Monday, March 18, 2013


CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: Sunday, March 17, 2013

#1) Quinnipiac 72 (30-2, 18-0), #4 Saint Francis 33 (17-15, 10-8) 

It was the perfect ending to a perfect conference season. The Quinnipiac Bobcats completed just the fifth undefeated conference campaign in Northeast Conference women’s basketball history by defeating the Saint Francis Red Flash 72-33 in the 2013 NEC Championship Game on Sunday night. The way the Bobcats won the championship game was not only the exclamation point on a ‘once in a lifetime’ type of special season, but was extremely fitting as well. Quinnipiac not just won the game, but dominated the game, by showcasing the exact same ways they’ve won games all season long, by excelling at the three D’s – defense, depth, and determination.
Quinnipiac spent the last four plus months delivering intense pressure and creating turnovers. Their defense allowed only 57.7 points per game this season, nearly four and a half points shaved off of their average from last year. Their turnover margin is among the best in the country and their ability to make other teams pay by scoring off of turnovers at such a high rate was incredible. Quinnipiac’s pressure and pace defensively has been the difference all season long and on Championship Sunday, they took it to another level. In this championship game, Felicia Barron shut down the Red Flash backcourt the same way an elite cornerback can shut down a star wide receiver in the NFL. Alli Williams was forced to bring the ball up the floor several times because they couldn’t get the ball to their guards in the backcourt. Then once SFU got into their halfcourt offense, Camryn Warner and Sam Guestella did a fantastic job defending the first team all-conference performer.  Williams touches were extremely limited in the first half, as she only put up 4 shots, and missed them all. Williams, the second leading scorer in the NEC at over 17 points per game, would end up getting shut out on the scoreboard in the first half. After scoring 46 points in the first half of their semifinal against Sacred Heart, the Red Flash found themselves trailing at intermission 32-15. SFU shot 6 for 27 from the floor and 2 for 14 from three through the first 20 minutes.

At the start of the title tilt, Saint Francis knocked in a three by Alexa Heyward only 41 seconds into the game to grab a 3-2 SFU edge…the Red Flash wouldn’t score another point for the next eight minutes. The Bobcats took a 3-2 deficit and stretched it to an 11-3 lead off of a 9-0 run that spanned 8:02. After the Red Flash made the next two baskets, one of only two occasions all game they would score four consecutive points, the Bobcats would extend their lead to 21-8 on a 10-1 run that spanned nearly four more minutes. QU being so active and alert, and contesting everything, didn’t do the Red Flash any favors in trying to get on the scoreboard. SFU would go on to shoot only 23.6% from the floor for the game. They would also turn the ball over 20 times on the night, leading to 26 Bobcat points.

Quinnipiac’s first half wasn’t without a minor flaw or two. There were several missed opportunities off of offensive rebounds and missed layups. Jasmine Martin also picked up her second foul with only three minutes gone by in the game. When Martin went to the stationary bike for the remainder of the half, that’s when the second D ‘depth’ came into play. Lisa Lebak stepped in and knocked down a couple of threes, along with piling up rebounds and assists. Sam Guastella picked up right where she left off in the closing minutes of Wednesday’s semifinal, making some great hustle plays, to the tune of 5 points, 2 rebounds, 2 steals, and a block in the first half. Not to mention, it was Guastella who drew Alli Williams defensively when the Gold Rush came on. She would do a phenomenal job, holding her own, and keeping the Red Flash junior in check. Nikoline Ostergaard also played 11 first half minutes, and was all over the floor. She would make the most of her extended playing time with Martin on the bench. When all was said and done, the Quinnipiac ‘Gold Rush’ tallied 31 points, 23 rebounds, 10 assists, 7 steals, and 3 blocks for the evening. The 31 points would end up being just two shy of the entire Saint Francis team.

The second half wouldn’t get any better for SFU, as the Red Flash came out and turned the ball over on their first possession, leading to a fastbreak lead pass from Barron, up head to Brittany McQuain, for the easy layup. After a McQuain free throw, she would net another basket on a terrific fade pass into the lane by Abshire. She lobbed it up for McQuain, who went upstairs and brought it down with some terrific hands. McQuain was led perfectly to the basket, extending the QU advantage to 37-15.

