No player currently on the roster for Fairfield’s women’s basketball team had ever known what it was like to defeat Marist, the team that has unequivocally dominated the MAAC Conference for the past decade.
The closest they had ever come was within two points, when this year’s senior class was just freshman back in 2011. Since then, Marist has beaten up on Fairfield, winning by as much as 37 on one occasion in addition to ending the Stags’ run the MAAC Tournament in 2012.
But this year, the Red Foxes seem to have fallen back to earth. After winning the regular season title every year since 2005, Marist now sits in second place in the MAAC standings after Fairfield upset the Red Foxes 72-68 in Poughkeepsie this past Saturday.
It was a balanced attack from the Stags, who had four players finish in double figures for scoring. Junior Felicia DaCruz recorded her first double-double while at Fairfield, finishing with 14 points and a career-high 11 assists. It was another quality performance from DaCruz, who has stepped up her game in her third season with the team, and now sits third in the MAAC in assists, averaging over five per game.
The game was tight throughout the first half, with Fairfield biggest lead coming with just over seven minutes to go when Casey Grace ’14 hit a layup to give the Stags the six-point advantage. Marist would call timeout immediately after, and would come back to take the lead going into halftime at 29-27.
The home team would build their lead to eight coming out of the break following a three-point play by Marist’s Emma O’Connor.
The teams would keep the game close for the next few minutes, with Fairfield never trailing by more than five points at any point during the second half.
With about 10 minutes remaining, Katie Cizynski ’14 hit a layup to give Fairfield the one-point lead, but the Red Foxes would answer right back with a basket of their own to retake the lead.
Fairfield would not see the lead again until just over four minutes remaining when DaCruz nailed a three-pointer, giving Fairfield a two point cushion. Marist would tie it up for the seventh and final time of the game a few seconds later, but back-to-back three-pointers by Alexys Vazquez ‘14 gave the Stags the lead for good with two and a half minutes remaining. Fairfield would seal the contest at the free throw line in the final minute, giving them their 10th conference win of the season.
Cizynski finished with 20 points and six rebounds, while Vazquez finished with 16 points on five of seven shooting, including going 4-6 from long range. Fellow senior Brittany Obi-Tabot also ended in double figures, scoring ten points and corralling six rebounds.
In addition to leading the way in scoring for the game, Cizynski’s 20-point effort allowed her to eclipse the 1,000 point plateau for her career, becoming the 27th player to accomplish that feat. She currently leads the team in scoring (15.8 ppg), rebounding (8.3 rpg), field goal percentage (50 percent), and free throw percentage (75 percent).
The accomplishment should not come as a surprise to anyone who has followed Cizynski throughout her career. She was a dominant player at Pomperaug High School, and after not playing much during her freshman season, Cizynski showed her budding talent as a sophomore. She learned from the tutelage of Taryn Johnson ’12 her first two seasons, and following Johnson’s graduation in 2012, Cizynski became the main offensive threat for the Stags, and has continued that role this season.
Fairfield now sits in third place in the MAAC Conference with a 10-4 conference record, 15-8 overall. Of their final six opponents for the regular season, only Rider has a winning record in MAAC play this season. After Thursday’s game against the Broncs, Fairfield’s opponents have a combined record of 19-51 in league play.
However, the final three games of the regular season are part of the Stags’ trip around upstate New York, when they go to play Siena, Canisius and Niagara all on the road.
The New York state trip is always tough on almost every team in the MAAC that isn’t from the Empire State. The long road trip wears out teams quickly, and by the third game on the swing, the road team can be showing many times of fatigue, so this is not a well timed trip for the Stags. However, if they are able to stay focused in those games and keep the energy up, they should walk away with at very least a third place finish. With a little luck on their side, this team may sneak away with a two-seed possibly.
If they can put away their upcoming opponents as they should, it certainly looks like Joe Frager’s bunch has the potential to gain some momentum heading into the MAAC Tournament later on in March.