The Montclair State University women’s basketball team ended the 2015 fall semester on a high note. The team posted an 8-1 record, with their only loss being from their game against Moravian College on Nov. 30. Their issues, mainly a lack of consistency on offense, were highlighted and put on full display in their loss. However, the team used that game as a teaching moment to go forward.
The Red Hawks rattled off a streak of four consecutive victories, winning three of those games by 18 points or more. Their offense came into its own and looked like they had finally adapted to the loss of standouts Melissa Tobie and Janitza Aquino from the previous year. The team was poised to compete in the San Juan Shootout in Puerto Rico against two top-notch teams, Lebanon Valley College and Rochester University, and prove that this year’s team would be a force to be reckoned with.
However, Montclair State took a major blow in Puerto Rico. Senior Kayla Ceballos, the team’s leading scorer at that point, went down with a season-ending ACL injury in their game against Lebanon Valley College. Montclair State ended up losing both of their games in their tournament and were forced to play the remainder of their games without their best offensive weapon.
The Red Hawks returned to face Haverford College on Jan. 4 and came away with a 78-50 victory. The team showed signs of being able deal with the loss of Ceballos as four different players scored more than 10 points in their victory. Despite their strong showing, the women’s basketball team followed it up with a string of disappointing performances.
Montclair State’s offense, however, held its own against Rowan University, the top team in the New Jersey Athletic Conference, but this time it was their defense that let them down. Too often, the team surrendered easy baskets in their 68-64 defeat. By no means did the Red Hawks ever look outclassed, but they didn’t put together a string of strong offensive and defensive possessions necessary to pull away with the victory.
The team was in jeopardy of yet another disappointing loss as they trailed 47-40 heading into the fourth quarter against Rutgers-Camden, but they were able to outscore the Scarlet Raptors 34-18 in the final frame and secure a 74-65 victory.
The Red Hawks failed to build off their win and fell 65-54 to Stockton University. The team left little to be desired as they shot a poor 25.7 percent from the field while allowing their opponents to shoot 49 percent from the field.
Montclair State rebounded and put forth their most dominant performance of the season in their 74-25 victory over New Jersey City University. They played smothering defense and NJCU seemed like they were turning the ball over more than they were scoring. The Red Hawks played all 13 of their players and sophomores Erica Snow and Yazmine Lacy contributed the best scoring performances of their careers.
The Red Hawks hold an 11-5 overall record and currently sit at third in the New Jersey Athletic Conference. Despite their streak of inconsistent play since the loss of Ceballos, Montclair State is still one of the most formidable teams in their conference. Their game against NJCU serves as the perfect blueprint for the team if they want to move back up into national consideration.
Granted, NJCU has an abysmal 1-14 record and it’ll be hard to duplicate their performance against stiffer competition. However, the Red Hawks have started to shift their offensive focus. Head coach Karin Harvey moved sophomore Taylor Harmon into the starting lineup in the last two games, providing the team with two prototypical “bigs” to add a low-post presence. They involved all of their bigs in the offense much more in their game against NJCU and ran multiple plays to get them the ball in the low-post. With the loss of Ceballos, a low-post presence will make it easier for Montclair State’s guards and ensure that their offense won’t live and die by the jump shot.
The team’s defense is by far their strongest asset and needs to remain so for the Red Hawks to have any chance of success. They have an opportunity to reassert their control of the division as their remaining nine games are all against NJAC opponents.
Montclair State will go on the road to face The College of New Jersey on Jan. 23 and will return home to Panzer Athletic Center to face Rutgers-Newark on Jan. 27.