Magarity has New Hampshire women sitting atop America East

What a difference a year has made for New Hampshire and coach Maureen Magarity.

The women's basketball team is having one of the best seasons in school history, sitting in first place in the America East Conference with a 21-4 overall record. The Wildcats are chasing the first NCAA Tournament bid in school history - one season after going 12-18.

Magarity credits the success to a little bit of luck and a lot of perseverance by her team. It also has helped that she's been able to be around all year. Magarity had to miss 15 games last season because of a complicated pregnancy.

''Last year was a tough year; we lost a lot of games, had a lot of injuries,'' Magarity said. ''I missed more than half the season when my baby came a month early. I was in the hospital for a while. Credit to the girls and the coaches. They really did a nice job of keeping the team together.''

Magarity knew she'd have help on the court this season with the arrival of two transfers from Marist: Kat Fogarty and Brittni Lai. What the coach didn't expect was the addition of Olivia Healy. She transferred in from Richmond in December and was granted immediate eligibility.

Healy made her presence felt right away, scoring 14 points in the fourth quarter during a big win against Albany - the team's first over the conference power in five years.

''Those three players make all the difference in the world,'' Magarity said. ''We're tougher, so much more depth. They also bring such a positive attitude. They come from programs where you expect to win 20 games. We won 20 games the other night and to them it's not a big deal. That's made a difference in the locker room and practice every day.''

The 21 wins are the most for the program since 1983-84. The Wildcats are two victories short of matching the school record set in 1982-83 when they were 23-7.

After losing two of their first three games, New Hampshire reeled off 18 victories in 19 games, winning a program-best 13 straight from Dec. 18 to Feb. 6. That run ended with a loss to Albany. Magarity didn't know what to expect when she walked into the locker room postgame, but was pleased to see her team seething.

''I wasn't sure how they were going to react,'' she said. ''Are they going to be upset or crying? Or are they going to be acting like nothing really changed? I was actually happy to see that they just looked really angry. You could tell they just wanted to get back to work.''

New Hampshire's success hasn't been lost on the coach's biggest fan - her dad, Dave Magarity. The Army women's basketball coach knew his daughter's team was primed for a great season after the teams scrimmaged in November.

''We couldn't stop them,'' the proud father said. ''She has a really talented group.''

He watches every game he can when he's not busy with his own team.

''My wife won't watch a game with me knowing how fired up I get watching her team play on the I-Pad,'' he said. ''I couldn't be prouder of her and what she's done so far.''

Both father and daughter hope the season ends with a UNH trip to the NCAA Tournament. They see a lot of similarities between this team and the Marist squad that Maureen played on as a senior that earned that school's first berth in the NCAAs.

''When I was a senior, we were picked seventh in the preseason and found a way to win. At New Hampshire, we were picked sixth this year and are in first place,'' said Magarity, who took over at UNH in 2010. ''This is a really close-knit, fun group that gets along well. My last year at Marist, we still keep in touch. It was the best year of my life. We had so much fun that year.

''For this group to get that opportunity to take UNH somewhere they've never been, that would be amazing.''

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Follow Doug on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/dougfeinberg

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