Quinnipiac’s knockout run would come at the 17:15 mark following a Kelley Doogan jumper to cut the defect to 20. Over nearly the next nine minutes, the Bobcats would go on a blistering 18-0 run, extending their lead to a whopping 38 points. The Bobcat lead would grow to as many as 40 points in the second half, with players on both sides looking up at the scoreboard in disbelief. Alli Williams wouldn’t net her first points of the championship game until there were about two minutes remaining. After a pair of Ellen Cannon free throws, which ensured that all 11 QU players who entered the game for the Bobcats reached the scoring column, Coach Tricia Fabbri summoned seniors Felicia Barron and Lisa Lebak to the bench, but not before a long embrace to the tune of a thunderous standing ovation. The final seconds would tick off the clock, and the journey would become complete, Coach Fabbri and her special group of Bobcats would finally have their hard earned, and long awaited tournament title.
Quinnipiac’s 72-33 victory was historic on several fronts. The Bobcats have won 30 games this year (a NEC single year record), including their last 22 in a row. Having gone 21-0 against conference foes, the Bobcats join the 1987 Monmouth Hawks, 1994 Mount St. Mary’s Mountaineers, the 2004 Saint Francis Red Flash, and the 2009 Sacred Heart Pioneers, as the only teams to have run the table and win the championship in the Northeast Conference. The 39 point margin of victory was the largest in not just Championship Game history, but NEC playoff history as well. The 33 points they allowed now stand as the fewest ever allowed in a NEC playoff game (the Bobcats had previously scored the fewest points in playoff history when they only recorded 36 in the 2011 quarterfinals against the Monmouth Hawks). Quinnipiac will now represent the NEC in the upcoming 2013 NCAA Tournament.

Brittany McQuain was dominant inside, controlling the glass and going upstairs to bring down anything her teammates lobbed up to her. McQuain was honored as the 2013 NEC tournament MVP with 14 points and 7 rebounds in the final. The junior forward averaged a double-double, 11.7 points and 10.3 rebounds, through all three tournament games.

Now we get to the determination part. This year’s Quinnipiac were a true team in every sense of the word. A talented group of young ladies, who came together, worked hard, were selfless, and were committed to each other and to their common goal. Ever since the Bobcats were upset in last year’s semifinal, no team has been more determined to win a championship than this one. 

Some of the quotes from the newly crowned champions:
“We talked about this at the beginning of the year, saying that we want to go undefeated in the conference and that we wanted to win a championship. We achieved it all and we did it together, it’s such an amazing feeling” – Sam Guastella

“It didn’t seem real...I’m so proud of my team, we all came in together and did what we had to do, and now we’re champions” – Jasmine Martin

“It’s such an amazing feeling. I’ve never won something like this in my life. I’m just so happy for my teammates and this program and to go to the big dance!” – Camryn Warner

“Those last few seconds as the clock was winding down there were so many emotions…We’ve really progressed as a team and it’s such a great feeling to see all of our hard work pay off” – Lisa Lebak  

“This is everything we’ve dreamed of for the past year, and to win it and finally bring it home is absolutely amazing…All these girls on my team, they have a fire and a passion that you don’t find in every team, and because we have that, I think that’s what makes us so strong” – Brittany McQuain

“We have such an unselfish group of young ladies who really want to win. It wasn’t about themselves, it was about the team, and it was about the team being focused on one thing and one thing only – and that was getting to today and winning today. I’ve coached and I’ve had a lot of great teams and a ton of great players, but I’ve never been in a locker room with a team that is as committed to a team achieving its best. Everyone has contributed to a win this year, and that’s the beauty of it, it’s truly been a team effort.” – Tricia Fabbri

Coming out of the 2013 championship there are really two big things that stand out. First, I can’t write enough about how happy I am for Tricia Fabbri. After 18 years with the program, and 15 years coaching in the Northeast Conference, she was finally able to have her championship moment. Quinnipiac has had a lot of great players and teams come through the door, but had also suffered through a lot of tough breaks once NEC tournament time came around. I’ve covered NEC women’s basketball for 10 years, and I’ve sat in a bunch of Quinnipiac postgame tournament press conferences where things weren’t exactly all roses and rainbows. But after this long road to see her finally get to embrace players, coaches, friends, and family at center court with the confetti raining down, to see her at the top of the ladder snipping off the last pieces of the net, and to see her get those well-deserved championship moments with her team, was real special to see.

The final thing to take away from the 2013 NEC Championship Game is that we just got to witness this special Quinnipiac team cap off their long journey together with such an emphatic exclamation point. The numbers: winning 30 games, winning every conference game this year by an average margin of victory of 17 points, and only having one NEC game be decided by less than three possessions, all speak for themselves. But to watch this team play, the way everybody contributes, the way they play on defense, all of the hustle plays that they make, really make this team stand out as a special, once in a lifetime, type of group. It’s once in a lifetime because even though many players will be coming back, and they’ll still be extremely competitive down the road, this particular team, with this particular collection of players, trying to complete a goal for the first time, will never quite be exactly the same like this again.

As far as their place in history, I really hope that this team is still remembered 10-15 years down the road. It’s almost like they’re kind of caught in between a rock and a hard place because they will be starting over with a fresh new history in a new league beginning next year. Because they will no longer be in the NEC 10-15 years from now, you would think there would be no reason for the NEC to remember this group in the future unless another team comes along trying to go undefeated. I hope that is not the case. I hope 10-15 years from now people in the NEC, the MAAC, or wherever, remember the 2013 Quinnipiac Bobcats for exactly what they were…an extremely special team, and quite possibly the best women’s basketball team to ever take the court in the Northeast Conference.


