Montclair State’s women’s basketball team emerged victorious over Rowan University in the waning moments of the 2016 New Jersey Athletic Conference championship, and the Profs left heartbroken. Both teams lost separately in the second round of the 2016 NCAA DIII Tournament – but Montclair State was the team to find themselves in top 25 2016-17 preseason rankings, not Rowan.
There’s no love lost between these two teams, and on Saturday they will face off for the first time since last season’s NJAC Championship. Saturday is set to be a battle for NJAC supremacy as Montclair State enters with an 8-0 record and Rowan, nipping at the Red Hawks’ heels, sits at 7-1.
“There’s a strong rivalry between us,” senior guard Rachel Krauss said after Wednesday’s game. “Throughout maybe all the years I’ve been here, Rowan has been a strong team. And every single game with them has been a close game, whether it was the NJAC championship or getting to the NJAC championship.”
Saturday’s matchup pits two of the NJAC’s statistical leaders against each other: Montclair State is surrendering a conference-best 45.3 points per game, while Rowan is scoring a conference-best 84.1 points per game. Senior guard Anyssa Sanchez leads the Profs with 17.1 points per game and is shooting 65.9 percent from the field.
“I don’t know if we’re going to try to stop [Sanchez], I just think we’re going to try to contain her,” Red Hawks Head Coach Karin Harvey said. “We have to find her in transition, she’s really great off the dribble. She’s playing this year how I thought she would play last year. She’s a really good player.”
Outside of Montclair State’s game against Stevens, they haven’t faced a NCAA-caliber opponent. The Red Hawks started the 2015-16 season unbeaten in their first four games, but they hit a roadblock in their first loss of the season against Moravian College. Their weaknesses – an offense that was still trying to figure out how to play without Melissa Tobie and Janitza Aquino – were exposed, and Saturday poses a similar situation.
Montclair State has dominated on the defensive end and, even though Rowan is the NJAC’s top scoring team, that won’t be a question mark heading into Saturday. But, the Red Hawks offensive firepower and transition defense will be tested in what should be a competitive game against Rowan.
“We know where we are right now,” senior guard Zoe Curtis said. “And playing against Rowan, which is good competition, will prove where we are right now.”
Montclair State and Rowan split last year’s regular-season series and neither game was decided by more than four points. The games are close, for sure, but there’s an added edge the games more than a typical NJAC matchup. The play is chippy and the team’s don’t like each other.
The Red Hawks will travel to Glassboro on Saturday and will brush the conjecture to the side when the teams tip off at 1 p.m.