The women’s basketball team, ranked No. 16 in the country, is better this year than they were last year.
Still, Montclair State wasn’t ranked first in the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) Preseason Coaches’ Poll – even though they returned all of the players who lead the team to its fourth consecutive NJAC championship last season. Six coaches selected Stockton University over Montclair State to finish as NJAC’s top team.
“Winning four [NJAC Championships] in a row; that pisses some people off,” junior co-captain Katie Sire said after Tuesday’s game. “We always have a little bit of a target on our back. But, we’re returning everyone and I don’t think this team lets rankings or any of that affect us.”
The Red Hawks looked better defensively and were more fluid on offense in their 56-43 victory over Haverford. They didn’t dominate, but they displayed signs of their potential for this season. After dialing back the press at times last year, Head Coach Karin Harvey turned the press on full blast on Tuesday night – and it worked. Montclair State forced 25 turnovers and played suffocating defense.
Offensively, the players’ cuts to the basket were sharper and their passes were more precise. The starting five played together seamlessly and they looked more comfortable after having the second half of last season to figure out how to play with each other.
“At the beginning of the season, we were so excited to start, because we knew exactly what we had,” junior co-captain Kate Tobie said after the game. “We all came out so confident. We were itching for this game.”
Montclair State’s 2015-16 season was jeopardized when Kayla Ceballos suffered a season-ending injury. Without Ceballos, the team lacked a dynamic scoring threat. But, as tough as the injury was, the Red Hawks battled through some tough moments and discovered their new identity going forward.
“Everything this year is so much easier,” Sire said. “We’re all just so comfortable playing with each other. It makes it that much easier for us to start the game off and kind of set the team in the right direction and give us the right momentum that we need.”
The women’s basketball team doesn’t have a player that will give them 25 points a game. They don’t have a dominant post player that will bully the other team and put up 20 points and 10 rebounds every game. What they do have, though, is a bounty of talented players who can take turns pulling the Red Hawks through tough stretches.
Junior captains Sire and Tobie anchor the team on both ends of the floor. Senior captains Rachel Krauss, Sage Bennett and Zoe Curtis round out the starting five and let the team space out the floor on offense and stifle their opponents on defense. Harvey has a deep bench, led by juniors Erica Snow, Yazmine Lacey, Taylor Harmon and sophomore Kiarra Dillard, that can provide valuable contributions. And, all of these players returned with another year of experience.
The team isn’t perfect. They need to improve their rebounding and three-point shooting and can still be a bit lazy with the ball.
However, Montclair State picked up where they left off and haven’t missed a beat since last season. The majority of NJAC coaches didn’t get the message that the Red Hawks are still the team to beat in the conference.
So, does Harvey have a message to the rest of the NJAC?
“Absolutely not,” she said with a smile.