Here's another in the "Team Report" series taking a look back and ahead at conference teams.
Up now ...
2012-13 RECORD: 18-0 in MAAC play, 26-7 overall. Won the MAAC tournament title with a 72-48 championship-game victory over Iona. Lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament to Michigan State, 55-47.
2012-13 RECAP: The Red Foxes lost 2011-12 MAAC Player of the Year Corielle Yarde and second-leading scorer Brandy Gang to graduation. And, then, saw its two tallest inside players, Vanderbilt transfer 6-3 Tori Jarosz and 6-5 freshman Delaney Hollenbeck, suffer season-ending injuries before the MAAC season started. If there was a year the rest of the league would finally catch up to Marist, this looked like it. Except, it wasn't. The Red Foxes turned in another perfect (18-0) conference season, the third for the program in the past eight years. It won league games by an average margin of 19.7 points and capped that off with league tournament victories of 22, 25 and 24 points. Seventeen of the 18 regular-season wins were by double-digit margins. The only close win was a five-point victory over Fairfield. Somehow, the whole was greater than the sum of the parts, certainly a credit to head coach Brian Giorgis, the MAAC's much-deserved Coach of the Year award winner. Marist did it this year with balance, defense and typically mistake-free and efficient play. It was enough to get a 10th straight league title, and an eighth straight trip to the NCAA's. It wasn't quite enough, though, to get a victory in the NCAA's as Marist ran into a team that played similarly to itself, except with bigger/faster/stronger athletes. Still, it was within four points with three minutes remaining against the Spartans, but wasn't able to get closer down the stretch. And, a brief word about the 57-year old Giorgis, who by all accounts, has no intention of leaving Marist: not only has he turned down numerous offers from higher-level programs, but he very often doesn't even accept the initial phone call of inquiry related to a coaching vacancy elsewhere. It's very easy to say that Giorgis is arguably the best coach the MAAC has ever seen, in terms of what he's been able to accomplish. But, that doesn't even begin to measure his value. It's no reach whatsoever to perceive that he is among the best coaches nationally at any level of the game.
WHAT WENT RIGHT: Team play. Six players averaged between 7.3 and 12.0 points per game and 3.1 and 4.7 rebounds per game. The team's success came without a single first-team all star, although two made second team and two others made third team. There were also three reliable reserves, so depth was never an issue. Defensively, Marist allowed 8.5 fewer points per game in league play than the next best defensive average by a MAAC team. And, there was a tangible reward. Junior Leanne Ockenden was the deserved Defensive Player of the Year and she not only consistently guarded every opponent's top scorer, but held all of them below their seasonal per-game scoring averages. Marist also led the MAAC in just about every other statistical category except rebounding. But the Red Foxes did enough on the boards, despite its leading rebounder (6-foot-0 Emma O'Connor) averaging just 4.7 per game, the lowest rebounding average by any MAAC team leader. She got help from 6-2 Elizabeth Beynnon (4.2) and 6-1 reserve Kristina Danella (4.4). And, none of that is to say that Marist was bereft of talent. Any team that could have Danella, who scored more than 1,000 career points (two years at UMass before coming to Marist), coming off the bench has its share of talented players. Giorgis gives great credit to his assistants for compiling good scouting reports on opponents and to his players to religiously adhering to them. And, they'd better. The bench is a great motivator, and Giorgis will invite any of his players to take a seat during games if he's not pleased with their play. The result is that this past season merely continued the most-dominant stretch the MAAC has ever seen by either a women's or a men's team. Over the past three seasons Marist has lost just a single conference game (62-1, including tournament games), and over the past 10 years the program has a 163-17 record in regular-season conference play. Since the league expanded to an 18-game schedule in 1997, there have been three 18-0 conference finishes, and Marist has all three.
WHAT WENT WRONG: A 5-7 record against non-MAAC opponents? Well, consider the competiton. Four of the losses came against Oklahoma, Purdue, Kentucky and UConn, and all four of those programs were ranked in the top 12 nationally when the games were played (and, UConn went on to win the national title. Two others came against teams that went to the WNIT (Hartford and Boston University) and the other was to Michigan State in the NCAA's. At one point, Marist had the third-toughest non-league schedule nationally. Giorgis takes on difficult non-league schedules annually to get his team ready for conference play and beyond, and no one can argue with the results. One could also point to not getting out of the first round of the NCAA's, but Marist was within four with three minutes remaining against a tough draw, an mirror-image opponent that was just a little better. But, it's all relative. Every other MAAC team would be overjoyed just to get to the NCAA's. But Marist aspires to more, expecting not only to get there but to win post-season games. What else went wrong? The loss of its two true post players, Jarosz (who played just one game) and Hollenbeck (who played six games) before the MAAC season even began. It clearly didn't affect Marist on its own level, but it left the team a little short (literally) when it came time to match up with higher-level opponents. But, in truth, there isn't much to find fault with after an 18-0 conference record and all that went into it.
WHAT'S AHEAD: More of the same, and then some. It's hard to predict another 18-0 perfect conference slate, but Marist could be even better in the coming season than it was in this past one. Lost to graduation will be Beynnon, its tallest player and leading scorer; and Danella, who might have been the team's top offensive player. But, both the 6-3 Jarosz and the 6-5 Hollenbeck are expected to be 100 percent for the coming season. Jarosz could become the best inside player in the league, and Hollenbeck has a bright future, too. The team also loses part-time starter at point guard Kristine Best, a solid performer. But, junior Casey Dulin (10.2 points, 3.1 assists) and reserve Natalie Gomez are both back to handle that position. Ockenden, O'Connor and Dulin will be seniors, providing the requisite maturity. Sydney Coffey, a 6-0 guard, had a nice freshman year (7.3 points, 3.1 rebounds) and has the potential to eventually be among the conference's best players. Another freshman, Madeline Blais, is talented and will be a factor when her defensive skills catch up to her already advanced work on the offensive end. And, the rich get richer ... Incoming recruits are highly touted, including point guard Brittany Lai (Irvington, N.Y., H.S.), 6-2 Kat Fogarty (Governor's Academy of Massachusetts) and 5-10 guard Sydney Rosales, a highly effective long-range shooter from Colonie (N.Y.) H.S.
PREDICTION: It's a worn cliche, but it's true: Death, taxes and Marist women's basketball success are predictable certainties. The Red Foxes could be even better in the coming season than they were in 2012-13, and that's saying something. But the return of Jarosz and Holleneack, the continued development of Blais and Coffey and the talent level of the incoming freshmen are all reasons to believe next year's team could truly be something special. And, barring unexpected injuries, the added height of Jarosz, Hollenbeck and Fogarty means Marist is capable of stepping up in class and competing with the high-level teams on its regular-season schedule and come post-season tournament time. It goes without saying that Marist will once again dominate the MAAC. It's just a matter of seeing how much damage the 2013-14 edition can do in the NCAA's.