Friday, March 5, 2010

Niagara's Win Adds to Storybook Season

The last time the Marist women have lost in a MAAC tournament game happened at the end of the 2004-05 season.

Canisius was the upset winner of that game, and one of its former assistant coaches will be trying to derail the Red Foxes again Saturday in an 11:30 a.m. contest at the Times Union Center in Albany, N.Y.

That would be Kendra Faustin, now the third-year head coach at Niagara who has directed a remarkable turnaround for the Purple Eagles that included a 66-54 victory over Manhattan in a quarterfinal round MAAC tournament contest

How remarkable?

A year ago Niagara finished 1-17 in conference play, and followed that up with a 3-12 overall record to begin the current season.

Since then, the Purple Eagles have been 10-5 in their last 15 contests. Included was handing Marist its first regular-season league loss of this season, a 69-59 decision on Jan. 31.

So, what would another win over Marist and a berth in this event's Sunday championship game mean to Niagara?

"We have done some remarkable things this season, but that would be the next step in the progression for us," said Faustin. "I really can't put into words what that would mean."

It would mean just another remarkable thing in a remarkable season for a program that, not so long ago, provided little more than token resistence as an opponent.

"We started doing the little things like blocking out, and we just began fulfilling our roles on the team," said Niagara senior center Jaclyn Konieczka, who epitomizes the team's turnaround.

A career-long reserve, Niagara's current 10-5 run over its last 15 contests began one game after she moved into the starting lineup.

On Friday, though, it was balanced scoring, including some long-range second-half shooting from junior forward Liz Flooks that carried the Purple Eagles.

Flooks had 14 of her game-high 17 points after the intermission, including hitting 4-of-6 from beyond the 3-point stripe.

One of those came on a shot-clock-beating 28-footer that hit nothing but net and gave Niagara a 50-34 advantage with 7:06 remaining.

"At halftime coach (Faustin) told me to stop thinking and to have fun," said Flooks. "She told me to forget about all that happened in the first half."

So, there was Flooks with a huge smile on her face after her 28-footer, clearly having fun.

"When she hit that `3' I thought that this could be our night," said Faustin.

Indeed it was. A remarkable night in a remarkable turn around that could only become better with a victory over Marist today.

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