Your blogger took a short jaunt south on the New York State Thruway recently to attend the Siena at Marist women's game on Sunday, and was very impressed on a number of fronts.
Where to begin?
- A near sell-out, enthusiastic and loud crowd of 2,832 on hand.
- The best pep band in the MAAC by far, an approximately 200-member group that played well, loud and helped create terrific in-gym atmosphere.
- And, that atmosphere ... fans are nearly on top of the court in the tight confines of the McCann Center and provided such decibel -challenging cheers early that Siena's defense missed several assignments primarily because it couldn't communicate.
This is what all college basketball games at this level should be like.
How about a terrific program, one that has clinched its seventh straight regular-season conference title, and is a heavy favorite to win the post-season tournament and head to the NCAA's for the sixth time in the past seven years?
And, how about community support? Marist averages 2,190 fans per home games ... and, remember, this is women's basketball.
It hasn't always been like this. Your blogger remembers family-and-friend-only crowds in the low three figures as recently as eight or nine years ago for Marist women's games. But, the success has gradually drawn in an appreciative community and big crowds have become the norm in recent years.
By comparison, the Marist men only average 1,743 per home game. It would take considerable research to prove the following, but my guess is that only a few college women's programs outdraw their men's counterparts nationally.
But the Marist women outdraw most MAAC men's teams. Only Siena and Fairfield draw more fans per home game, and both those programs play in sizeable arenas.
Sunday's game, a very impressive 71-52 victory over Siena (Marist led, 40-17, at the half ending any suspense early) took place in the program's last home game of the season.
And, Marist knows how to put on a "Senior Day" ceremony.
Of course, there certainly is plenty to honor when the departing seniors include Rachele Fitz, arguably the best women's player in the MAAC's history; and a senior class of Fitz, Brittany Engle and Lynzee Johnson.
That group is a single victory away from matching the conferences all-time record for career wins.
The trio of Marist seniors already has a 112-19 career record, surpassed only by the 113 total victories by Marist women's teams from the 2004-05 through the 2007-08 seasons.
By comparison, the best four-year run by a men's team in MAAC history is a 100-31 stretch by the La Salle teams of 1986-87 through the 1989-90 seasons.
The introduction of the seniors this day went on for close to 15 minutes, with nearly 10 of those devoted to Fitz and her countless accomplishments.
And, during the pregame ceremony it was announced that the 6-foot-0 senior forward's No. 12 jersey will become the program's first women's number retired.
Marist also provided what promised to be an entertainment treat from local celebrity Congressman John Hall (D-Dover Plains), one of the founding fathers of the 1970's-era band Orleans. Hall sang the national anthem and, then, served as the Red Foxes' "guest coach."
Hall though, forgot several of the words to the national anthem. Note to Mr. Hall: Congressmen should know the words to our national anthem.
Hall also wore sunglasses throughout most of his time sitting on the Marist bench. Another note to Mr. Hall: Barring a medical condition, shades aren't cool worn inside a gym.
Otherwise, impressive was the operative description at Marist on Sunday.