Here's another in the series previewing conference teams.
Up now ...
2012-13 RECORD: 18-0 in the MAAC, 26-7 overall.
KEY LOSSES: 6-2 forward Elizabeth Beynnon (12.0, 4.2), 6-1 forward Kristina Danella (9.1, 4.4).
KEY NEWCOMERS: 6-2 freshman forward Kat Fogarty, 5-6 freshman guard Brittani Lai.
EARLY STARTERS: 5-7 junior guard Natalie Gomez (1.8 points, 1.2 rebounds last season), 6-0 sophomore guard Sydney Coffey (7.3, 3.1), 6-0 senior forward Emma O'Connor (9.1, 4.7), 5-10 senior guard Leanne Ockenden (8.7, 3.9), 6-1 sophomore guard Madeline Blais (2.8).
NOTABLE: Can we discount the 2-4 start? Heck, Marist was 5-6 in non-league games last year and, then, ran the table in conference play. This year's losses have been to top-10 ranked Kentucky, to high-major Ohio State, to No. 9 mid-major UAlbany and No. 11 mid-major Princeton ... One of the two victories came against No. 8 mid-major Bowling Green. The other came earlier this week, an impressive 87-82 OT victory over Old Dominion. In that one, Lai made a jumper with a second remaining in regulation to force the extra session. For the game, O'Connor had a career night with 28 points (8-of-9 shooting) and 11 rebounds, while Ockenden had 24 points ... The team has played so far without returning 5-10 senior point guard Casey Dulin (foot injury), a preseason first-team all-MAAC selection. She's expected back before January ... the team is also playing without touted freshman 5-9 guard Sydney Rosales (shoulder issues), who might also be back in January; and, "bigs" 6-2 Tori Jarosz and 6-5 Delaney Hollenbeck. Jarosz played one game last year before an injury knocked her out for the remainder. And, then, she tore an Achilles tendon this spring. She might be back in February. Hollenbeck also missed almost all of 2012-13 with a hard-to-diagnose leg issue that still forcing her to the sideline. There's no timetable on her availability ... It all leaves the Red Foxes as inexperienced as they've been in recent memory, with two sophomores and two freshmen in the group of seven that's holding the proverbial fort until the injuries heal. Outside of the top seven, no other player averages more than 6.3 minutes per game ... and, somehow, Marist remains not only competitive enough but respected enough to be ranked 19th in the latest mid-major Top 25 poll that considers teams from 23 conferences ... It's a new year, and that means new players are stepping up ... Ockenden, mostly a defensive stopper in the past, has more than doubled her scoring average from a year ago to 17.8 this season. And, so far, she's on pace for the very-elusive triple in shooting percentages, over 50% from the floor (54.4 so far), 40% from the three-point line (40.4) and 90% on foul shots (93.3) ... O'Connor, at 6-0, is basically the only individual resembling an inside player. She's averaging 14.7/6.3 so far ... Blais, who only played 7.8 minutes per game last season, is the third-leading scorer this year, getting 13.2 points and 4.8 rebounds per outing ... Right now, Gomez is the fifth starter, getting most of the minutes at the point, but she has only made one of 18 shot attempts thus far ... the two top reserves are freshmen, 6-2 Kat Fogarty (5.8, 1.5) and 5-6 point guard Brittani Lai (5.0, 2.3 assists), who appears to be getting more playing time of late... Very few, if any, teams could survive the injury loss of its only two true post players, its first-team all-league point guard and a promising freshmen and even expect to contend. But, even with just the seven healthy bodies Marist is using right now, it's still a force at this level, thanks to the philosophies of veteran coach Brian Giorgis. And, just wait until some of the injured players return.
STRENGTHS: Start with Giorgis, one of the best mid-major level coaches in the country and in the conversation, at least, at any level nationally. Ockenden and O'Connor have both stepped up as seniors, and Blais and Coffey have made significant strides off their freshman years. There's talent here, but there's also an expectation to succeed built from 10 consecutive league championships and trips to the NCAA tournament in nine of those seasons.
WEAKNESSES: Without Dulin, the point guard spot is an issue. Gomez is almost a non-scorer, and Lai is a freshman, albeit one with considerable potential. There's a lack of height and depth right now. And, what depth is available is comprised of two freshmen. For now, there's only a seven-player rotation.
REASONABLE EXPECTATION: OK, you pick against Marist. I won't. They've been so good for so long, your blogger isn't going to predict anything other than another league title until it actually happens. This year, though, isn't likely to be a perfect season in conference play. The league is vastly improved since a year ago, particularly at the top. Not only does Iona have all five starters back, and Fairfield four of its top five returning, but a very good Quinnipiac program has joined the MAAC. This might be Marist's sternest test in adding another title to its resume. But Dulin's eventual return will solve some problems. And, if either Jarosz and/or Hollenbeck return ... it makes the Red Foxes that much better.