1. Brittany McQuain, QU – 14 points, 7 rebounds, 21minutes

2. The Gold Rush, QU – 31 points, 23 rebounds, 10 assists, 7 steals

3. (tie) Felicia Barron, Camryn Warner, Boo Abshire, QU

Saturday, March 16, 2013

2013 NEC WBB Tournament: Final Preview

CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: Sunday, March 17, 2013

#4) Saint Francis Red Flash (17-14, 10-8) at
#1) Quinnipiac Bobcats (29-2, 18-0)

Game Info: TD Bank Sports Center, Hamden, CT

All-Time Series: SFU leads 17-10

2013 Regular Season Results: 1/21: QU 81-69 in Loretto, PA…2/16: QU 61-50 in Hamden, CT

Playoff History: SFU leads 2-0…SFU won 69-62 in 2004 SF and 65-48 in 2005 SF


-14th NEC Tournament appearance (13th straight)
-9-13 all-time NEC playoff record
-2nd NEC Championship Game appearance (0-1 record) – 2006 at SHU, L 69-65
-0 NEC Tournament championships – 1 of 4 NEC teams to never win a title
-2008 & 2013 NEC Regular season champions
-3-2 in NEC playoff games at TD Bank Sports Center
-Home teams (not including ‘neutral site’ games) are 15-6 in the championship round
-#1 seeds are 15-5 in the finals. #1 seeds have won the title 13 of the last 19 years
-4 teams have finished unbeaten vs. NEC & won the title (‘87 MU, ‘94 MSM, ‘04 SFU, ‘09 SHU)

#4) ST. FRANCIS RED FLASH (17-14, 10-8)
-19th NEC Tournament appearance
-41-7 all-time NEC playoff record
-15th NEC Championship Game appearances (11-3 record)
-11 NEC Tournament titles: 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2010, 2011
-SFU has won a league record 11 titles while the other 11 NEC schools have 15 combined
-SFU is the last road team to win the NEC Championship, in 2010 at LIU Brooklyn
-Have won 37 out of the last 39 playoff games
-#4 seed has won the NEC Tournament just once, Robert Morris in 1991


Scoring Offense: QU (1st – 71.1), SFU (2nd – 65.9)
Scoring Defense: QU (2nd – 57.7), SFU (11th – 68.1)

Field Goal %: QU (1st - .401), SFU (7th - .379)
Field Goal % Defense: QU (2nd - .363), SFU (11th - .407)
3 point Field Goal %: QU (1st - .355), SFU (7th - .303)


G – Gillian Abshire, QU (5.3pts, 4.2reb, 4.9a)…Nickia Gibbs, SFU (10.3pts, 3.8reb, 2.7a)
G – Felicia Barron, QU (13.6pts, 2.8reb, 2.8a)…Alexa Heyward, SFU (8.0pts, 1.9reb)
G – Jasmine Martin, QU (13.3pts, 3.4reb, 1.4a)…Rebecca Sparks, SFU (3.6pts, 1.8a)
F – Brittany McQuain, QU (11.3pts, 8.4reb, 1.5a)… Shene Fleming, SFU (6.5pts, 6.5reb)
F – Camryn Warner, QU (7.0pts, 4.4reb, 1.2a)…Alli Williams, SFU (17.7pts, 10.8reb, 2.4a)


QU: Tricia Fabbri (18th season: 273-242)
SFU: Joe Haigh (1st season: 17-14)


Five months ago the 12 Northeast Conference women’s basketball programs opened up their preseason full of aspirations, high hopes, and optimism. The ensuing four month long college basketball regular season would trim the field down to eight. The NEC Tournament would then cut the field down to four, and then eventually to the final two. By the time we put our heads to the pillow on Sunday night we will be left with just one…one team left standing, one team headed to the NCAA tournament, and one champion.

The Quinnipiac Bobcats road to the championship has been a dominant one. They became the sixth team to run the table in the NEC regular season, winning conference games by a margin of about 17 points, and only being in a game decided by less than three possessions just once. Their single goal has always been March 17th, the date of the NEC Championship Game. Now March 17th is finally here. As players told me today during NEC Front Row interviews, coming all the way with this team and getting this far only to falter is not an option. Quinnipiac’s only two losses this year were to Georgia Tech, who defeated Sacred Heart in last year’s NCAA Tournament, and Jenn Rizzotti’s Hartford team. The Bobcats have not tasted defeat since the December 16th contest against the Hawks.

From the time when the team traveled overseas to Italy, on a 10 day basketball tour over the summer, Coach Tricia Fabbri tinkered with the idea of playing everybody and giving the entire roster a chance to contribute. Bringing back all put two players from last year’s roster, their depth has been such a major factor and decisive advantage for just about every game this season. So much attention is given to their starting five of Abshire, Barron, McQuain, Warner, and Martin but it’s their “Gold Rush’s” effectiveness and ability to slide right in without the team missing a beat that allows them to do what they do. Lisa Lebak is a rock solid, veteran point guard who can bring the ball up quick, distribute, and shoot. Sam Guastella, who has found her rhythm since missing 12 games due to injury, made some of the biggest plays in the final minutes of the semifinal against Mount St. Mary’s. Her blocked shot and offensive rebound on a missed free throw were crucial to sealing the win for her team. Ellen Cannon, Katie Carroll, and Nikoline Ostergaard are all valuable pieces who could be starting on many other teams, but play their current role to perfection on this Quinnipiac squad.

