Hudson Valley Sports Report

WILLOW DUFFELL REFLECTS ON HER MARIST CAREER

Local Star Goes Out On Championship Note

 

By Scott Long
Special to HVSR

POUGHKEEPSIE – Willow Duffell’s career as a Marist College women’s basketball player will be one that she will not forget.

After playing in her final game in a tough loss to the Louisville Cardinals in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, Duffell has had a lot of time to reflect on her four years at Marist. As a four-year starter on a competitive team, Duffell was a key cog on each team, and will go down as an integral player having served as a team captain her senior season and finishing her career seventh all time in school history in rebounds.

Living just an hour away played into her decision to commit to Marist; however, it was really the coaches and the team that convinced her.

“The girls were awesome, and were so inclusive, and did a great job of bringing me around campus and making me feel like I belonged there, and the campus itself is just beautiful,” Duffell said.

She fell in love with the campus right away, particularly with its location directly on the Hudson River, and felt comfortable right away thanks to the upperclassmen.  Kendall Baab, Maura Fitzpatrick and Lovisa Henningsdottir were three upper classmen on the team when she arrived at Marist, and they quickly took Duffell under their wing, and helped show her what it was like to be a leader while also helping her get acclimated and comfortable in a new situation.

As for the coaching staff, they made her feel at home, and helped her get to a new level as a basketball player.

“Coach (Brian) Giorgis was that gateway for me to figure out the mental part of basketball,” Duffell said.

Prior to playing at Marist, she would just go out and play and do whatever felt right in the moment. But, after playing under Giorgis, she quickly learned concepts of help defense, hedging on screens and so much more, that were foreign concepts to her prior to her arrival at Marist.

His tutelage helped her become much more knowledgeable about basketball, and drastically helped her grow as a player.

“Coming in freshman year my number one role was to grab some rebounds, and as the years went on my responsibilities grew more and more, but I knew my main role was to play defense and grab some rebounds so that stuck with me throughout,” Duffel said.

This is how she ended her Marist career as the school’s seventh all-time leading scorer. And as she got more experienced the coaching staff and team began to ask more of her on the offensive end, to the point where, by her senior year she was not only the top rebounder but she was a focal point on offense, leading the team in total points.

“The biggest takeaway is going to be the friendships I’ve made with my teammates all four years, and I know that I’m going to have them as friends for life,” Duffell said.

While she cherishes all her college teammates, no bond will be closer than the bond she formed with fellow senior, captain and roommate Allie Best. Best was quiet and thought Duffell talked too much, but soon that changed. As time went on, they became much closer, and have even gone on trips together at Best’s grandmother’s beach house in Connecticut. They have been teammates for four years and have spent “literally every waking minute together.”

Duffell believes that they would not have made it these four years without each other.

“It was kind of like fate, I can’t imagine going through this with anybody else,” Duffell said. “We complement each other so well just personality-wise and as leaders on the team.”

 

 

 

 

While some of the details and specifics of her earlier years are a little fuzzy, Duffell will never forget any of her senior year, and what her and her teammates were able to accomplish and overcome. Not only did the Red Foxes appear in the NCAA tournament, but they won the MAAC Tournament handily to get there, and also finished with the best regular season record in the conference.

“You can’t get any better than winning the MAAC, so that will definitely always be the number one highlight of my career,” Duffell said.

But it was not all just positives that makes this year memorable for her, as the team was forced to move to seven different places throughout the year as a result of precautions associated with COVID-19. Despite all the difficulties with the pandemic, the group was dedicated to get back to the MAAC Tournament and finish where they left off last season, prior to the cancellation of the tournament. They achieved that goal, and then put up a fight against a top-rated team in Louisville, led by Dana Evans, one of the top players in the nation.

“We definitely didn’t go out on the note we wanted to, but we play with no regrets, Louisville is a great team, and losing to a two seed isn’t the worst thing in the world,” Duffell said.

Duffell and her teammates know that they were underdogs, and despite their loss are proud of how they played, and believe they showed that Marist can play with top competition.

Playing in the tournament was huge for the Red Foxes as it should help put the program on the map, after gaining exposure for playing a top-ranked team on national television on ESPN.

“I was just more upset because that was our last game and that was the end of our season,” Duffell said. While this was the last run they had as a team, the Red Foxes cherished the time they got to spend together as a team this year, and are proud of their performance, specifically getting Marist back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2014.

With her playing career in the rear-view mirror, Duffell looks towards the future, with eyes on graduate school. Although she would have loved to stay at Marist another year, it did not make sense for her because they do not have classes in any of the fields that she wants to continue her education in.

“There was a biostatistics seminar my sophomore year, and my biggest takeaway from the seminar was this is phenomenal, and this is what I want to do,” Duffell said.

She’s very passionate about the topic and feels like this is a field where she can really help and contribute. As for her basketball career, Duffell would love to continue playing wherever she ends up going, but she is putting school first and is not going to let basketball influence her decision of where to go continue her education.

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