Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Marist Women Move Up To No. 18 in Poll

It is the rarified air usually inhabited by teams from the Atlantic Coast Conference, or the Big East ... it's the national Top 20.

And that's where the Marist women's basketball team currently resides.

The Red Foxes are No. 18 nationally in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches Poll released earlier today (Tuesday), the highest rating ever for a team from the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.

In truth, the only MAAC team ever to crack a women's Top 25 poll is Marist. The Red Foxes have gotten into the Top 25 several times in recent years. But No. 18 is Marist's highest rating ever.

And, why not?

The Red Foxes have won a nation's best 23 consecutive games entering the conference's post-season tournament that begins with play-in round games on Thursday. Marist plays its first game in a 1:30 p.m. quarterfinal round contest on Friday at the Webster Bank Arena at Harbor Yard.

Marist is also 18-0 in league play, marking only the second time since the MAAC expanded to an 18-game schedule in 1997 to complete a perfect season. The other time? Also accomplished by Marist in 2007-08.

It's the type of positive attention that only helps the conference.

Conference coaches are pretty much in agreement that it helps their teams, too.

"It shows us what we have to shoot for, how much better we have to get to compete with Marist," a league coach once told me. "We have to elevate our programs to compete with Marist."

For the last eight years, though, no one has been able to do that. The 2010-11 season's regular-season championship was the eighth straight conference crown won by the program. The last time it even shared the regular-season crown was when both it and Siena finished 13-5 in the 2003-05 season.

And, the last time Marist did not win the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA's was in 2005 when Canisius captured the post-season tournament's championship and the berth to the national tournament.

It doesn't look like anything short of unforeseen circumstances will change anything next season. Marist graduates guards Erica Allenspach and Elise Caron, but has a standout transfer in 6-1 swingperson Kristina Danella, who averaged 11.6 points and 5.6 rebounds per game at UMass as a sophomore in the 2009-10 season.

Otherwise, Marist's other three starters return along with a talented and deep group of this season's reserves and, surely, more strong recruits.

The Red Foxes are likely to be the team the rest of the league is chasing at least next season. But, for now, appreciate what is already in place ... the 18th-rated team nationally.

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