This could have been the season when the dynasty was finally dethroned. The Stags had the chemistry, senior leadership, and talent to do something that no MAAC team had done in six years and that was win the MAAC championship over the Marist Red Foxes.
But there was one aspect that Marist had that was superior to Fairfield: experience. They put that experience to good use, defeating the Stags 61-35.
“They’ve got a lot of things working for them right now,” Coach Joe Frager said. “It’s not only a hurdle for us but also for eight other schools right now.”
From the start, it looked like the poise of the Red Foxes was going to outshine the Stags. Fairfield started off 3-19 from the field and found themselves down by 12.
“You get anxious, you want the next shot to go in,” senior Taryn Johnson said. The first-team All-MAAC selection was also named to the All-Tournament team. “I think maybe in the beginning we really wanted it and rushed some shots and missed some open shots.”
All season long, this squad believed in Frager’s emphasis of putting the group first. They won as a team and lost as a team (more winning than losing this year). Each player knew their exact role and tried to do what they could to help each other.
That’s why when Taryn Johnson, who was playing in her last MAAC conference game, went down with foul trouble, spectators could see that she was visibly upset on the bench. After picking up her second foul in the first half, she would sit for the next nine minutes and her team could not inch any closer.
“It felt longer,” she said. “[It was] very, very frustrating. I wanted to do what I could for my team. It’s hard to watch on the bench in any game, especially this one because it’s my last chance for a championship.”
Even though the Fairfield women’s basketball team is not where they want to be as of now, they are getting close. Including this season, they have three 20-win seasons in coach Frager’s five years and have been to two MAAC championship games (both times losing to Marist).
“I think we [the program] has made leaps and bounds over the last five years,” Frager said. “I couldn’t be any prouder of these kids.”
“That’s a great Fairfield team,” Marist head coach Brian Giorgis said. “Extremely well-coached [and a] great group of players.”
Although they still do not have that MAAC Championship trophy, the women’s basketball program has already seen some significant strides under Frager. The squad won their first-ever post-season game in 2010, and has clinched a spot in the WNIT this year for the first time since 2000. And Frager knows that when they find their next opponent, they will be ready to compete again.
“We’ve got more basketball left to be played,” he said. “We’re going to play another day. So, we’re going to take a few days off here, retool, and get ready to lace them up again.”
It’s hard for any team to compete with the likes of Marist, who have now won seven straight titles and eight in the last nine years.
They have also made national notice winning several games in the tournament, even moving to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament.
But Frager and the program still know that one day, the Fairfield Stags will achieve their ultimate goal.
“It’s where we want to be. It’s where we’re going to continue to strive to be and it’s eventually where we will be,” Frager said.
Maybe it starts next year.