The Bobcats won both regular season meetings against the Red Flash this year. In their first game out in Loretto, the Bobcats defensive pressure was relentless, forcing 31 turnovers off of 20 steals. Felicia Barron poured in a career high 28 points with seven steals to lead QU to their first win in Loretto since 2007-08. In the rematch, the Bobcats struggled shooting in the first half (28.6% and 0 for 10 from behind the arc) and fell behind by five at the break. This was one of only seven games this year that QU trailed at the half. Down by six with 10:58 remaining, the Bobcats would go on a 15-0 run, grabbing a nine point lead that they wouldn’t give up. Barron once again paced the squad with 18 points. The Red Flash were held to just 29% shooting from the floor for the game.

On the other side, the Saint Francis Red Flash underwent a roller coaster road to get themselves back into the final for the 15th time in the last 20 years. All was well at the halfway point of the season as the Red Flash stood at 7-2 in league play and were all alone in second place in the NEC standings. Coach Joe Haigh commented in our sit down interview for Sunday’s NEC Front Row Live pregame show that the team had some chemistry issues that served as a major speedbump. The team lost former NEC Tournament MVP Brittany Lilley as well, leading to a 3-6 finish over the final nine conference games. One major issue was the inconsistency of the offense. First team all-NEC performer Alli Williams would get her points, but the team’s search for a secondary scorer would prove to be the difference between wins or losses. For example, Kelly Doogan would net 35 points against FDU, but hasn’t recorded more than six points in the four games since. Freshman Rebecca Sparks scored 27 points in the semifinal against Sacred Heart, but it was only the third game this year she’s finished in double figures scoring. Alexa Heyward drained 28 points with seven three’s on January 28th against Robert Morris, but has only two double digit scoring games since, neither game recording more than 11 points. The point is, Alli Williams should get her points on Sunday, but SFU’s ability to find a complimentary scoring option will be one of their big keys in the final.

The Red Flash did manage to turn their season around before it was too late. With the team trailing in the final minute of their quarterfinal game against CCSU (a team that had just beat them in the regular season finale a few days earlier), Alli Williams would score the game winning layup in the final 30 seconds and then net two more free throws to seal the win. In the semifinals against Sacred Heart, the team got out to an incredible start that surprised even themselves. After getting blown out in two head to head meetings against Sacred Herat by more than 20 points each, and only averaging 53 points for the entire games, SFU recorded 46 points in the first half and led by 20. Their impressive win would be their first at the Pitt Center over the Pioneers since the 2005 season. The team has plenty of confidence that they are coming together right now at exactly the right time, and that on Sunday, anything can happen.


SCHOOL                    TITLES       LAST
Saint Francis              11        2011

Robert Morris              4         2008
Mount St. Mary’s         3         1995
Sacred Heart              3         2012
Fairleigh Dickinson     2         1992
LIU Brooklyn               1         2001
Monmouth                   1         1987
Wagner                       1         1989   
Bryant                         0         -------
Central Connecticut    0         -------
Quinnipiac                  0         -------
St. Francis Brooklyn   0         -------


2012 -- #1 Sacred Heart def. #3 Monmouth, 58-48 (Ericka Norman, SHU)
2011 -- #1 Saint Francis def. #2 Monmouth, 72-57 (Brittany Lilley, SFU)
2010 -- #5 Saint Francis def. #2 LIU Brooklyn, 77-68 (Britney Hodges, SFU)
2009 -- #1 Sacred Heart def. #3 Saint Francis, 74-66 (Kaitlin Sowinski, SHU)
2008 -- #2 Robert Morris def. #4 LIU Brooklyn, 86-75 (Chinata Nesbit, RMU)
2007 -- #2 Robert Morris def. #3 Sacred Heart, 68-66 (Chinata Nesbit, RMU)
2006 -- #1 Sacred Heart def. #2 Quinnipiac, 69-65 (Amanda Pape, SHU)
2005 -- #1 Saint Francis def. #3 Robert Morris, 65-50 (Beth Swink, SFU)
2004 -- #1 Saint Francis def. #3 Monmouth, 70-55 (Tonjee Ward, SFU)
2003 -- #1 Saint Francis def. #7 UMBC, 58-41 (Beth Swink, SFU)
2002 -- #1 Saint Francis def. #2 LIU Brooklyn, 74-54 (Karen Hewitt, SFU)
2001 -- #3 LIU Brooklyn def. #1 Mount St. Mary’s, 70-61 (Tamika Dudley, LIU)
2000 -- #1 Saint Francis def. #6 Wagner, 74-60 (Jess Zinobile, SFU)
1999 -- #2 Saint Francis def. #4 Monmouth, 88-76 (Jess Zinobile, SFU)
1998 -- #1 Saint Francis def. #3 Wagner, 74-49 (Mary Markey, SFU)
1997 -- #1 Saint Francis def. #2 Monmouth, 69-56 (Jess Zinobile, SFU)
1996 -- #2 Saint Francis def. #1 Mount St. Mary’s, 83-75 (Mary Markey, SFU)
1995 -- #1 Mount St. Mary’s def. #2 Saint Francis, 80-61 (Nikki Schroyer, SFU)
1994 -- #1 Mount St. Mary’s def. #2 Saint Francis, 78-67 (Susie Rowlyk, MSM)
1993 -- #2 Mount St. Mary’s def. #4 Marist, 82-61 (Diana Matula, MSM)
1992 -- #2 Fairleigh Dickinson def. #1 Mount St. Mary’s, 78-55 (Barbara DeShields, FDU)
1991 -- #4 Robert Morris def. #6 Wagner, 69-61 (Maebeth Schalles, RMU)
1990 -- #3 Fairleigh Dickinson def. #1 Mount St. Mary’s, 70-65 (Cathy Panos, FDU)
1989 -- #1 Wagner def. #2 Robert Morris, 66-60 (Cynthia Quinlan, WC)
1988 -- #2 Robert Morris def. #1 Monmouth, 63-60 (JoAnn Beatty, RMU)
1987 -- #1 Monmouth def. #3 Fairleigh Dickinson, 92-65 (Linda Wilson, MU)


