COLLEGE WOMEN'S BASKETBALL: ELMIRA DUO STARRING TOGETHER AGAIN AT DIVISION I MARIST (4 PHOTOS)
(2021-11-17)By Brian FeesSouthern Tier Sports Report
A year ago Kiara Fisher would watch Marist basketball games from a distance.
At the time Fisher was a freshman guard at Syracuse, but she always kept an eye on how Marist was doing, looking to see how her best friend Zaria Demember-Shazer was playing.
Fisher missed playing with her longtime Elmira, and AAU teammate, but she knew that’s what happens a lot of times when you head off to college. And, with games often on the same days, it often left Fisher following box scores to see what Demember-Shazer was doing.
“It was upsetting,” Fisher said of not always being able to watch her friends games. “But, a lot of times that’s how college games work, a lot of college games are on the same day. It sucked, but I always looked at the box score. I tried to catch the box scores to keep up with her.”
After last season Fisher made the decision to transfer, and while she had a number of options, one of the first thoughts that came to her mind was playing with Zaria, and another friend and AAU teammate, former Susquehanna Valley star Trinasia Kennedy.
“I had a few other options I was thinking about,” Fisher said. “Marist was talking to me. The first thing that popped in my head was Zaria and Trinasia, being with your best friend. Not a lot of people get a chance to play with their best friend again after high school.”
Fisher is now at Marist and in the starting lineup with her former Elmira teammate.
“Zaria was a big part of me coming here, then Trinasia Kennedy, who I played AAU with,” Fisher said. “Biggest thing was it’s a good environment I could be in. I thought this was the way to go. Zaria would push me the most to get here.”
Three games into the season and the Fisher and Demember-Shazer duo is looking just as dominant as they did in high school.
The two are the top two scorers on the team, Fisher at 17.7 points a game and Demember-Shazer at 12.7. Demember-Shazer averages a double-double with 12 rebounds a game, and she’s had a double-double every game this year. She was just the MAAC Player of the Week.
Fisher leads the team in assists with 12 and steals with six. Fisher is shooting an amazing 56% from the floor from the guard position, including 56% from three as well.
“It’s really special, I love being back with my best friend,” Fisher said. “Honestly, seems like nothing has changed since high school on, and off, the court.
“Literrally it feels just like high school, just a little better competition and it’s a little harder to find Zaria (with the big girls inside in college). When we have chemistry like we have, it’s like nothing has changed.”
While they didn’t play together last year, it took Demember-Shazer little time to get back into a rhythm with Fisher.
“Always good to have your best friend around,” Demember-Shazer said. “Especially with both of us so far freshman year.
“I don’t think it (chemistry) ever goes away. I don’t think we ever missed a beat. When you know someone so long, no matter how far apart, things will be the same.”
Having a point guard like Fisher getting her the ball is part of why Demember-Shazer believes she is off to such a good start this year.
“I think it has a lot to do with my teammates,” she said. “They definitely know how to get shots up and we get opportunities, that helps a lot. I couldn’t do wit without the help of my teammates, especially my point guard, Kiara.
“It definitely helps as a team we have good chemistry in general. Everyone knows what everyone likes and we are growing because we are young.”
Both Fisher and Demember-Shazer are sophomores, and they are on a Marist team that features four sophomores and three freshmen.
“I think we are all figuring it out together,” Demember-Shazer said. “We are pretty young. We do have two seniors though. It’s good to look up to them, we have leaders as well as young players who are eager to listen.”
For Marist they had a challenging start to the year schedule wise. They have faced Drexel, American and Vermont, and are 2-1 to begin the year. The season opener was against Drexel, a team that won it’s conference title last year. Now, the team heads to Arizona to take on both Arizona, on Friday, and Arizona State, on Sunday.
“I think it is definitely a little confidence boost as a team,” Fisher said of opening with a win over Drexel, and facing tough teams to start the year. “Non-conference games are often higher level games, better competition. When you come out and beat a great team like that first game (it’s a confidence boost).”
In the wins, like Drexel and Vermont, and in the losses to, like American, the Red Foxes know they are a good team.
“I think regardless, we were going in knowing what we had and what we could offer as a team,” Demember-Shazer said. “As a team, the wins help. But, even through the losses we can see we are a good team and going to do what we have to do to have a successful season.”
