Just when you thought it might be possible for a women's team, other than Marist, to capture the conference crown this year ...
Well, think again.
Marist looked like it might be a little vulnerable when it started with an uncharacteristic 5-6 record in non-conference play. The naysayers pointed to graduation losses of two-thirds of last season's backcourt (Erica Allenspach and Elise Caron), and the unexpected transfer out of 6-foot-4 forward Kate Oliver. And, then, the team lost it's floor general, point guard Kristine Best, for the season after six games with a knee injury.
Wouldn't this be the year to take down the Red Foxes, winners of the last seven MAAC crowns?
As it appears now ... probably not.
First, the non-league schedule. One computer-generated rating placed Marist's pre-conference slate as the 10th-best nationally with losses coming to Virginia, Princeton Boston University, St. Bonaventure, Hofstra and Kansas State. Together those six teams, as of Friday morning, have a 15-2 record in their respective league games and a 74-22 overall ledger.
And since the start of MAAC play ... well, things have reverted to normal. That is: death, taxes, sunrises in the east and the Marist women winning games.
The Red Foxes are 5-0 in conference play, and the last remaining unbeaten team in the MAAC after traveling to previously unbeaten Fairfield's home court (the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Conn.) and earning a decisive 59-47 victory.
Overall domination? It was the 29th consecutive victory over a MAAC opponent for Marist.
"Right now, Marist is the best team in the league and everyone else is trying to catch them ... that's a fact," said Fairfield coach Joe Frager. "Do we think we could have played better? No doubt, but you have to give a lot of credit to Marist. They made us do a lot of that stuff."
Marist opened league play with an uncharacteristically close 56-54 victory over still-winless Saint Peter's, but has followed that with wins by margins of 12, 26, 20 and 12 points. The two-point victory over the Peahens marked just the second time since the end of the 2009-10 regular season that the Red Foxes haven't beaten a conference opponent by at least double figures.
Marist is doing it this year with the requisite star in Corielle Yarde, but not yet getting as much support elsewhere as in past seasons.
Yarde leads the team in scoring (15.6 points), rebounding (6.4) and assists (4.5), the only MAAC player to lead a team in those three statistics.
The next leading scorer is 6-2 forward Brandy Gang who only recently got her season scoring average (10.6) over double figures. No one else averages over 8.7 points per contest.
But Marist has never been about who scores how many. Head coach Brian Giorgis has consistently been more concerned about how his teams limit opponents on their offensive end. And, with the loss of so many players who were well-versed in that philosophy in recent years, well the questions about Marist's continued superiority earlier were legitimate.
"The biggest question mark on our team heading into this season was our defense," admitted Giorgis, after Thursday's victory over Fairfield. "But, we've played it pretty well in the last two games."
Indeed, Marist has only given up 41 (to Manhattan) and 47 (to Fairfield) in its last two contests and currently is allowing an average of just 51 points in its five league contests.
"Kids are starting to see that if you don't play it (defense), you're not going to play," added Giorgis.
On Thursday Fairfield held an early 10-2 lead and, misfired on 13 of its last 17 shots of the first half and went without a basket over the half's final 7:53 to trail, 29-21 at the intermission.
"I think we ticked them off ... I think we angered them," said Frager. "That's the challenge when you play them, it's sustaining an offense because they don't give you too much inside. They collapse down and when you kick the ball out you have to knock down shots."
Fairfield didn't. After leading 10-2 early the Stags made just 14 of their final 47 shots, a less-than-stellar 28.7 percent.
"They hit some shots early, and we had to pick up the intensity and trust the scouting report," added Giorgis, in post-game comments. "Trust in the things we do, and once we started doing that we forced some tough shots and we saw that they weren't going to make every shot, and we were slowly able to creep back."
And, Marist has slowly been able to creep back to dominating conference play yet again this season.