The era of "right in the feels" continues this weekend. Iona only has one senior, but what a senior she is, and what a career she's had! Damika Martinez is one of the best pure scorers I've ever seen, and when she goes off, she's a joy to watch. This year, she broke pretty much every record that was available to be broken, starting with the Iona scoring record about two minutes into the season, through the MAAC career scoring record, and incidentally passing the Iona men's record just the other night. 2535 and counting, and the fascinating part is that with all the spotlight on her scoring, she's done more than ever to get her teammates involved, passing up bad shots she would have taken not so long ago to get them better shots.
I'll miss watching games with her partisan, passionate family, who make up a cheering section all on their own and can get a crowd going in a heartbeat. They love her, and she loves them, and it's this incredible surge of emotion and connection.
(I think she looked better with braids than this flat-top she's trying to rock, but y'know what, Mika? You're the undisputed MAAC momma, you can do whatever your heart desires.)
So this will be a hard goodbye against Niagara. A good part of why I care for Iona goes with Damika. But we're there for her. I hope and pray they pull it together in the MAAC tournament, because she deserves a chance to dance, and so does Joy Adams.
In honor of Damika, Iona's all rocking "Martinez 14" shirts. (Excellent idea, Cassidee.) Today's poster, of course, features her- all four years of her. I think a significant percentage of Meriden, Connecticut will be joining us for this game. Some have already arrived, in Iona #14 shirts with "Mika Day" on the back. The florist has done a very nice job of matching Iona's gold on the flowers, and the ribbons are the perfect maroon and gold. It's the proper home white jersey, not the pink-and-white St. John's likes to foist off on their seniors. (I am taking particularly close note of Senior Day prep for two reasons: first, to help St. John's get it right for Aliyyah and Danaejah, and second, because a certain reader has a particular interest, and this might get some of the chronicling pressure off my husband.)
Niagara has nice shirts too. Nike did a good job with them.
Iona did Senior Day right. There was a highlight video of some of her more significant and/or tricky shots, there were red roses and a lot of family, there was a listing of her accolades. Niagara got in on the action early- each Niagara senior received a purple rose with a purple ribbon. I think some of them were genuinely surprised.
And if Iona didn't get it right, Damika's family would have made sure that it was done right anyway. They brought posters. They brought giant heads. They brought balloons. They brought what appears to be most of Connecticut.
Iona's up 37-27 at halftime. Damika has 17, Joy Adams has 10 (off the bench, we suspect she's fighting either flu-like symptoms or "flu-like symptoms"). Meghan McGuinness has looked good for the Purple Eagles, with nine points and some tough boards. I have to give a shout-out to Karynda DuPree for starting to use her size in the lane. Get it, Karynda!
Shoutout to the little kid behind me who had the presence of mind to actually yell out "SHOT!" when Niagara put up a shot. I applaud her court awareness.
Damika Martinez needed 34 points, for whatever reason (we thought it was the MAAC scoring title, but she already beat the daylights out of that), and despite taking two hard hits that left her limping, she wasn't coming out of that game without 34 points. I think that was the last milestone she felt herself obligated to complete.
Niagara made it clear fairly early on that they were from hockey country. When you've already seen ten players in the game six minutes into it, you might be seeing a lot of substitutions. They showed flashes of nice ball movement, and a couple of their players showed a good nose for the ball on the glass, but overall I was unimpressed.
Emily Granruth made a splash in her brief second-half appearance, launching a three with such a high arc I was expecting it to bounce off the rafters. I haven't seen an arc like that since K.B. Sharp played for the Liberty. Kelyn Freedman and Jamie Sherburne both came on late in the game, when Kendra Faustin brought in the end of the bench and conceded the loss. Kaylee Stroemple saw big minutes off the bench in the post, and wasn't afraid to get physical (physical, physical) on the boards. Sylvia Maxwell brought a little bit of scoring pop in the lane. Gabby Baldasare came on strong near the end of the game, showing a little bit of aggression down low. I have no strong memories of Sam Lapszynski.
Kelly Van Leeuwen did not make a lot of friends in the city of New Rochelle when she knocked Damika Martinez to the floor and Damika was slow to get up. (She certainly did not make friends with Marina Lizarazu, who committed the deliberate foul to stop play with a fair amount of gusto.) I should remember more about Taylor McKay, but there's nothing ringing a bell with that number. Donisha Watson moved people around on the inside, but racked up fouls doing it. Victoria Rampado was all over the place, but not always effectively- I think a lot of the shots she missed were ones she should have hit. Meghan McGuinness impressed me most for Niagara- she has a good nose for the ball and a pretty stroke. She looked very good out there.
Everyone got to play for Iona! Okay, so with all the redshirts, "everyone" = nine players, but still.
Kristin Mahoney still looks terrified of collegiate basketball players, but I like her hustle. Aurellia Cammock saw time late in both halves and was not terribly assertive. Philecia Gilmore more than made up for it- she fired up shots without remorse and without regret and fired up the team off the bench. If you could bottle her passion on the floor and pass it around, you'd have one intense team. Joy Adams, as mentioned above, came off the bench and played slightly less than her usual minute load. You could tell that she didn't have her legs under her- she missed shots short and low and didn't elevate as much as she normally does. That didn't stop her from rebounding, because she's Joy Adams and she rebounds all the things.
Faithful readers of the Game Notes of Doom have seen several of my rants about Karynda DuPree. And she was not always as assertive as she could be. She still seemed too confident in the ability of shots to go down, and thus lackadaisical following shots. But today was the fiercest I've seen her on the inside and on the boards. She posted up several times, and it was glorious. Get it, girrrrrrrrrrrl! Use that big body of yours! Aaliyah Robinson was quiet, but played the passing lanes well and made a couple of great plays with Damika. I'm probably not allowed to admit this within the New Rochelle city limits, and certainly never in the vicinity of Meriden, but A-Rob is my favorite Gael. Marina Lizarazu brought out some of the fancy passes, and was hot in the early going. Cassidee Ranger fought in the high post and came up with two of her sweet three-point goals. Damika Martinez shook off the pressure, or fed on the emotion, or something, and turned in one of her high-usage, high-volume, high-scoring, shows. She drove the lane for impossible shots, hit threes, hit midrange jumpers, and fought hard on defense.
Interesting officiating dynamic: the female referee (Feck, according to the box score) seemed to be a bit of a control freak, insisting on the last word. I don't think she was the crew chief- the male refs both seemed older, and one of them I know was more experienced. There was the usual array of bad calls and missed calls. Travels were not much called today.
This was what a Senior Day should be. (Except for Damika falling down a lot.) And this will almost certainly be the last time I see Iona this year.
Thank you, Damika. It's been a privilege.