizzo