Both sides want to win.
That’s obvious. Goes without saying, really.
But the importance of renewing the rivalry between the Siena and UAlbany women’s basketball programs — even if the schools’ men’s programs still aren’t playing each other — goes beyond that.
“It’s also about the Capital Region and making an opportunity for some 6-year-old in the stands to say, ‘Wow, I want to play for Siena or UAlbany some day,’” Siena head coach Ali Jaques said. “I think that’s pretty cool.”
The environment 2 p.m. Saturday at Siena College for this year’s matchup — rebranded this year as the “Crosstown Showdown” — should deliver an atmosphere worthy of a rivalry game. Siena announced Friday that all 2,148 available tickets were sold ahead of the contest between 1-5 Siena and 4-5 UAlbany at the Saints’ Alumni Recreation Center.
“That’s the best feeling in the world — knowing that people are coming to see you play,” UAlbany junior Kyara Frames said. “So I’m very excited.”
A year ago, Siena and UAlbany didn’t play, seemingly a result of the schools’ not being able to agree on how to continue their men’s basketball series. While the schools still haven’t been able to agree on terms acceptable to both to restart the men’s basketball rivalry, the women’s programs are set with a current two-year deal that will see the teams play next year at SEFCU Arena.
“I mean, you know, it is what it is,” UAlbany senior Alexi Schecter said when asked earlier this week if it was disappointing the rivals didn’t meet last year. “But I’m just glad we’re playing again because it’s fighting for Albany.”
Jaques called it a “no-brainer” for her team to start playing UAlbany again, and UAlbany head coach Colleen Mullen — set to experience her first matchup in the rivalry as a second-year head coach — agreed the teams needed to play.
“I grew up a Siena fan. Gina Castelli, when she was the [Siena] head coach, she recruited me, so I did a visit there,” said Mullen, who split her college basketball playing career between Rhode Island and New Hampshire. “It’s a school that I really like. I think it’s going to be just great for the community.”
UAlbany has won its last three games after a five-game losing streak. The Great Danes also are in the process of reconfiguring their rotation after recently losing starter Morgan Haney to a knee injury that Mullen said is likely a “season-ending” one for the freshman.
Meanwhile, Siena gained a player this week in junior Rayshel Brown, a guard who was granted a legislative relief waiver from the NCAA allowing her to play the rest of this season after transferring to Siena from La Salle. Brown debuted in Siena’s 88-51 loss Wednesday to Colgate, starting that game and scoring 15 points in 36 minutes. Brown said she was confident she’d be able to play at some point this season, but still described it as a “relief” to finally suit up.
“Practice is fun, but without being rewarded for your practice, it does get kind of tiring,” Brown said.
Each of Siena’s losses this season have been by at least 17 points. Jaques said she is concerned those lopsided losses could affect the confidence of her young team that only includes one senior.
“We’re learning every single day and we’re trying to find our identity as a team,” Jaques said.
Before Siena and UAlbany didn’t play last season, the Great Danes had won eight consecutive games against the Saints. Jaques coached the last six of those games, but her 0-6 mark in the rivalry didn’t make her not want to resume playing a game she views as meaning something extra in terms of increasing attention for women’s basketball in the Capital Region.
“Not ashamed of it. That’s what it is,” Jaques said of her record against UAlbany. “But it was so important to me, as the head coach at Siena,to create this game for our community of girls and women in sports. . . . We’re going to do everything we can for the right outcome, but I think this event for our sport, and for girls and women [in the area], is more important and supersedes that to some extent.”