Thursday: Semifinal recap/highlights & Championship Game quick glance

Friday: Top 10 Championship Game Storylines

Saturday: Full Championship Game Preview

Sunday: Post Game Recap

*The Championship Game will be on Sunday at 5pm on ESPNU. We’ll have exclusive pregame coverage on NEC FRONT ROW LIVE presented by Pilot Pen, with myself and former Seton Hall women’s basketball head coach Phyllis Mangina hosting from our set inside the TD Bank Sports Center, starting at 4pm on NEC Front Row. Once the game goes final, we’ll then be back on the air for all of the postgame reaction and celebration on another edition of FRONT ROW LIVE.

Here is a little preview of what we have coming up on Sunday’s NEC FRONT ROW LIVE pregame show:

-Interviews with head coaches Tricia Fabbri and Joe Haigh. Questions include: How does this year’s QU team match up with the last two NEC unbeatens (2004 SFU and 2009 SHU)? & What was the cause of SFU’s midseason stumble and how did they come out of it?

-Both coaches were mike’d up for Saturday’s practice. On the pregame show we’ll give you an All-Access inside look at the final preparations for both teams leading into Championship Sunday.

-Interviews with QU’s Jasmine Martin and SFU’s Alli Williams. Questions include: What has it been like on this journey with this team towards history? & Do you think you had a Player of the Year season?

-Road to the Championship: Highlights of how each team made it to Championship Sunday

-Commissioner Noreen Morris live on set

-“What would it mean to win the NEC Championship?” video featuring comments from Sam Guastella, Lisa Lebak, Boo Abshire, Nickia Gibbs, Shene Fleming, and Kelley Doogan.

-Plus keys to the game, starting lineups, and predictions

Then don’t forget to tune back in to NEC FRONT ROW LIVE following the NEC Championship Game for the postgame show. The postgame will feature: stats, highlights, analysis, postgame press conferences, the all-tournament team announcement and presentation of the championship trophy, plus the winning coach and tournament MVP live on set!

Friday, March 15, 2013

CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: Sunday, March 17, 2013


On Sunday afternoon in Hamden, CT the top seeded Quinnipiac Bobcats will host the Saint Francis Red Flash in a game to decide the 2013 NEC Women’s Basketball championship and the league’s automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. This year’s final has no shortage of intriguing storylines, so I thought it would be a great idea to devote an entire article to them. So as the annual conference title tilt draws near, here are (in no particular order) my 10 top storylines for Championship Sunday in the Northeast Conference…

1. Last Chance to Dance in the NEC

On Sunday the Quinnipiac Bobcats will play their 295th conference game (regular season and playoffs combined) since joining the Northeast Conference in the 1998-99 season. Their 295th conference game will also be their last, as Quinnipiac University announced back in the fall that they will be leaving the NEC starting in July. In 15 seasons with the conference, the Bobcats have recorded a 184-110 record against league foes, have had numerous all-conference performers and individual award winners on their roster, and have collected a pair of regular season titles. The one thing that has always eluded them has been the tournament championship and the automatic NCAA bid that goes with it. While the Bobcats should still be an annual contender in their new league, they will only get one more shot to complete a 15 year goal…win the Northeast Conference. The fact and the finality that there is no ‘next year’ for the Bobcats in the NEC, either way, looms large over this game. Should they win, it would be a perfect storybook ending to their program’s NEC chapter: for a team to be chasing a single goal for a decade and a half, only to put together one of the most special, complete teams in league annals, and finally grab the glory at the end. They would be able to ride off into the sunset (or in this case, their new league), never having to defend their title, forever as champions. However if they don’t win, unlike the other Bobcat tournament letdowns from years past (which we’ll get to), there will be no going back, no second chances, and no opportunity to come back next year and try again. It will truly be ‘now or never’ for the Bobcats when they take the floor on Sunday.