This year has already been a lot of fun as a team.
“We are really excited,” Demember-Shazer said. “I think it showed a lot of progress with the games we have had. It showed we could work as a team and get things done. I think it’s exciting.”
While she is a sophomore, this feels like a true first college season for Fisher. A year ago Fisher did score three points a game and she made seven of 11 three-pointers, with a career-high of 11 points, on three threes, against North Carolina. But, she played in just 10 games a season ago, with limited playing time in some of those 10 games.
“Last year, I looked at it as a season, but not a season like this,” Fisher said. “First game it was really different to actually be on the court. I definitely consider this my first real season.’
And, things are special this year as Fisher is getting a chance to start, and play 30 minutes a night. In her last two games she’s played 63 minutes, shooting 17-for-27 from the floor. She had a career-high 25 points against American, and followed it up with 17 points and eight assists against Vermont.
“I really appreciate my coach for giving me the opportunity to play minutes and show him what I can do,” Fisher said. “Last year I didn’t really get that. It helps I have a coach that really believes in me. A coaching staff that believes in me and players on the court who believe in me.”
And, this year Fisher is able to play through mistakes.
As a freshman playing in the ACC a year ago Fisher felt like if she missed a shot, or had a turnover she might be headed back to the bench. This year she knows she is going to get a chance to stay on the court, even in rough moments.
“Coming off last year every time I got in the game I felt like I had to do something right, or come out,” she said. “Now, if I mess up I just have to get it back. I don’t feel nervous messing up. I have time to grow throughout the game, I can make a mistake and get it back.”
For Fisher, this year is everything she imagined about college. Playing for a good team, starting, and having fun.
“It’s definitely what I did imagine,” she said. “It’s what I wanted for myself. I put myself in a perfect position to do that.”
There were a lot of nerves about leaving Syracuse, but Fisher was happy with where she ended up. And, she’s happy to still be in New York, so her family can watch games, especially after last year often led to no fans at games.
“I was very nervous to transfer because nobody likes to do that,” Fisher said. “You pick your college and want to do that for four years. I feel like this is the easiest transition you could ever have as a transfer. Everything feels comfortable. It’s really just a new location, but no transition really.
“That was a big thing, staying in New York, staying close to home. Obviously my parents and family couldn’t come to games last year, it’s good for them getting an opportunity to watch me again.”
For one year Fisher was apart from Demember-Shazer, and now that they are teammates again she’s seen firsthand how far Demember-Shazer has come in one season.
“It’s so fun, I’m so proud of her,” Fisher said. “She deserves it all. She’s gotten so much better since high school. She has grown so much. I missed it last year. I tried to watch her games when I could.”
A year ago Demember-Shazer averaged 17.5 minutes a game, and scored 5.5 points with 4.5 rebounds a game. Her season high for rebounds was nine, against Manhattan, and her season-best in points was 14 against Albany.
By the end of last year Demember-Shazer got into the starting lineup, playing 27 minutes against Saint Peters and she started in the MAAC quarterfinals and semifinals.
This year Demember-Shazer has taken her game to the next level. She has had at least 10 rebounds in every game. She has had 13 rebounds in each of the past two games, including six offensive rebounds against Vermont. She scored 11 or more points in each of the three games this year.
For Demember-Shazer she credits all her success to her teammates. And, last year, while it was a tough year with Covid, really brought the team together and made them better, and tighter.
“I think Covid in vernal made everybody bond,” Demember-Shazer said. “We spent a lot of time together last year and what everyone has gone through, all the history we have now, it definitely helps us on the court.
“You can tell we are resilient, getting through everything we got through last year, with practices, being outside, being inside, getting games canceled, it made us determined and hungry for this next season.”
Last year the team was so determined to work, that they took any opportunity they could, even if it meant hitting the outdoor courts at times.
“We had a few (practices) on the outside court last year before we could get inside and things were cleared for inside practice,” Demember-Shazer said. “Any touches we can get on the ball. It wasn’t going to come often, we had to make sure we were doing what we needed to do and be ready when the time came.”
Marist finished last year 18-4. They won their conference championship, beating Saint Peters 69-30 in the final, and earned a trip to the NCA Tournament.
IN TOP PHOTO: Elmira graduate Kiara Fisher. . . PHOTOS COURTESY OF MARIST ATHLETICS
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