After back-to-back losses in the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) Finals, Montclair State University’s women’s basketball team has hopes that their third trip to the conference finals will be the charm.
The Red Hawks played in 10 games last season and had a record of 8-2, breezing their way through the NJAC competition during the regular season. They defeated Rutgers-Camden in the quarterfinals in a record-breaking game, setting a program record for points scored in an NJAC Tournament game with 101 points.
After their big victory over the Raptors, the Red Hawks took on Kean University in the semifinals and defeated them in a thrilling 56-52 game, despite the Cougars rallying back from a 15-point deficit late in the game.
The Red Hawks made it to the NJAC finals to face off against New Jersey City University (NJCU). In the two meetings during the regular season, the Red Hawks swept them. However, when both teams met in the conference championship game, the tide was turned as NJCU defeated Montclair State in a nail-biter, making it yet another back-to-back loss in the NJAC finals for the Red Hawks.
For head coach Karin Harvey and her players, the goal coming into this season is to end their misfortunes in NJAC Championship games.
“We need to win a championship,” Harvey said. “They’re tired of losing, I’m tired of losing in NJAC championship games. So, I think that’s the focus. I think we have the personnel and it’s just [a matter of] how we can figure out to put the pieces together.”
The Red Hawks have three new additions to the team. Freshman guard Brianna Montajes comes in from Middlesex High School in New Jersey, freshman forward Olivia Vero comes from Xaverian High School in New York and freshman guard Julia Dorn from Paul VI High School in New Jersey.
Harvey has high hopes for this freshman class and believes they will fit right in. In terms of where they belong the most: the defensive side of the ball.
“I think they are three kids that come from great basketball backgrounds. They understand the game,” Harvey said. “I can tell already they know how to play defense, which usually on the first day [of practice] does not look like that. I think we have some promising incoming talent and we’ll just have to see how it pans out.”
The Red Hawks were phenomenal defensively last season, with the second-best defense in the NJAC behind The College of New Jersey (TCNJ). They held opponents to an average of 55 points and won games by a 12-point margin.
Montclair State lost two key contributors to graduation last year: Kayla Bush and last season’s NJAC Player of the Year, Taylor Brown. However, this team has a handful of seasoned veterans returning that are ready to keep the success train afloat.
Junior guard Nickie Carter is a former All-NJAC First-Team selection and a prolific scorer when healthy. Sophomore guard Kendall Hodges is hoping to build off a great rookie campaign and was named to All-NJAC Second Team last season and even won NJAC Rookie of the Week honors three times as well.
The Red Hawks also might have a potential superstar in senior guard Julia Sutton. She returned to the hardwood last season after tearing her ACL in the 2019-2020 season and has blossomed ever since her return. She had a breakout season and became the second-leading scorer on the team, averaging 11 points. She is thrilled to get back on the court and happy to get a full season with this group.
“I’m so excited,” Sutton said. “I’m so excited to have a normal year. Last year was crazy. It was unique in its own way, but I’m excited to have a full season, have fans here and play back-to-back games with the [men’s basketball team].”
Returning from an injury last season is sophomore guard/forward Megan Duffy. Duffy played in the opening game against Salisbury University on Jan. 25 where she scored eight points and grabbed five rebounds, but did not return to the court again. Despite missing most of last season, she’s been working hard trying to fit back into the team dynamic. She’s excited to get the opportunity to grace the hardwood this season.
“It was a little difficult getting back to playing with everybody,” Duffy said. “Everyone’s been playing together the whole past year, so I had to pick up and get used to it [again]. But, I’m really excited to be able to play.”
That wasn’t all that’s on Duffy’s mind. She also had to sit on the bench last season while watching the Red Hawks lose in the NJAC finals, something she doesn’t want to see happen again in 2022. She believes this year the team will get what they desperately desire: the NJAC championship.
“We are all [going to] work hard, really hard during practice,” Duffy said. “[We’re going to] pick up the intensity and we’re going to win an NJAC title this season.”