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Women's basketball looking to capture eighth straight MAAC title

By Zach Dooley
On November 1, 2012

 With their MAAC championship last season, Marist women's basketball reached its seventh heaven.  Now they're looking for a magic eight ball to go along with it.

 The Red Foxes are looking to claim their eighth straight MAAC Tournament Championship as they open play in the 2012-2013 season.  Coming off of a nail-biting loss to St. Bonaventure in the second round of last season's NCAA Tournament, Marist is ready for another title run.

 "That's always been the goal, and we don't need them to focus on any more than that," Marist head coach Brian Giorgis said about winning another MAAC championship.  "You obviously want to try and win as many games as you can, especially with this non-conference schedule, but I don't care if we're 10-0 in non-conference or 0-10. We're 0-0 come January."

The team's non-conference schedule is one of the toughest in the entire nation, with four games coming against teams ranked in the Top 25, including two in the top six. 

"I think we play one of the top five non-conference schedules in the country, in the hopes that when we get into conference play, we will be ready to go," Giorgis said. 

The toughest portion of the schedule comes in late November, when the Red Foxes take on Princeton at home, a nine-seed at last year's NCAA Tournament, followed by a trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands, where the Red Foxes will participate in the Paradise Jam Tournament.  Marist will play Number 22 Purdue in the opener, followed by a highly anticipated tilt with second-ranked Connecticut, before closing out the tournament with Wake Forest. 

"We're really excited about our pre-season schedule. We definitely have some pretty hard games, so hopefully we can do well in those," senior forward Elle Beynnon said.  "Growing up we watched [UCONN] play, and it's really exciting to see how we can do against them."

The Connecticut game in particular headlines the most difficult group of out-of-conference opponents that Marist has seen in years, in a game that has both players and fans excited.

"We're looking forward to playing UConn," junior guard Leanne Ockenden said.  "Obviously they're one of the best teams in the country, which will definitely help us for our conference schedule this year, so we're really excited about that."

Looking at the Red Foxes' roster, there is a notable absence of two players who had become a staple of Marist basketball: Corielle Yarde and Brandy Gang.  The players expected to replace them are the trio of returning starters from last year's team, who were named team captains. 

Junior Casey Dulin, along with Ockenden and Beynnon, are the three players who broke out last year in their first action as starters.  After now redshirt senior Kristine Best went down with an injury last year, Dulin stepped in at point guard and saw a huge spike in her numbers. 

"We have Natalie and Kristine back and they also play the one and originally I played the two or the three, so I'm not really sure where I'm playing, but wherever I am I'll be happy," Dulin said. 

Despite playing a position that wasn't natural to her, Dulin was third on the team in both scoring and rebounding, while finishing second in assists. 

 "We lost two big players for us, but I don't feel any more pressure," Dulin said. "I like having to take on a role of scoring more, and getting my teammates the ball when they need it."

Beynnon had a breakout season offensively, especially down the stretch, as she set career highs in most offensive categories.  Beynnon was fifth on the team in scoring, second in rebounds and second in field goal percentage.

"I want to be a really reliable player for my team this year, so that when they need me I can be confident in that role," Beynnon said.  "I don't feel any added pressure this year and I think we're all confident that we can uphold our roles."

     Ockenden developed a reputation as one of the top of the line shutdown defenders in the conference last season, earning the nickname of "Lockdown." She finished fourth amongst Red Fox scorers and drained the most three pointers of any Marist player. She also was fourth in assists and fourth in rebounds.

Coming into this season, Ockenden seems to be embracing her role as a captain and as one of the returning starters.  Despite all of the individual accolades at stake, she preaches that the team first attitude is what will be the driving force once again for Marist.

"Being a captain, obviously it's an honor, but the most important thing is working together as a team and just not worrying about certain things," Ockenden said.  "I'm just trying to be a better team player, and working together is the most important thing."

Depth will be a key part of this Marist team. Five other players return from last year's team, along with two more from injury and one from a redshirt year.

Kristina Danella and Natalie Gomez should be the first options off the bench this year as returners.  Danella averaged 6.5 points per game in just over 16 minutes of playing time and was always a source of instant offense off of the bench.  Gomez was a freshman last season who saw her role expand greatly as the season went on.  Gomez finished third on the team in assists, and she should see expanded minutes this season.

Emma O'Connor and Bri Holmes should also see more time with the departure of Gang and Emily Stallings, who took up minutes as the forwards last season, with Yarde at the guard position.  O'Connor is a solid rebounder who has shown a scoring touch at times as well, while Holmes showed great scoring ability when given the opportunity.

Kristine Best and Tori Jarosz are wild cards on this year's Marist team.  Best was a starter last year before an injury ended her season. She could reclaim her starting role at point guard, but has also provided great minutes in reserve in her career. Jarosz, a Vanderbilt transfer, provides a low post presence Marist didn't have last season and could be a big factor as the season progresses.

Fan favorites Maggie Gallagher and Suzzette Garnett both add depth as guards coming off of the bench, and a group of four incoming freshmen, deemed one of the best recruiting classes of all time at Marist, should provide even more depth.  Madeline Blais, Sydney Coffey, Delaney Hollenbeck and Eileen Van Horn give Marist options at all five positions and should compete for playing time immediately.

All in all, we are looking at another stacked Marist women's basketball team.  When people doubted Marist last year due to lack of star power, it responded by showing that the power of five is always greater than the power of one, and this team will do the same. 

"If it's not broke, we're not going to try to fix it," Giorgis said.  "We're not trying to showcase any one person, and we're going to take what people give us and get results form that."

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