With 10 new players on the roster, leadership and experience were major question marks for the Montclair State University women’s basketball team going into the 2022-23 season.
However, the young Red Hawks quickly found a leader from an unlikely place. Graduate student forward Teresa Wolak has proven herself to be an essential piece of the team.
Wolak started her college career at Division I Rider University, playing all four years for the Broncos and being part of some of the most successful teams in that program’s history.
After graduating in 2022, she looked to continue her education in graduate school as well as her basketball career. Wolak said that she knew that Montclair State was the perfect fit for her.
“Although I did meet around other places, I always knew that Montclair [State] was the place for me,” Wolak said. “They had the program that I wanted for my masters [and] I loved the team like from the jump. I knew [senior guard] Nickie Carter from high school and I just love the coaching staff all around.”
The opportunity came about thanks to the working relationship between Rider head coach Lynn Milligan and Montclair State head coach Karin Harvey. During the off-season, Harvey said that she received a call from Milligan which set up Wolak for her debut with the Red Hawks.
“[Milligan] said that she had a player, [Wolak], who was interested in going to grad school at Montclair State and she gave her a great recommendation and that’s [kind of] how we ended up talking,” Harvey said. “That’s a coach that I’ve had a relationship with and had spent some time talking to, recruiting and those types of relationships sometimes pay off.”
Immediately upon arriving at Montclair State, Wolak made an impact on the Red Hawk’s young core of players. She quickly established herself as a leader in the locker room and served as a mentor. According to Wolak, coming to Montclair State gave her the opportunity to display this.
“I had a different role coming from Rider to Montclair [State],” Wolak said. “I think [that my leadership ability] was the same and I had that kind of aspect that I could bring forward to the team and [that is] something that I hope I always help with the team.”
Junior guard/forward Megan Duffy says that Wolak has helped the team improve as a whole, thanks to her experience and deep knowledge of the game.
“Any of us can easily go to her for questions and advice and she is always willing to help us out,” Duffy said. “She also has such a high basketball IQ which really shows while she is playing and helps our team a lot.”
Wolak is not just the team’s spiritual leader, but also one of the most dominant players for Montclair State this season. The name of her game is physicality and along with diving for loose balls and playing high-pressure defense, she has come up with 37 steals and 105 rebounds. Wolak said that her game was able to fit perfectly into the Red Hawks’ system.
“Being aggressive has always been my game and the fact that I could bring that [compliments] other things that everybody else on the team is so good at,” Wolak said. “I mean [sophomore forward/center Olivia Vero] is a driver, [Carter] is a shooter and a great offensive [player]. Everybody just brings something really unique and special to the team and it just so happens that my aggression is something that I bring.”
Working primarily from the paint and mid-range, Wolak also is the number two scoring option for Montclair State, shooting .500 from the field while scoring 157 points so far this season. Duffy added that Wolak’s level of awareness allows her to contribute to the offense past just scoring baskets.
“She is a team player and is always looking for others and then herself in our offense,” Duffy said. “I like to look for her in the post and she will kick [the ball] out to me or others for a three. She also sets really good screens and gives good handoffs which just overall helps anyone on the team to score.”
The impact of Wolak’s time as a Red Hawk will last beyond her playing time at Montclair State. Veterans like her have the ability to unite a team, as well as set a positive example for the younger players, which sets up future teams for success as well. Harvey said that her contributions have been incredibly valuable to the team.
“[Wolak] is just such an outstanding person and basketball player,” Harvey said. “We really needed her maturity and her leadership and she came in with a great attitude and understands what it takes to be successful on the basketball court and has done a tremendous job with our young players.”
Wolak said that although she has only been a part of the team for this season, she has formed a significant bond with all of her teammates.
“I clicked with all of them I think very well,” Wolak said. “I think although we have some younger [players], I’m the oldest player on the team, they call me Grandma T, I’m like their big sister and I love that. I’m very close with all of them. I’m so lucky to have such a close connection with everyone here.”