2. Mystique & Aura Appearing Nightly in Loretto

Standing in the Bobcats way will the team with the most impressive postseason resume in the Northeast Conference, the Saint Francis Red Flash. The program is so rich in history and tradition, with a fantastic fan base that has come to expect championship trophies on an annual basis. Some of the numbers that the Red Flash have compiled over the years in the NEC Tournament are unbelievable. Consider the following:

*SFU has won a record 11 tournament titles, the other 11 NEC teams have combined to win 15. The next closest individual team is Robert Morris who has won 4 titles.

*The program will be playing in their 15th championship game, and fourth in five years

*At the championship game stage, the Red Flash are 11-3, having lost only three times: in their first two appearances in 1994 and 1995, and to the Sacred Heart Pioneers in 2009

*The Red Flash have been to two of the last three and 11 of the last 17 NCAA Tournaments

*Saint Francis’ all time playoff record is 41-7, SFU has won 37 of their last 39 tournament games

*From 1996 to 2009 the Red Flash appeared in 10 of the 14 tournaments without losing a game until the 2009 final to Sacred Heart

*Saint Francis still has six players on their roster from the 2011 championship team. Since the NEC started awarding an automatic NCAA tournament berth to their league champion in 1994, the Red Flash have not had a class come in that has not appeared in at least one NEC Championship Game during a four year career with the team. Since 1994, they have only had one class that never went to the NCAA Tournament.

3. Welcome to Perfectville: Population 4 - Soon to Be 5?

The Quinnipiac Bobcats will be playing for history on Sunday, looking to become just the fifth team in league history to run the table through the conference’s regular season and then go on to win the tournament title. QU went a perfect 18-0 during the regular season and is 2-0 so far in the postseason vs. the NEC. They are winning conference games by an average margin of victory of about 17 points, and only had one conference game be decided by less than three possessions. Quinnipiac can join the 1987 Monmouth Hawks, the 1994 Mount St. Mary’s Mountaineers, the 2004 St. Francis Red Flash, and the 2009 Sacred Heart Pioneers as those who have completed the ‘perfect’ NEC season. In 1988, the Monmouth Hawks went unbeaten during the regular season, only to lose the championship game, at home, to Robert Morris.

4. So Close, But Yet So Far

Tricia Fabbri has had some fantastic teams over the years at Quinnipiac, and has had some incredible players (such as Erin Kerner, Monique Lee, Brianna Rooney, and Ashlee Kelly) come through the program as well. However, as I referenced during my semifinal broadcast on Wednesday night, strange things have happened to Quinnipiac when these great players and teams get to the NEC Tournament. Historically they have run into a bunch of bad breaks over the years that had limited them to just one championship game appearance prior to this season:

2001 – 16 win season, 2nd place finish – lost in OT to LIU 80-74 in the semis…Quinnipiac blew a 16 point first half lead. Ashlee Kelly went down with an elbow injury late in regulation and did not return. The Blackbirds would go on to win the NEC Championship.

2003 – 18 win season, 2nd place finish – lost to UMBC 66-47 in the quarters…The only instance where a seven seed upset a two seed in NEC Tournament history. Again, QU opened up an early lead, and led at halftime, but was outscored 40-20 in the second half.

2004 – 18 win season, 3rd place finish – lost to SFU 69-62 in the semis…This ‘bad break’ was really no fault of their own, is was just that QU had the misfortune of running into one of the best teams in NEC history in the semifinals, the undefeated, in conference, Red Flash. In one of the tournament’s most memorable head-to-head battles, QU’s Ashlee Kelly (20 points and 26 rebounds) actually outdueled SFU’s Beth Swink (22 points, 7 rebounds), but Tonjee Ward was the difference maker for SFU in the win.

2006 – 22 win season, 2nd place finish – lost to SHU 69-65 in the final…According to legend, Quinnipiac (in their lone championship game appearance) made a comment in the newspaper the morning of the game saying that they couldn’t wait to cut down SHU’s nets. Pioneer head coach Ed Swanson brought that quote to his team’s attention prior to the game. NEC Player of the Year Amanda Pape was so fired up, according to her coach, “You couldn’t believe the things that came out of Amanda’s mouth…After she addressed the team, I walked away knowing that we were going to win.” Pape recorded 25 points, 14 rebounds, and took home Tournament MVP honors in the Pioneer four point win over the Bobcats.

2007 – 16 win season, 4th place finish – lost to MU 63-58 in the quarters…Down 61-58 with 5.8 seconds left MU’s Jennifer Bender missed a free throw, but would get her own offensive rebound to deny Quinnipiac a chance to tie the game. Bender would get fouled and sink two more free throws to seal the win. This was the first playoff game at the TD Bank Sports Center.

2008 – 25 win season, 1st place finish – lost to LIU 67-63 in the semis…This was perhaps the most unfair break of them all, as the Bobcats won 25 games and the regular season title, but instead of home court advantage, they were forced to play LIU at a ‘natural site’ (which in this year just so happened to be the Blackbirds own home gym in Brooklyn). Erin Kerner’s amazing 37 point game would go for naught, as the Bobcats would fall just short and be forced to settle for the WNIT.

