Head coach Ali Jaques’ Siena women’s basketball team never played its opening opponent in the MAAC tournament during the regular season.
That’s Niagara, the team the Saints were supposed to play last week before those regular-season-ending games were canceled after the Siena program registered its latest positive COVID-19 test result.
Oh, and the two games the teams didn’t play last week necessitated that both teams needed a waiver — which they both received — to confirm they are each eligible for the NCAA tournament since neither Siena nor Niagara played the minimum number of games needed this season.
Sure, but . . .
“This whole year,” Jaques said Monday, “has been odd.”
In a season that didn’t make much sense, though, it seems fitting that Niagara (No. 8 seed, 4-6 overall) and Siena (No. 9, 3-11) will match up in the postseason with a spot in the quarterfinals on the line. Both dealt with a variety of challenges in a regular season that saw both teams struggle to get on the court for games. When Siena plays its postseason opener, the Saints will have just completed their fourth stretch of 10 or more days between games this season; meanwhile, Niagara had three such stretches, but didn’t even play its first game this season against a Division I opponent until January.
When they were able to play, both Siena and Niagara struggled to win games. Niagara finished two games below .500 on the season despite playing eight of its 10 games at home, while Siena lost seven of its final eight games.
Jaques said all the obstacles her team faced during the 2020-21 season “probably stunted our growth.” The Saints were picked to finish in sixth place in the league’s preseason poll.
“But that’s in the past. That’s water under the bridge,” Jaques said of Siena’s regular season. “We’ve got to learn from it, and, as far as I’m concerned, every game’s a 50-50 game — and if we handle [our] business, I think we’re a very dangerous team.”
While Siena only won once this season after sweeping Rider on Jan. 9-10, that lone victory did show the potential the Saints possess. That win came at Quinnipiac, the tournament’s No. 2 seed.
“We know what we’re capable of,” Jaques said.
Marist is the top seed for this week’s MAAC tournament.
‘YOU KNOW WHY’
Siena graduate student Isis Young, the MAAC’s leading scorer on the season at 18.9 points per game, was named Monday to the All-MAAC second team.
Jaques said Young was “my MVP” this season. The coach said it was likely tough for coaches who didn’t play Siena to evaluate Young’s season, but that Jaques “thought coaches were fair; coaches always are fair with their thoughts.”
Young, Siena’s only player to make one of the all-conference teams, said the spot she took on the second team motivated her — a lot.
“I’m not a coach, so I don’t have to say that coaches are fair. So I expected to be on the first team. I’m saying, I don’t have to say that [coaches are fair], so I expected to be on the first team,” Young said. “It’s fine. I’m not making it a big deal at all. It just adds fuel to the fire for me to go out and make sure that people know that I’m one of the best players — one of the top-five players — in our conference.
“So I have a little extra pep in my step [against Niagara]. You know why.”
SOME TOURNAMENT HISTORY
Siena won a game last season in the MAAC tournament before falling in the quarterfinals.
The Saints last made it to the semifinals in 2018. Siena advanced to three MAAC semifinals during Jaques’ first eight seasons leading the program.
Siena last made it to a MAAC championship game in 2003 and won its only league championship in 2001.
ALL-MAAC FIRST TEAM
Mackenzie DeWees, Quinnipiac, Jr.; Willow Duffell, Marist, Sr.; Mikala Morris, Quinnipiac, So.; Lou Lopez-Senechal, Fairfield, Jr.; Taiah Thornton, Saint Peter’s, R. Sr.
ALL-MAAC SECOND TEAM
Katie Armstrong, Fairfield, Gr.; Dee Dee Davis, Manhattan, Jr.; Angel Parker, Niagara, So.; Courtney Warley, Manhattan, Sr.; Isis Young, Siena, Gr.
ALL-MAAC THIRD TEAM, ,
Sarah Barcello, Marist, Jr.; Juana Camilion, Iona, Jr.; Rose Caverly, Quinnipiac, Jr.; Trinasia Kennedy, Marist, So.; Kendrea Williams, Saint Peter’s, R. Sr.