It is one of the most eagerly anticipated days on campus throughout the country, regardless of size or location of the school. It marks the end of the home season in most places plus the end of four years of hard work and sweat, highs and lows. Senior night is the day the coaches, administration and the fans say “thank you” for all that the players have given, on and off the court, to the school and community. The emotions are high on both sides, but what exactly are those involved feeling?
The Marist Red Foxes have been a dominant mid-major for the last several years. Last season began, however, with two losses in their first six games. They went on a tear though, winning twenty-two in a row heading into senior night. A win versus Fairfield that night would complete an undefeated conference season and secure the team’s place in school history.
With that as the background, let us begin our senior night story. The date is February 27, 2011, one year ago yesterday; the location is the McCann Center on the campus of Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York.
Erica Allenspach was the 2010-11 MAAC Player of the Year, the second Marist player to win the honor. A captain, she averaged 13.8 points, 4.7 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.8 steals per game while shooting MAAC bests .502 from the floor and .838 from the free-throw line while also hitting her three-pointers at a .414 clip. She finished her career ranked in the top ten in eight different statistical categories at Marist.
Maria Laterza did not have numbers and glory of Allenspach. Laterza was more of a role player, a strong post player, known for banging inside and doing the dirty work. The kind of player every team needs to have, and Laterza earned the role of captain with her determination and grit. Senior night was the only game all season that Laterza started.
Geoff Brault is in his fifth year as the play-by-play voice of the Marist women’s basketball team. A 2008 graduate of Marist, Brault has covered the Marist program long enough to see the success of the program develop and to also to see the women of the Marist basketball program grow from freshmen to seniors.
Allenspach: “One of the first things I did as a senior when the schedule came out was look at whom we were scheduled to play on senior night. Secretly I think every senior hopes to be playing a team they know they can beat with no problem so they can enjoy the moments of their last home game.
The few days leading up to the game my emotions were more of feeling sad, anxious and pressure. Sad because I knew my days of playing in front of one of the best crowds in college basketball were coming to an end, but also anxious because of how exciting it was playing in front of a huge crowd every home game. The pressure came from wanting to get a win not only because it was senior night but also because it would mean we went undefeated in our conference during the regular season.”
Laterza: “Not many know that when I first came to Marist playing in McCann made me a nervous wreck. I don’t know how I even made it through warm-ups freshman year. Playing in front of 2,000 or more a night can be intimidating! However, once I got over that hump playing in McCann became like going to church on a Sunday. My senior season I became known for being a spark off the bench, bringing in energy to our dynamics whenever my number was called. I thrived off of the energy of the crowd.”
Act One – The Ceremony
Brault: “The thing I’ll always remember about Senior Night 2011 is how loud it was. At Marist, as I assume it is at many other places, senior night is a chance for fans to pay their respects, and over 3,000 fans (of a 3,200 capacity) packed McCann for Elise Caron, Erica Allenspach and Maria Laterza, and with a low roof and 100 piece band, 3,000 can sound like 30,000.
You probably couldn’t find three different career paths among the honored – Elise came from [French-speaking] Canada, speaking literally zero English and developing into one of the best defensive players in the conference. Erica came from a highly-touted prep background, eating, sleeping, breathing basketball, trying to go out on top. And Maria was a fan favorite, vocal leader, pregame handshake maestro, and provider of delicious lasagna. But as much as senior night is supposed to be about recognizing a career, there was a sense that night that everything was premature. The pregame ceremony happened before the quest was complete, before another MAAC Tournament was won, before another NCAA advancement.”
Allenspach: “On the actual day of the game I felt excited and just wanted to get the senior introductions out of the way so we could play. It was an extra special day because it was my brother’s first trip to the McCann Arena so he was able to see the atmosphere that I played in for my four years. I was introduced with my parents and my brother and it was awesome to hear the fans cheer for them as well because of how much my family has done for me and supported me throughout my career. I was happy that the teammate that gave me my senior gift was Corielle Yarde because we were great friends and really had some great moments throughout our careers.’