2009 – 18 win season, 4th place finish – lost to MU 69-67 in the quarters…Looking to drive to the basket and tie the game in the final seconds, QU’s all-time leading D1 scorer, Erin Kerner, had the ball stolen away from her grasp as time expired.  

2011 – 14 win season, 7th place finish – lost to MU 55-36 in the quarters…In an absolutely tragic situation that was far more serious than any type of game that would be played, Bobcat senior Courtney Kaminski’s father passed away the day before the game in a car accident. Kaminiski would return home to be with her family. The game would proceed as scheduled, with an obviously heavy-hearted Bobcats squad setting an all-time tournament low with just 36 points.

2012 – 22 win season, 2nd place finish – lost to MU 69-66 in the semis…Quinnipiac uncharacteristically turned the ball over 14 times in the first half leading to an early MU edge. The Bobcats managed to fight back and take the lead 60-56  with five minutes to go, but Monmouth used an 8-0 run to go up for good. Felicia Barron missed a three at the buzzer that would have sent the game into overtime.

5. MVP Debate

Robert Morris’ Artemis Spanou took home the 2013 NEC Player of the Year award, as voted by the league’s coaches. Spanou led the conference in minutes and points, while leading the entire country in rebounding and double-doubles. No doubt she had a spectacular season and is a fantastic player. However with the Colonials failing to make the playoffs (becoming the first league MVP to not play in that year’s postseason) her status as ‘valuable’ could be argued, especially by both Quinnipiac and Saint Francis.

You would think that if Spanou wasn’t on Robert Morris this year, her team still wouldn’t have made the playoffs, so despite her numbers and her leading national categories, exactly how much ‘value’ did she really add? Quinnipiac’s Felicia Barron certainly had a case for Player of the Year, as since 2009 it’s been basically a ‘Best Player on the Best Team’ award. Some will say that she sacrificed minutes and stats for the team concept of playing everybody. But there is something definitely impressive about for putting up the numbers that she has, being a factor on both sides of the floor, and doing it all in 10 less minutes than all the other potential candidates.

In the interest of full disclosure, my Player of the Year was Alli Williams. First, if you take Barron off of QU they still have a pretty great team, but if you take Williams off of this SFU team right now, they are probably not anywhere close to the final. Second, she can beat you in so many different ways. If you try and double her inside she can find the open teammate (she averages 2.4 assists per game), or even come outside the paint and knock down a three of her own (she’s a 35.5% three point shooter). She can dominate inside, averaging a double-double on the season (17.7 points and 10.8 rebounds), and is a force on the defensive end (finishing second in the NEC with 116 steals). In two tournament games so far, Williams is averaging 21.5 points and 11 rebounds. Having pretty much already sewed up a spot on the all-tournament team, should the Red Flash win the title on Sunday, Alli Williams may very well find that she made up for the Player of the Year snub by walking away with NEC Tournament MVP honors.

6. Meet the New Boss

After serving four years as an assistant at Saint Francis under Susan Robinson Fruchtl, Joe Haigh was named the program’s seventh head coach (and first male head coach) back in April when Fruchtl left for Providence. Haigh could become the first rookie head coach to cut down the nets since SFU’s Jill Poe in 2004. Haigh is the third Red Flash head coach to lead the program to the finals in their first season, joining Poe and Myndi Hill.

7. Big Weekend Ahead

The women’s basketball program is only part of a huge weekend for the Quinnipiac community. The #1 ranked men’s hockey team will host Cornell in an ECAC best two-out-of-three playoff series at the TD Bank Sports Center from Friday through Sunday. If there is a game three, it would be played at 7:30 on Sunday, about a half hour after the women’s final ends. In addition, Coach Fabbri’s daughter Carly is a junior guard on the Laurelton Hall girls’ basketball team in Connecticut. The Crusaders are the #2 seed the in Class LL state tournament and will play their championship game on Saturday night at the Mohegan Sun against #1 Mercy. Mercy handed Laurelton Hall their only loss of the season. Carly had been the Bobcats ‘hydration specialist’ since she was 7 years old, and now she will have the opportunity to be the first of the possible two Fabbri women to win championships this weekend.

8. Lighting up the Scoreboard

Sunday’s championship game features the top two scoring offenses in the Northeast Conference. The Quinnipiac Bobcats pace the league, scoring an average of 71.1 points per night, while the Saint Francis Red Flash bring in 65.9 points per game. The key will lie in the defenses. The Bobcats pressure the basketball better than any team in the NEC. Their turnover margin is second best in the nation and they are top ten in the country in steals. In their two regular season meetings QU forced 31 turnovers in Loretto and 18 turnovers in the rematch in Hamden. Saint Francis has been known to light up the scoreboard, but their attack has been inconsistent. In a home game in early February they scored 83 points, shooting nearly 40% and dropping in 10 threes for the game. The next time out they were held to 53 points, shooting 3 for 23 from three, in a loss to rival Robert Morris. It started a three game skid where the Flash didn’t record more than 56 points.

