Sunday, March 7, 2010

Giorgis Brought Success to Marist Women

Like the sun rising in the east, or the pleasant weather of spring following winter, the Marist women's basketball team is once again the champion of the MAAC's post-season tournament by virtue of a 66-49 victory over Fairield played before an enthusiastic crowd of 4,274 at the Times Union Center in Albany, N.Y., Sunday afternoon.

But it wasn't that long ago that the program that is now the blueprint for success not only within its conference, but probably for mid-major level schools everywhere, had very little success.

That was before head coach Brian Giorgis came to town prior to the 2002-03 season. Or, more accurately, the year Giorgis stayed in town.

Now in his eighth season at the Poughkeepsie school, Giorgis had coached in the shadows of Marist at the city's Our Lady of Lourdes High School. In 19 seasons there he put up a 451-44 record, an incredible .911 winning percentage, and his teams competed for state-level honors annually.

But when Giorgis moved to the college level the program he took over had an active run of seven straight sub-.500 seasons.

Giorgis' first year there was losing season No. 8 in a row. And, then, the winning started. Marist is now 195-61 under Giorgis.

The program has won the last seven regular-season conference titles and Sunday's victory secured its fifth-straight trip to the NCAA tournament. Both strings are unprecendented not only on the women's side but for men's teams, too, in the 29-year history of the MAAC.

But, it was always like this in Poughkeepsie.

Alisa Kresge, now in her first year as an assistant coach in the program, was one of its best players, coming aboard in 2003 which, not coincidentally, was Marist's first winning season under Giorgis.

"When I first got here, crowds at games were smaller than for my high school games," said Kresge. "I wondered where everyone was. The answer was that this is how it is here."

How it is today is that the program had two regular-season sell-outs at its McCann Center facility and averaged close to 2,150 fans per home game. That attendance figure not only was far greater than its own men's program, but more than all but two of the 10 men's programs in the league.

"It didn't happen overnight," said Kresge. "It was kind of a gradual thing. But, now, there's a great atmosphere for all our home games."

Near sell-out crowds of red-clad spectators, a large, loud and very proficient pep band, an in-gym decible level that makes it hard for opposing teams to communicate on the court ... that's how it is at Marist now.

It is all, of course, a by-product of winning, of unprecedented success.

"It helped that I was local," said Giorgis. "It helped that players I coached at Lourdes like Kristen Vilardi and Maureen Magarity came here at first and, then, Julianne Viani."

And when the winning began, Marist became a school to look at for players looking to do just that at the college level.

"That's what you hope," said Giorgis. "Once things get rolling it becomes a snowball effect, and it has become a pretty big snowball."

Big enough to survive annual losses of standout players and continue the winning.

"The big thing is that the school went out and got a a coach who had always been a winner," said Kresge. "The players come here and really listen to him, really take to heart what he has to say.

"And, now that he's got things going here the hope is that it continues to attract quality players. That we go to the NCAA tournament every year is an attraction. As a player, that's what you envision for yourself, to be on that stage."

At Marist, there now seems a better chance of that happening than just about any other mid-major level school nationally.

And, this year is just the latest in the school's incredible run of success that was hard to envision eight years ago, and similarly hard to envision it will end any time soon.

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