They say no one’s a rookie or a freshman when you get to this point in the season.
Still, tournament time is different, and when you have a young team, they can take to the more intense atmosphere of tournament play like ducks to water, or not.
That’s what some of the teams, including top-seeded Marist, will find out, starting today, in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference women’s championship tournament.
At 26-3 overall and 16-2 in the MAAC, defending champion Marist is the clear-cut No. 1 seed, and will play in the quarterfinals at 1:30 Friday afternoon against the winner of the preliminary-round game between Manhattan (10-19, 7-11) and Loyola (9-19, 4-14), which will be played at 2 p.m. today at the Times Union Center, following the noon game between No. 7 Rider (10-19, 7-11) and No. 10 Niagara (2-27, 1-17).
Sixth-seeded Siena (10-17, 9-9) will play a quarterfinal game against Fairfield (17-12, 12-6) at 11:30 a.m. on Friday, the fifth year in a row the Saints have played the Lady Stags in the first round.
The Red Foxes have spent some time in The Associated Press Top 25 this season, but they aren’t invincible.
Siena had Marist on the ropes on Jan. 19 before the Red Foxes won, 65-55, but Marist lost its next game, in overtime, to Fairfield.
Marist, led by 2008 MAAC player of the year Rachele Fitz and senior Julianne Viani, both all-MAAC first-teamers this year, also lost to Canisius on Feb. 6.
“The one thing that everyone kind of overlooks is that they’re a really young team,” Siena head coach Gina Castelli said. “I think that’s what makes them a little more vulnerable, and that’s probably why they lost some games. Their veterans are Viani and Fitz, and those two players, in the middle of the season, were carrying them.
“Now, it seems like they’re getting a little more bench scoring, which they hadn’t gotten a lot. But when you’re going into a tournament, like us, when you have young kids, you’re really not sure how they’re going to react to it.”
At 20.6 points per game, Fitz, a 6-foot junior forward, is by far the leading scorer in the conference and also leads in rebounds at 9.0 rpg.
Viani, a senior, seems to do everything else for the Red Foxes. She’s fourth in the MAAC in scoring (14.9 ppg), second in assists/turnover ratio, third in assists per game, fourth in three-point shooting and is the best free throw shooter in the conference at 88.6 percent.
Fitz is fourth in the MAAC in free-throw percentage at 83.1.
Besides Fairfield, the other high seed on Siena’s half of the bracket is No. 2 Canisius, whose top player is senior Marie Warner, second in the conference in scoring and rebounding.
Fairfield is also led by a senior, Baendu Lowenthal, who is not far behind Warner in either category.
“When you look at Canisius and Fairfield, they have the most veteran squads out there,” Castelli said. “But in that sense, you never know how they’re going to go in, because they want it so bad. It could go either way.”
Castelli counts her team among those that are young, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because the inexperienced players might approach a tournament with an ignorance-is-bliss lack of anxiety.
“That’s how we were when we won it in 2001,” Castelli said. “We were a very young team, we only had two seniors, and they didn’t know any better. That’s the beauty of youth, too.
“These kids kind of forget quick. Hopefully, they have a short memory. It’s a new season, in a sense. When you’re going into the tournament, I think everybody plays a little differently. You’re hoping they play a little stronger, a little harder and follow along with the game plan.”
What Castelli would like the Saints to forget is the two losses to the Lady Stags during the regular season.
She said the first one was one of the worst games Siena has played this season, and in the second game, Siena got in a big hole early, made a decent comeback, but never threatened to tie it in the second half.
The Saints bring a little bit of momentum into the tournament, having beaten Loyola in double overtime to end the season.
Fifth-year senior Heather Stec, who has been with the program for each of the first-round games against Fairfield in recent years, was named MAAC player of the week last week and made the all-MAAC second team.
Siena has won some games when she wasn’t much of a factor, too, which could be beneficial at tournament time.
“It’s always important, but in the tournament, it’s very important, because, all year long, we haven’t relied on just Heather Stec, as much as she’s been a leader for us,” Castelli said. “We’ve turned to a lot of different people, and it’s no different now.
“I’m just glad we’re not in the play-in game. That says a lot about our team. All these teams, Canisius, Marist, we didn’t beat them, either, so we’re going into this knowing what’s at stake and hoping we’ve improved.”
On Friday, No. 2 Canisius (22-7, 14-4) will play the Rider-Niagara winner at 9:30 a.m. Following the Siena-Fairfield game, the other quarterfinals will be Marist against the Manhattan-Loyola winner at 1:30 p.m. and No. 4 Saint Peter’s (13-14, 10-8) against No. 5 Iona (17-12, 10-8) at 3:30.
All of the men’s and women’s MAAC tournament games on Saturday, Sunday and Monday will be televised live.
On Saturday, MSG (Time Warner digital Ch. 73) will show the 9:30 a.m. women’s semifinal and the 5 p.m. men’s quarterfinal, featuring Siena. Time Warner Ch. 1 will show the 11:30 a.m. women’s semifinal and the 2:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. men’s quarterfinals. MSG Plus (Ch. 26) will show the 7:30 p.m. men’s quarterfinal.
Sunday’s schedule will be: women’s championship (Ch. 73), noon; men’s semifinal (Ch. 3), 6 p.m.; men’s semifinal (Ch. 26), 8:30 p.m.
The men’s championship game at 9 p.m. Monday will be shown on ESPN2 (Ch. 25).
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Categories: College Sports