It could go either way.
And those ways have been quite far apart this season for the Siena women’s basketball program, which had moments during the regular season when it looked like a MAAC championship contender and others when the Saints’ inexperience showed.
His club set to take on Fairfield at 3:30 p.m. Thursday in a MAAC tournament quarterfinal at Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Siena head coach Jim Jabir knows the highs and lows his team has shown it’s capable of this season.
“We’ve proven that we can get crushed by people in our league — and we can beat anybody in our league, or at least be really competitive,” Jabir said Monday. “So, hopefully, we have three days of really good basketball. I mean, this could be the beginning of something epic. It could be where we just come together and play out of our minds for three days and go to the NCAA tournament — or we could stub our toe, and learn some valuable lessons and go home Friday morning.”
Siena’s roster is loaded with freshmen and sophomores, and the Saints’ reliance on young players was evident Wednesday when the MAAC announced its individual awards for the 2022-23 season, and seemingly the only suspense in the Rookie of the Year race was which Siena freshman — Elisa Mevius or Teresa Seppala — would take the honor. The award ended up going to Mevius, who finished the regular season as Siena’s third-leading scorer at 10.5 points per game, led the league in free throw shooting at 81.7%, and was fourth in total assists (121) and total steals (68). During the regular season, Mevius won four MAAC Rookie of the Week honors, while Seppala won seven.
“We’re really lucky that they’re here, and that they’re coachable and they’re going to continue to get better,” Jabir said of Mevius and Seppala.
The regular season was certainly an interesting one for the Saints. Siena played a portion of the season without Jabir due to a school investigation into his conduct, only regularly used one player — Ahniysha Jackson — who wasn’t a freshman or sophomore, and participated in more than its fair share of wild games.
In a season that saw the Saints finish six games above .500, only four of Siena’s 30 games were decided by a single-possession margin or in overtime. One of those close games encapsulated seemingly all the highs and lows this season’s Saints are capable of producing. In an 83-81 win against Niagara, Siena led by as many as 20 points, committed 34 turnovers and needed a 55-foot shot from Mevius at the buzzer to claim victory.
Meanwhile, half of Siena’s games were decided by at least 10 points. During the regular season, Siena won by as many as 49 points and lost by as much as 27.
“It’s all part of the process,” Jabir said of Siena’s ups and downs. “I’ve been fortunate to coach some really young teams that have gone on to the NCAA tournament — and I think we’re on that journey. I think we’re heading that way.”
Siena (No. 4, 18-12) swept Fairfield (No. 5, 15-14) during the regular season. The Saints defeated the Stags by 15 points and four in a span of two weeks in January, with the closer of those wins coming in overtime. That overtime win came in a game the Saints played with only six players due to injury and illness.
“We just need to stick to the game plan and do what we’re supposed to do, especially on defense,” Mevius said ahead of Siena’s third matchup with Fairfield.
The winner of Siena vs. Fairfield will play in Friday’s semifinals against top-seeded Iona, which narrowly avoided an upset loss in its quarterfinal. Iona won 39-37 against eighth-seeded Mount St. Mary’s on Wednesday, a game that ended with Mount St. Mary’s unable to get a shot off on its final possession.
Jabir offered a “we’ll find out” to a question regarding if his young Saints have enough experience to win three MAAC tournament games in as many days. Mevius said her team is eager to give it a shot.
“I’m just excited. I feel like we have a lot of energy, we want to win,” Mevius said. “We want to fight 40 minutes every day, and just give everything we have. It’s our last chance.”