Look who's back: Marist enters Top 25

BY foxsports • February 7, 2011

Brian Giorgis has built Marist into a mid-major power over his nine seasons at the school.

Now after a two-year hiatus, the Red Foxes are back in the Top 25.

Riding a 17-game winning streak, Marist entered the women's basketball poll for the first time this season at No. 25 on Monday. It's the second longest active streak in the country, trailing only No. 1 Baylor.

''It means a lot because a lot of times you have once in a lifetime things like getting into the Sweet 16 in '07,'' Giorgis said of getting ranked again. ''To do it more than once is something nice for the kids, but doesn't change our perspective.

The Red Foxes were last ranked in January 2009.

Marist, which is nestled in the Hudson Valley about 90 miles outside New York City, has put together quite the run under Giorgis. The team burst onto the national scene with its NCAA tournament run in 2007 when the Red Foxes upset fourth-seeded Ohio State before advancing to the regional semifinals. Marist lost to eventual NCAA champion Tennessee.

While the Red Foxes haven't garnered much national attention since that run, they have just kept on winning. Marist had a four-week stint in the Top 25 in 2008 as it won a school-record 22 straight games. The Red Foxes then had a three-week run in the poll in 2009.

''We don't worry about all that stuff,'' Giorgis said. ''We're just trying to build a resume so that if we do stub our toe and not win the MAAC we can still have a shot to get in the NCAA tournament.''

The Red Foxes (21-2, 12-0 MAAC) have won seven straight Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference regular-season titles and are well on their way to an eighth in a row after Sunday's thrilling 54-52 victory over Fairfield. That's the fourth longest active streak in the country, trailing only Wisconsin-Green Bay (Horizon) Chattanooga (Southern) and Stanford (Pac-10), according to Stats LLC.

''The names and faces change but the constant is coach,'' said assistant Alisa Kresge, who was the starting point guard on the 2007 team. ''He goes out and finds players that expect to win and can be successful.''

Having success over the past decade at Marist has definitely helped open more doors, but Giorgis is more interested in getting the right player instead of always the best one.

''Fortunately we've gotten enough good kids who buy into what we do,'' Giorgis said. ''Our kids coming in next year care about team first. We've been fortunate and blessed with those types of kids.''

Marist lost all-time scoring and rebounding leader Rachele Fitz to graduation but has kept up the domination led by senior guard Erica Allenspach and junior Corielle Yarde.

''I think they are more dangerous now because you never know who is going to step up for them,'' said Fairfield coach Joe Frager. ''What they've done has been great for this conference and women's basketball.''

On Sunday, the Red Foxes found themselves down by nine points in the second half to Fairfield. There was no panic or desperation in this young team. Yarde's layup with 27.7 seconds left gave Marist the win after the Red Foxes survived two shots in the final seconds by the Stags.

''We needed a game like this because we haven't had a close one in a while,'' Giorgis said.

Until Sunday, the Red Foxes hadn't had a team come within single digits in the new year. Their only losses came in the season opener to then-No. 14 St. John's and St. Bonaventure on Dec. 4. Since then, they've beaten Louisville, Nebraska and Houston.

''The depth on this team is what sets them apart from the past,'' said Julianne Viani, who played for Giorgis in both high school and college and now does radio for the Red Foxes. ''You can't just shut down one player and expect to beat them.''

Like most mid-major coaches, Giorgis has been bothered by the inability to get teams to come to Poughkeepsie to play. Sherri Coale brought Oklahoma to Marist last season and left with a hard-fought overtime victory. She came away amazed by the atmosphere at the arena, which seats only about 3,200 but gets quite loud and raucous.

''We don't want guarantees when we play on the road. We want our fans to see the bigger programs,'' Giorgis said. ''What's funny is we've never won one of them, as most of our big wins have been on neutral site courts.''

Marist's gym is going to get a $9 million addition with new locker rooms and offices soon.

''A lot of that is because of Brian's success,'' athletic director Tim Murray said. ''I think the job he's done and the awareness he's brought to our campus and community about women's basketball has forced the hand of us to do these things for him and his program. I knew we could be better and I knew we could draw some fans to the women's game, but would never have thought the reality of what he's brought to us.''

Murray rewarded Giorgis with a contract extension in December that will keep him at the school through 2017. Murray said other schools have shown interest in Giorgis, but he's happy there.

''Even when I tried to hire him from Lourdes (High School),'' he said, ''it wasn't until the nun over there said, 'Why don't you try it? If it doesn't work out, you'll have your job back,' that he was comfortable leaving to come here.''

Marist sure is happy he decided to give it a try.

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