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Pack the House sellout streak ends after four years

By Zach Dooley
On February 14, 2012

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This year's Pack the House night was a night of firsts for the Marist women's basketball program. The team itself took care of business, defeating the Fairfield Stags 60-54 to earn sole possession of first place in the MAAC conference standings. The attendance, however, was for the first time in the five-year history of the Pack the House initiative, not a sellout.

The lack of a sellout ends the Red Foxes' claim as the only school in the NCAA to sell out Pack the House night for four straight seasons.  Marist was also the first non-major conference school to win the national Pack the House crown last season.

An under-capacity crowd of 2,692 is nothing to scoff at for a women's basketball team from a small private college in Poughkeepsie, but when compared with the four years prior, in which Marist was able to sell out the formerly-titled McCann Center with crowds of 3,000 plus, many were left disappointed. Coming off last season's national championship award for Pack the House, expectations were high, but it was not meant to be this year.

"I think it leads to some complacency, and people think it takes care of itself,"Director of the Marist College Center for Sports CommunicationKeith Strudler said. "I think there's a small tendency to not feel like you need to do as many creative promotions to spread the word, and I think there needs to be that reminder that people don't want to just go because it's Pack the House; people want to go because there's going to be something exciting happening."

This year's theme was "Pack the Prom," which encouraged students to make the prom experience their own.  The night was complete with bow tie and tiara giveaways to students, and was capped off by a king and queen and even a slow dance at halftime.

Although the theme seemed to be well-received by some, including much of the Marist staff and even Marist head coach Brian Giorgis who donned a tuxedo, it seemed that the prom concept did not click as well with students as themes in years past, such as last year's superhero theme.

"I love the idea of themes for Pack the House but the ‘Pack the Prom' there just did not resonate how we would have hoped," Marist Student Booster Club President Patrick Dillon said. "Some people bought into the idea, but many did not.  Fatigue was probably the biggest challenge we faced."

Strudler agreed, and believes that re-evaluating the theme for next year will be important to get more of a student turnout at the game. He said he will be looking for more student input when planning out the theme next year so students can feel like the theme is their own, rather than one just thrust upon them.

Despite the lack of a sellout, the McCann Arena was possibly as loud as it's been since its opening this fall, rivaled only by the opener against Villanova, which Villanova head coach Harry Perretta said was "as loud as UConn." 

"It's tremendous," Giorgis said of the atmosphere. "Unfortunately I got too riled up, a little too excited down the stretch."

The crowd noise at the beginning of the game seemed to affect both teams, as neither team made a field goal until 4:35 into the first half. Marist seemed especially affected, and the Red Foxes didn't hit their first shot from the floor until almost seven minutes into the first half.

"When you have a crowd like that, and you know it's for first place, I don't care who or what you are," Giorgis said. "These are still college kids in a big moment with a huge crowd, and especially our kids I thought would be a little nervous, but they used that energy on the defensive end to at least not let them score."

The crowd was able to propel Marist to an enormous win, which vaulted them past Fairfield into first place in the conference, with a one game lead over the rival Stags.  Senior forward Brandy Gang had a big night for the Red Foxes, dropping 15 points to lead all Marist players.  Gang was playing in her fourth and final Pack the House night, but she realizes that for the players it's just another basketball game.

"It feels great, but we have to come into this game like any other game, and not take it too lightly," Gang said.

Sophomore Casey Dulin also played a strong game from the point guard position, dropping in 14 points to go along with five rebounds, five assists and three steals. The win was a big one for Marist, who now has a stranglehold on first place in the MAAC, barring an enormous slip up down the stretch.

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