On February 25th, Saint Francis reached the century mark against FDU, with Kelly Doogan lighting things up from downtown, finishing with 35 points and eight three pointers. That outing was followed up by an ugly 79-54 loss at Bryant where the team only recorded 15 first half points and shot just 28% for the game. SFU will enter Sunday’s final coming off another strong showing: 83 points against Sacred Heart, the top scoring defense in the NEC. The question is can they build off of their semifinal showing or will they once again struggle coming off of a strong offensive night? The Quinnipiac defense will certainly attempt to do their part in creating some struggles for SFU as the Bobcats sport the second best scoring defense and the top field goal percentage defense in the NEC.

9. All the Pieces to the Puzzle

With all due respect to all of the other teams that have competed in the last 26 years of NEC Women’s Basketball, this year’s Quinnipiac group may be the most complete team ever assembled. They have it all. You need a smart, sure-handed point guard who can run the show and distribute the ball? Check…they have one of those in Boo Abshire with the sixth best assist to turnover ratio in America. They even have a senior veteran understudy in Lisa Lebak, who can come in and keep the ball rolling without the team missing a beat. You need a pure scorer? Check…she’s only a sophomore, but Jasmine Martin has developed into the ‘big shot’ player for QU. In the two games where QU has had the most on the line this year, she has stepped up, put the team on her shoulders, and carried them to victory. How about a three point threat? Check…they have several of players who can make a big trifecta, including Ellen Cannon who is among the tops in the league in three point field goal percentage. Interior presence? Check…Camryn Warner and Brittany McQuain both can take it to the basket, but also step back and hit the occasional midrange jumper. On the opposite end, both are factors on defense, Warner, with her long reach, can redirect and block opponent’s shots and McQuain is a force on the boards. How about their defense? Check…their pressure is second to none, and Felicia Barron is one of the best around. She can come from behind to pick the ball free or step in the way of a passing lane leading to a transition opportunity down the court. Barron was honored as the Defensive Player of the Year for a second straight season. Depth? Check…they play everybody, and everybody contributes. Their second group of five players, nicknamed the “Gold Rush” line, could compete with many of the other NEC teams starting five players. Also, they have just gotten Sam Guastella back from an injury that forced her to miss 12 league games. Just getting back into her rhythm, Guastella adds energy and can make all of the big ‘hustle plays’ needed to win games. Coaching?...they have one of the best. Tricia Fabbri is in her 18th season and was honored by the NEC as the 2013 recipient of the Brenda Reilly Coach of the Year.

This is a selfless, complete team that will have a once in a lifetime opportunity on Sunday. No matter what, whenever it is that this season comes to an end, this team will never quite be the same like this again. Players will leave, leagues will change, and even though they will still be extremely competitive, the team won’t be exactly as special as it is right now. It's like the difference between the 1986 Mets and the 1987 Mets or the 1993 Phillies and the 1994 Phillies. With special teams, it’s very hard to catch lightning in a bottle twice, so for Quinnipiac it will be very important to them to finish the journey on Sunday, to finish what they came this whole way to get, and to cash in on this chance to cement their place into NEC annals that may only come around once in a lifetime.

10. Spending the Week in the Nutmeg State

The road from Loretto, PA to Fairfield and Hamden, Connecticut is indeed a long one. We’re talking about a five and a half to a six hour trip. So when the Red Flash came to Connecticut to play their semifinal game against the Pioneers, they packed a little bit extra to potentially stay over for the rest of the week if they had to play a conference final against Quinnipiac. The situation was if they won in the semis, they would either have to play at QU or they would get to go back home and host the final against Mount. So rather than make the long drive back late Wednesday night and then have to turn around and make the same trip back on Friday night or early Saturday, it made sense to stay for the week if they had to play the Bobcats.

This ended up being a genius move on two fronts. First, the knowledge that their bags were already packed for a championship game could have been an intended, or perhaps unintended, motivational tactic for the team. There is a certain confidence that goes with knowing that you’re planning ahead for two games as opposed to just one. Against a Pioneer team that beat them by 20+ points in both meetings during the regular season, the Red Flash burst out to a 20 point first half lead and never looked book. Second, you would think that staying over will prevent any kind of ‘travel lag’ that may have been present had they had to made back to back long trips. Don’t underestimate the importance of Saint Francis not having to travel.


Thursday: Semifinal recap/highlights & Championship Game quick glance

Friday: Top 10 Championship Game Storylines

Saturday: Full Championship Game Preview

Sunday: Post Game Recap

*The Championship Game will be on Sunday at 5pm on ESPNU. We’ll have exclusive pregame coverage on NEC FRONT ROW LIVE presented by Pilot Pen, with myself and former Seton Hall women’s basketball head coach Phyllis Mangina hosting from our set inside the TD Bank Sports Center, starting at 4pm on NEC Front Row. Once the game goes final, we’ll then be back on the air for all of the postgame reaction and celebration on another edition of FRONT ROW LIVE.