Quinnipiac set to take on Iona in MAAC Championship

Tom Cunningham and Josh Silverman

Photo Courtesy: Quinnipiac Athletics
Photo Courtesy: Quinnipiac Athletics

ALBANY, N.Y. – When the Quinnipiac women’s basketball team takes the floor against the Iona Gales in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Championship, the team will have a preview of what life without senior captain Maria Napolitano will be like.

The Bobcats will take on the Gaels in a game to decide who will go dancing. Quinnipiac is looking for its second straight MAAC title while Iona is looking to knock of the defending champions. This game marks the third time in as many years Quinnipiac will play for a MAAC championship.

Quinnipiac and Iona have faced off twice this year, with Quinnipiac coming out victorious in both matchups. In the first game, Quinnipiac overcame a deficit to win by one at home. The Bobcats showed resiliency and tenacity, which was a theme for the team all season long. Taking down a perennial conference powerhouse was a huge boost for head coach Tricia Fabbri’s squad.

The second game was much like the first, with Quinnipiac overcoming an 11-point deficit, only to win by 16.

The third matchup of the season will be different, as Quinnipiac will be without its leader on and off the court in Napolitano. Napolitano is not only an important part of the team in the locker room, but also the team’s leading scorer and one of the best defenders in the MAAC.

After a collision with Monmouth’s Sarah Olson, Napolitano went down writhing in pain. She went to the locker room, but just minutes later attempted to come back into the game late in the second quarter, but lasted only a few seconds before she had to be helped off the court by two trainers.

The Bobcats were able to win the game, but they weren’t the same team. They had trouble figuring out a rotation that worked, and it didn’t help that Aryn McClure and Paula Strautmane picked up two fouls early.

Napolitano is the only senior with substantial playing time on the team that will be graduating after the season. The Bobcats are a relatively young team, with four of the five players in the starting lineup underclassman. They have fed off of Napolitano’s leadership and play, but now the team will have to play without her on-court presence in the biggest game of the season.

The Bobcats will get a preview of what life will be like without her when they to face No. 2 seed Gaels. Quinnipiac will have an early wakeup call going against first team selections Joy Adams and Marina Lizarazu. Both Adams and Lizarazu are dynamic scoring threats that can take over any game at any point. Lizarazu posted a game high 22 points in Iona’s semifinal victory over Marist.

Quinnipiac will have to find a new leader and someone who can match up against the other team’s best player on defense, and hit a clutch basket when the team needs to score.

Quinnipiac has plenty of leaders on the team capable to step right in and fill the void, but moving on from Napolitano won’t be easy. Players like Adily Martucci and Carly Fabbri are two players the Bobcats need to step up in Napolitano’s absence. Martucci, now the senior member on the court, will be relied on heavily in the championship.

Napolitano will still provide her much needed leadership against Iona, as she did in the second half against Monmouth. Every huddle, every timeout Napolitano will be there giving her teammates advice while also trying to ease their nerves.

Quinnipiac is looking to cut down the nets for the second straight season, while Iona is looking to capitalize off of a win against MAAC powerhouse, Marist. The two teams tip things off at 2:30 p.m. on ESPNU from the Times Union Center.