LOUDONVILLE — For the second game in a row, but with nine months in the middle of them, the Siena women’s basketball team will play Fairfield.
Head coach Ali Jaques’ squad starts its much-delayed 2020-21 season Friday night at 7 p.m. at Alumni Recreation Center, and does so against the program that ended the Saints 2019-20 season with a loss in what became the overall final game of the MAAC tournament.
“I remember, after the game, we were just really happy we had the chance to play,” Siena junior Margo Peterson said Thursday during a teleconference with reporters. “We had the chance to finish our season. A lot of teams didn’t get that chance.”
Concerns related to the novel coronavirus pandemic, which still rages in the United States, caused the cancellation of the MAAC tournament shortly after the Saints’ season-ending loss in that tournament’s quarterfinals. Throughout the offseason and preseason, Jaques used the fact that her team had been able to finish its season and confirm it hadn’t been good enough to win a league championship as a tool to motivate the players in her program that is coming off an 11-20 season and picked to finish sixth this season in the MAAC.
With the season — again, finally — here, Jaques is now using the unknown of the future to keep her players focused.
“We don’t know how many days we’re going to have to play,” Jaques said, “so we’ve got to embrace the opportunity [against Fairfield] and have a great time.”
Fairfield has already played two non-conference games, splitting lopsided results against UMass and Hofstra, before it opens MAAC play at Siena. The Saints, meanwhile, had to cancel all of their non-conference games ahead of its league opener as a result of the team’s pandemic-related pause of two weeks that ended in early December.
Ahead of playing a Fairfield team that was picked to finish tied for second place in the MAAC and has two players picked to the preseason All-MAAC First Team including the player-of-the-year choice in junior Lou Lopez-Senechal, Jaques said her team completed 30 practices, but not all of those were full-contact workouts for the Saints.
“I would say that we have seven very strong players who I feel extremely confident in, and I would say we have . . . 11 players that come to practice every day and do a great job,” Jaques said. “I’m not sure what our rotation is going to be. That’s a little bit concerning. That’s what scrimmages are typically for.”
Teams weren’t allowed to conduct preseason scrimmages or exhibitions as part of NCAA restrictions related to the pandemic. Programs were allowed to start playing games on Nov. 25, a date moved back 15 days from the season’s original start date.
Jaques didn’t reveal a full starting lineup, but said that junior center Lala Watts, Peterson and graduate student Isis Young will start. Siena had two players — junior Amari Anthony and senior Rayshel Brown — named to the conference’s preseason third team and several other players earned praise during the preseason from Jaques, who said the team likely will use multiple starting lineups early in the season.
“I think who finishes quarters and who finishes halves is going to say a lot,” Jaques said.
One of those players will certainly be Young, who Jaques is counting on to provide playmaking and stability as her team’s point guard. A 24-year-old guard whose college career began in 2014, Young spent time with programs at Florida, Syracuse and Fordham prior to heading to Siena.
Young said her relationship with Jaques has been the strongest she’s had with a coach during her career.
“And I think because of that we’re going to be really good on the floor because we’ll have someone that’s an extension of Coach, and I promise to be that for my team,” Young said.
Jaques said she has “full confidence” and “full trust” in her team, but also knows “we’ve been pent up for way too long.” She expects her players to have ample energy for their opening game, and said they need to take advantage of it.
“We’re just going to have to play with that kind of emotion and intensity on defense,” Jaques said, “and make sure that we’re smart on offense.”