With a 61-57 win over the No. 2 Iona Gaels, the women’s basketball team will advance to the MAAC Tournament finals for the first time since 2001. Fairfield will face the winner of the upcoming Marist-Niagara game at noon tomorrow.

Editor’s Note: Marist beat Niagara 69-47 in the semifinals to advance to the championship where the Red Foxes will face Fairfield.

“Obviously this was a huge win for us,” said Fairfield head coach Joe Frager. “I think the key was our ability to rebound. We had a 42-39 margin, which doesn’t seem like much, but when you play a team as big and athletic as Iona, it’s quite a feat.”

Sophomore Taryn Johnson led the Stags with 13 rebounds, including six on the offensive glass. Senior Stephanie Geehan was again a presence with eight boards along with a team-high 16 points.

“Me and my teammates are very excited,” said Geehan. “I think coach said it best in the locker room. A few weeks ago no one expected us to be here. We’re happy, but not too happy because we want one more tomorrow.”

A few weeks ago, Fairfield was coming off a loss to St. Peter’s that dropped the team 10-12 overall and 4-7 in the conference. Since the Stags have reeled off nine straight wins, including two in the tournament.

“I have to give a lot of credit to Fairfield,” said Iona head coach Anthony Bozzella. “Frager had the team at 4-7 and 10-12 overall and now they’ve won nine in a row. A lot of teams would have packed it in, but it’s a credit to him and his staff to get here.

“When you’re 4-7 you can pack it in very easily and they didn’t. It’s not easy when you’re going bad. It’s a lot harder when you’re 10-12 with only six girls.”

Before this season, Fairfield hadn’t beat Iona since 2005, but the Stags have won their past two games against the Gaels.

This win came down to the wire as no team led by more than six points all game and featured 10 ties. In the final minute, Fairfield missed some free throws, but grabbed the rebounds off the misses to hold onto the win.

“Obviously at that point you’re doing everything you can to keep people calm,” said Frager.

Fairfield hasn’t won the MAAC Tournament since 1998 and hasn’t made an appearance since 2001. The Stags will face the winner of the Marist-Niagara game later this afternoon. No. 1 Marist has won the past four MAAC Tournaments.

“It’ll be extremely difficult against either one,” said Frager. “Niagara maximizes what they have. They shoot the ball well and play well defensively and they have a lot of interchangeable parts. They present matchup problems offensively. Marist is the prohibitive favorite coming in. They’ve been here before and done it before.”

Fairfield went 1-1 against both Marist and Niagara in the regular season. Fairfield lost 52-49 at home to the Purple Eagles while winning 55-41 on the road. The Stags lost to Marist 70-63 on the road before winning 61-60 at home against the Red Foxes.

“Maybe internally because the girls know they can compete with them, but it’s a brand new season,” said Frager when asked if the regular season win against Marist gave his team more confidence heading into the finals.

The winner of the Tournament finals receives an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. The last time Fairfield made an appearance was in 2001 when the team received the school’s first ever at-large bid in any sport after the Stags lost in the MAAC Tournament finals.

Frager knows his team has a tough task ahead of it no matter who the Stags face in their third game in three days, but is grateful for the opportunity to extend the season.

“Either way, it’s going to be very difficult, but where else would you rather be than playing on Sunday?” he said.

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