Saturday, April 21, 2012

Marist Women's Report: Potential To Be Even Better

Here's another in the series looking back and ahead at MAAC programs.

Up now ...


2011-12 RECORD: 17-1 in MAAC play, 26-8 overall.

2011-12 RECAP: Slow start, terrific finish (except for the season's last few minutes). When it comes to Marist, everything is relative. For instance, the other nine conference teams would all have been overjoyed just to advance to the NCAA tournament. Marist, though, is likely a little disappointed by not getting past St. Bonaventure (a 66-63 loss) in the NCAA's second round, after holding a 49-47 lead with 10 minutes left. Otherwise ... Marist started 5-6. Slow start? The six losses were to Virginia, Princeton, Boston University, St. Bona's, Hofstra and Kansas State. Three of those were NCAA tournament teams, the other three went to the WNIT. Combined record of the six: 142-55. If nothing else, it toughened the Red Foxes up for MAAC play, where it continued to dominate the conference (nine straight league titles, seven straight NCAA appearances) with a 17-1 record. After that, it swept the MAAC tournament, albeit with a scare from Niagara in the championship game. And, then, it won a first-round NCAA contest against a very solid Georgia team. Again, every other program in the league would sell its proverbial soul for that kind of success. Marist is likely thinking it could have done just a little more. Still, all things considered, a very satisfying season.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Plenty. Player of the Year guard Corielle Yarde lived up to preseason expectations with averages of 14.3 points, 6.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists. She was the league's only player to finish in the top 10 of all three of those statistical categories. Another senior, 6-2 forward Brandy Gang, stepped up particularly on the offensive end (12.6 ppg.). Otherwise, it was basically a new cast of characters, but none made a greater impact than sophomore guard Casey Dulin, who was the least-used scholarship player in 2010-11 but became the team's point guard when senior Kristine Best blew out a knee after six games. Dulin averaged 9.4 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.3 assists. Sophomore guard Leanne Ockenden (8.8, 3.5) and 6-2 junior Kelsey Beynnon, both role players a year ago, stepped into more-featured roles. Overall, this team was greater than the sum of its parts, a credit both to grasping an intelligent style of play (side-to-side ball movement in an unpredictable motion-type style) and head coach Brian Giorgis, who might have done his best work this season. This wasn't close to being the most-talented team in the on-going nine-year run, but it still found ways to overcome the almost total lack of an inside game (Yarde, a 5-8 guard, was the leading rebounder) to continue its run of success. After the 5-6 start, the team won its next 10 games, inexplicably dropped a 48-44 decision to Manhattan and, then, reeled off 11 more victories (a 21-1 stretch) before falling in the NCAA's.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Pessimists will point to the 5-6 start. Your scribe will counter that those games might have included one of the program's most-challenging non-league schedules ever while serving to better prepare the team for conference play. This was a somewhat flawed team, and Giorgis admitted it in the preseason when he noted his squad didn't have its usual level of inside play. Still, Marist was a team in the truest sense as seven different players averaged at least three rebounds per contest. The team also lost senior point guard Kristine Best after six games (she'll return next season), but saw Dulin became a capable replacement. It also didn't get a lot from touted UMass transfer 6-1 junior forward Kristina Danella (6.5, 3.4), whose defensive shortcomings, according to Giorgis, kept her from playing more. Mostly, everything went right for Marist until the closing minutes of its second-round NCAA tournament game. There it held a 49-47 lead with just over 10 minutes remaining and still trailed by just a point with under two minutes left but committed an uncharacteristic turnover and, then, missed a three-pointer on its final two possessions in losing to Bona's by three, 66-63. Make no mistake, though, St. Bona's has been a formidable opponent of late. The Bonnies have beaten Marist in regular-season games in each of the last three years in addition to this season's NCAA loss. But, one more good play down the stretch of that contest and the Red Foxes would have advanced to the Sweet 16 round for the second time in program history.

WHAT'S AHEAD: More of the same. Marist loses its top two scorers in Yarde and Gang, but the old cliche fits: This program doesn't rebuild, it reloads. It reloads with 6-3 center Tori Jarosz, a solidly built inside player who transferred in after a season at Vanderbilt. Your scribe saw Jarosz play a number of times in her pre-college days, and she will be a force in the MAAC. Although she only played 15 total minutes as a frosh at Vandy in the 2010-11 season, she got eight rebounds. She provides the inside game that Marist could have used more of this past season. Then, too, will come the continued development of players like Dulin, Ockenden, Beynnon, Danella and freshman Natalie Gomez, who had some nice moments as a first-year point guard and certainly will challenge Best for playing time next season. And, then, comes another very strong incoming group. Giorgis has recruited five players, including four players taller than 6-0, including 6-4 center Delaney Hollenbeck. The best might be 6-0 guard Sydney Coffey from Minnesota. Giorgis calls the group "one of the finest classes we have ever brought in to the Marist women's basketball program." This from a coach not prone to hyperbole, so that comment speaks volumes. Between Jarosz, who will be a sophomore in eligibility terms this coming season, and the strong incoming group ... don't look for Marist to come back to the pack any time soon.

PREDICTION FOR 2012-13: Death, taxes and another dominant season coming up. By now, do you expect anything different? Niagara, which took Marist into overtime of the MAAC tournament's championship game, should be a viable contender in 2012-13. Canisius, Rider, maybe even Siena and Iona should all be much improved. But, no one else has enough to derail the Marist express from reaching another MAAC title. And, with Marist, it's wise to even look beyond that. With Jarosz inside, the team will be built for more NCAA tournament success next season.

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