Coming off of their first Final Four appearance, the women’s basketball team will look to recapture their success from last season. The Red Hawks will open their season with a home game against Ithaca College on Nov. 15.
The team enters the season as the no. 12 ranked team in Division III, but much has changed since last season. Former assistant coach Brian Sansom took the same position at a Division I school. The team lost Melissa Tobie, a first Team All-American, and Janitza Aquino, who both averaged nearly half of the Red Hawks’ points last season. Tobie has moved into the assistant coaching position that Sansom left vacant.
“Replacing Melissa and Janitza is not something you are going to do in one year,” Assistant coach Courtney Cunningham said. “Everyone has elevated their game and stepped up because no one wants this to be a rebuilding year. No one wants to go to the Final Four in one year and not be as great the next year. They’re ready to step up.”
Despite losing their two key players, the team gained invaluable experience during their Final Four run. Kate Tobie and Katie Sire started all six NCAA Tournament games as freshmen and should be able to build on that for this season.
Head coach Karin Harvey commented on the importance of their Final Four run: “We created a culture where we know how to win. Our players understand the level at which they have to compete at […] and they understand how to win games.”
The Red Hawks will be returning three of their starters – Kate Tobie, Sire and Sage Bennett – in addition to all but two of their bench players. Melissa Tobie and Aquino averaged about 30 minutes a game each last season, so there will be room for other players to step up in their absence.
The one area the team will need to address is their half-court scoring. As previously mentioned, Melissa Tobie and Aquino accounted for nearly half of the team’s points and shot attempts. When Melissa Tobie got into foul trouble last season, particularly against Stockton University and George Fox University, the Red Hawks struggled to find consistent offense. Granted, that was against two top-level teams, but they still have to prove that they can score without Tobie and Aquino this season.
Coach Harvey remains optimistic. “I think that we are going to be more balanced scoring-wise and I think we’ll actually be deeper at the guard spot than we’ve been, which is going to help us a little bit.”
Outside of their offense, they should still be strong on the defensive end. Cunningham said, “We’re a lockdown defensive team. I think if we could hold teams to right around 55 points and out-rebound them, those two things are going to be huge.”
They held teams to 51.2 points per game and a low 33.9 percent on field goal attempts last season. Using a variety of presses was a signature of the team’s defense last year and they were able to force the opponent to turn the ball over nearly 20 times per game. The Red Hawks should be able to return to form with most of their players coming back.
The season for Montclair State will begin on Nov. 15 and they’ll have the opportunity to display a lot of what they’ve worked on in the off-season. The Red Hawks are ranked 12 in the country and should be favored to win the conference, but there isn’t the same amount of pressure as there was in previous seasons.
“It’s refreshing to go into a season where the expectation isn’t that we go undefeated. It’s refreshing to see a little bit like ‘Let’s see what we can do,’” Harvey said. “I think we’re going to catch some people. We’re going to be better than people think we’re going to be.”