Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Marist Women Share Seasonal title, Look To Tourney

We would be remiss without mentioning that the Marist women's basketball team earned a share of the conference's regular-season championship, its 11th straight either co- or solo title.

It's not only the most remarkable string of success in league history for any men's or women's program, but it came in the most-satisfying of fashion: a "revenge" victory over Iona, 79-67, on Sunday on the Gaels' court and on that team's senior night.

It avenged an earlier season two-point setback the Red Foxes suffered in Poughkeepsie when Iona's junior guard Damika Martinez, the probable Player of the Year in the MAAC this season, made a tough 17-foot jumper to beat the buzzer.

This time Marist's standout on-ball defender senior guard Leanne Ockenden, the probably Defensive Player of the Year choice, threw a blanket over the Gaels's top scorer.

Martinez, on pace to become the conference's all-time leading career point-producer, did get 20 points, but shot just 8-of-24 from the field, only had five first-half points and didn't score again for the first 9:33 of the second half. By then Marist had a 63-42 advantage and Martinez's final 16 points were relatively inconsequential.

The game also marked a coming-out effort, of sorts, for 6-3 post player Tori Jarosz, who had her best game to date for Marist with 21 points and 14 rebounds. Jarosz missed last season with an injury and missed much of the early going this season after rupturing an Achilles tendon in summer workouts this July.

The outcome enabled Marist to share the top spot in the league standings with Iona, but the Gaels still go into the post-season event as the top-seeded team.

Both team finished 18-2 in regular-season play, and they split their regular-season meetings. The tie-breaker is Iona's two victories over fourth-place Fairfield, while Marist lost one of its two games to the Stags.

What does it all mean?

"That victory has got to help us," admitted Marist coach Brian Giorgis, speaking via a conference call of league coaches on Monday. "We not only beat them on their home court, but we beat them by double digits and played well in doing so."

Well enough, particularly at the start of the second half to go on a 23-5 run immediately following the intermission to turn a 40-37 halftime lead into a 63-42 advantage from which Iona could not overcome.

"We've played well the last five or six games and, now, we've got to carry that same mindset and attitude into this weekend," added the Marist coach. "That's especially important this year with the top four teams being what they've been.

"We're excited to be able to get a share of the conference championship, but it doesn't matter if you're the No. 1, 2, 3 or 4 seed ... you're going to play a good team in the quarterfinal round (Marist will play the winner of the opening-round contest between Manhattan and Siena). If you get by that, it's always survive and advance."

"They have the momentum right now," admitted Iona coach Billi Godsey, about Marist. "But maybe that loss gives us a little fire and energy to get that one back. We have to be ready to play all 40 minutes, and we had a big letdown in the early moments of that second half. Our girls need to be a little more focused."

Giorgis hopes his team's tournament experience, after all it has won the last eight championships in the event, will pay off again this season.

"I hope that's a factor ... our people have been there before," he said. "The good thing is that we know the target is still on our backs, but there's actually a little more of a relief for us based on what Iona has done. Iona has a target on its back, too."

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