As the final buzzer sounded on the COVID-shortened 2021 season, it closed a strange chapter in Montclair State University women’s basketball history. Between only playing 10 games and dropping the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) Championship Game for the second season in a row, the Red Hawks were in uncharted territory.
But amidst all the question marks, it seemed that one Montclair State guard had finally found the answers she was looking for all year long.
In the losing effort, then-sophomore Nickie Carter contributed one of the best games of her career, scoring 24 points and shooting four out of seven three-pointers. This type of game wasn’t anything new for Carter; her freshman season she burst on to the scene, averaging 17 points per game, and scoring at least 20 points in 10 of the 28 games she played in, all on her way to winning NJAC Rookie of the Year honors along with numerous other awards.
Coming off of such a great season, Carter had set the bar pretty high for herself going into her sophomore season, not only statistically, but also taking on a captain role. However, before she could get there, she faced some setbacks.
“I got injured right before the season, and I was in a boot for four months, so going into my sophomore year, I was really out of shape,” Carter said. “It wasn’t just the physical aspect either. Mentally, I was not really in the headspace, so it was kind of hard, and I was also taking on the responsibility of now being a captain. My role was a lot different and there was a lot more expected of me. So that was kind of a hard transition.”
Unfortunately, it showed, as through the nine games heading into that championship matchup, Carter was only averaging seven points per game, shooting just 33% from the field. As a result, her role changed once again, this time, a move from the starting lineup to a role off the bench. Though it was a big change, and it took an adjustment period, Carter found a way to not only accept the role but also to grow from the experience.
“People put a lot of emphasis on who’s starting, who’s finishing, but in reality, it’s just how you perform overall in the game,” Carter said. “And I think I came to terms with that, that it wasn’t my time to start and I was fine. I used that as an opportunity to lead in other ways because I wasn’t playing as much as I did. I definitely grew a lot from it.”
Nobody would be a better judge of Carter’s growth than her close friend and teammate, junior forward Saniya Myers, who has played alongside her going all the way back to middle school.
“Well, for starters, her shot definitely got a lot better than middle school,” Myers quipped. “But in all seriousness, you can definitely see the confidence from her. Having been a captain multiple years now, you can just see each year her leadership skills get better and better. She’s someone that’s always there to push you, and she does it in the most respectful way, I feel like she wants the best for everyone on the team.”
Heading into her junior season as one of the most experienced Red Hawks on the roster, Carter once again finds herself in a leadership role. Head coach Karin Harvey explained that even though there are some growing pains, the effort is noted.
“I think that she’s working really hard to try to grow and to be a great leader. One of the things about it is really wanting to be a good leader and then trying to understand what that takes,” Harvey said. “And she’s working really hard at forming relationships with her teammates and setting good examples and being organized and communicating.”
The women’s basketball team hasn’t started the season as they would’ve liked, posting a 1-3 record through their first four games, needing someone to take charge, just like that championship game against New Jersey City University a season ago. Carter has proven she can handle it, but this time wants to finish the job.
“Going into the championship game last year, I knew it was going to be a challenge and I knew someone was going to have to step up, and I felt that I had the experience that I was capable of that,” Carter said. “Obviously it didn’t end the way we wanted it to, but we have high expectations that it will be different this year.”