Laterza: “The lights were on and from where I stood there didn’t seem to be an empty seat in the house. I knew I’d been here for a while when I felt I could recognize all 3,000 people in the stands. With Elise in front of me and Erica behind me, I stood between both my parents at the far end of The McCann Center waiting for the announcer to call us out. We had a “quest” of going undefeated in conference that season that would be completed if we beat Fairfield that night. That was our last night to play in the place that we knew as home and in front of the people who had taken our team into their hearts and made us family. I started hearing the loud roars and applause as soon as they called out Elise. I had about a minute before I was up next… its amazing all the things you’ll think about in a minute. There we were at the end and all I could think about was the beginning.
My mother nudged me out of my nostalgic moment just as they called out my name. I realized how blessed I was not only to have both my parents walk out with me but to have them come to every one of my games, even when they knew I might not play. So when they called my name to walk out to half court in front of 3,000 people that moment was for them, when they announced my name that night to make my first start of the season, yeah that was for me.”
Act Two – The Game
Marist defeated Fairfield 60-45, to complete the perfect conference season. Allenspach scored eleven points and had seven rebounds, Laterza had six points and four rebounds.
Laterza: “I won the jump ball and I remember scoring the first basket of the game and the place went wild. I’ll never forget the sound. We came ready to play that day like we came ready to play that season. Tremendous team effort led us to beat Fairfield and propelled us to a perfect conference season. QUEST FULFILLED. I walked off the court that night to a standing ovation and of course I began to cry. I went down the bench high fiving my coaches and hugging each of my teammates but getting the most emotional when I reached Erica, my fellow senior captain. We were roommates freshman year and I was always so proud of all the accomplishments she had at her career at Marist. I set the screen – you score, that’s what I always remember telling her. Her confidence in me on the court in a game or even at practice never wavered and it helped me get through some tough times. I don’t think she even realizes how much that meant to me.”
Allenspach: “Throughout the game it was like any other normal game until that final curtain call when Coach [Brian] Giorgis subbed all of the seniors out. Realization kind of hit then that we would never play in that arena again and I was extremely sad and almost confused because when you first enter college you never think it’s going to end.”
Brault: “That particular game against Fairfield was special because it was to complete an 18-0 conference record, or The Quest as the seniors named it. Elise, Erica and Maria had all been part of the first (and only) perfect season as freshmen, and as they said over and over, their goal was to finish what they started. It’s awfully rare for a Marist MAAC game to have singular significance, but because of the previous 17 victories, this one did, and it allowed the fans to be into the game from the beginning – signs, chants, the works. Like every memorable game in McCann, I remember the atmosphere.”
Brault: “I’m sure for the players, it was sad to be playing at Marist for the last time, but for everyone else, sadness wasn’t the theme of the day. It was a hero’s sendoff, a last chance to offer encouragement before the team set off across the country to try and give those same fans yet another reason to be proud. I have no idea if the lift from over 3,000 fans on senior night had anything to do with the amazing ride of the following three weeks, but I’m sure it didn’t hurt, and I’m thankful to have been apart of it.”
Allenspach: ” In the locker room after I felt extremely excited and proud that we had just won on senior night and went undefeated for the conference regular season, a goal we had made from the beginning. For me right after that excitement was back to being focused because of the conference tournament and not wanting to end my career in the WNIT and instead the NCAA tournament. It gives me the chills now to look back at senior night and our other home games to see how lucky we were as a program to play in front of a sold out crowd every night.”
Laterza: “Our quest was fulfilled that night and the there was immense joy in accomplishing what we set out to do. So many thought that after graduating our best player in program history [Rachel Fitz] that we would have a down year. We proved them wrong as we confidently made noise in March. On Senior Night the blood, sweat, and tears of four years passed before my eyes in forty minutes. I will never forget my teammates, my coaches, my parents coming to every game, and the constant outpouring of support from the Marist and Poughkeepsie community game in and game out. I truly believe the accumulation of all those things epitome of Senior Night and a moment I will hold dear to my heart forever.”
This year on Sunday, February 26, Marist (22-7, 17-1) won their last regular season game beating Loyola (MD) 67-60. Their only conference loss came on the road at Manhattan on February 4, 48-44.
Photos: Marist Athletics