In a season where Montclair State University’s women’s basketball team is looking to rewrite their ending from last season, they’ve been hit with adversity. However, they are hopeful the second half of the season will land them right where they want to be.
The Red Hawks have been off to a slow start, ending the first half of the season with a 5-6 record, which includes losses to conference opponents such as Kean University, Ramapo College, William Paterson University and Stockton University.
Currently, the Red Hawks sit at a 7-7 record. With the graduation of All-American Taylor Brown and a mix of returning players and new additions on the team, they’ve struggled early on to mesh on the court, according to junior guard Nickie Carter.
“I think the first half of the season didn’t go exactly how we wanted it to go, but we definitely learned a lot from it,” Carter said. “There was a lot of adversity, and I think through that, we came together more as a team than we ever have.”
One of the factors that keyed into the Red Hawks’ slow start was the NCAA deciding to move the women’s three-point line back from 20′ 9″ to 22′ 1.75″ for the 2021-2022 season for all divisions. This adjustment made their percentage of three-point shots drop to 24% — 10% lower than last year’s 34%.
While this change has affected almost everyone on the team, one of the players that reported seeing a struggle in their shooting was senior guard Julia Sutton. The sharpshooter was shooting 37% from beyond the arc last season, and her shooting has taken a significant drop to 22%. She believes shooting was by far the biggest challenge for her but sees improvement heading into the second half of the season.
“They moved the three-point line back, so that was one of our biggest struggles and [even] our best shooters were struggling,” Sutton said. “It took a while, but I think we’re back to our rhythm of shooting well and I think we’re doing pretty good right now.”
Although they are defeating teams by a 4.9 scoring margin, Sutton also believes they could improve on defense. The team has made that a priority in recent weeks and believes their defense will be a major factor going into the second half of the season.
Head coach Karin Harvey agrees that their defense has been an issue this season and has emphasized the importance of it during the winter break, believing the team has turned the tide on that end of the floor.
“I think we had a little bit of a slow start and it took us a little bit to get going and find our rhythm,” Harvey said. “But, I think that we’re starting to play some really good defense. Our help-side defense has gotten better and we worked really hard on it, [so] I’m excited for the second half of the season.”
On the bright side, throughout all of the team struggles, there has been a reemergence of Carter. She started to find her hot hand late in the first half of the season against The College Of New Jersey (TCNJ) where she dropped 29 points in a victory, then dropped 31 points in a loss against William Paterson.
After those two games, Carter made history passing Melissa Tobie (59 points over a two-game stretch) as the top player in Montclair State women’s basketball history to score the most points over a two-game stretch (since logs were recorded) with 60 points.
“I think a lot of it is confidence,” Carter said. “I was being really hesitant at the beginning of the season, but I just started going into games with the attitude of attacking and whether that’s creating for myself or creating for other people, I’m just looking to get to the rim and see what happens from there.”
Harvey loves that Carter has found her spark and feels that the rest of the team feeds off of it. However, it’s going to take more than Carter to get them where they want to be.
The Red Hawks currently rank fifth in the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) and have a long road ahead of them until the end of the season. All of their last remaining games are NJAC competition. After a series of game cancellations due to coronavirus (COVID-19) protocols, they started the second half of the season against Ramapo College in a non-conference matchup and defeated them 55-45.
After a 65-47 loss to Rowan University, the Red Hawks were put to the test again as they faced off against the team they lost to in the NJAC finals last season: New Jersey City University (NJCU). The Red Hawks tremendously defeated NJCU with Carter catching fire with 28 points and four Red Hawks finishing the game in double digits.
In that last game, it gave the team a glimpse of how powerful they can be in the NJAC when everything starts to come together. They believe that even though they aren’t where they would want to be right now, according to Harvey, it’s not too late for them to turn the tide.
“I think this is where we’re going to have to turn the corner,” Harvey said. “I think for not playing as well as we wanted to [last] semester, we’re in a good spot, and we’re in control of what we can do.”