For most Division III teams, a 16-10 record with a conference tournament appearance would be considered a successful season.
However, the 2018-2019 season may be considered a slight disappointment for the Montclair State University women’s basketball team. For the first time since 2012, the Red Hawks failed to win the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) championship and make the national tournament, as they finished the season with a loss to the Kean Cougars in the first round of the 2019 NJAC Women’s Basketball Tournament.
On a brighter note, the Red Hawks will return a significant amount of experience from last year’s team; with that comes lofty expectations as the Red Hawks were picked to finish second in the 2019 NJAC Preseason Coaches Poll.
“We were very young last season and we had to make a lot of adjustments,” head coach Karen Harvey said. “This season we are much more experienced, and our goal is to win the NJAC like every other year.”
To help the Red Hawks accomplish the goals that they set out for this season, Harvey has brought back a familiar face to the program: Katie Sire. She will serve as the team’s assistant coach and recruiting coordinator this season.
A 2018 graduate of Montclair State University, Sire was a three-time All NJAC First-Team selection from 2015-2018 and a two-time All-American during her playing career for the Red Hawks.
Sire believes that because she has played for coach Harvey in the past, she can be a huge asset to the current players on the team.
“As a player, I ran the same sets and plays that we still run today,” Sire said. “I think that’s really beneficial to the players since I know the style of play that we have and I can guide them.”
Senior forward Alex McKinnon, who played with Sire from 2016-2018, knows how valuable she will be on the sidelines.
“I’m thrilled to have her on board,” McKinnon said. “She’s able to explain what she sees to us on the basketball court very well, and it’s great to have her perspective on things.”
It will be interesting to see how McKinnon follows up after a tremendous 2018-2019 season. Despite dealing with injuries throughout, McKinnon led the team in scoring, averaging 12.8 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. Named to the Second-Team All NJAC last season, McKinnon can play forward and center, which allows her to stretch the floor with her shooting from mid-range and beyond the arch.
Coach Harvey is thankful to have a strong player like McKinnon fully healthy for her senior year and believes that her versatility will be key for this team.
“Alex is a tremendous leader, and she’s had health challenges these last couple of years so it’s going to be nice for her to not be playing [while] hurt,” Harvey said. “She’s always been a utility player for us because she can do so many different things for us.”
The contributors do not just stop with McKinnon. Junior guard Taylor Brown (9.7 points per game), and junior guard Kim Calloway (9.0 points per game) are all capable scorers returning for the Red Hawks. Sophomore guard Julia Sutton and sophomore forward Kayla Bush will also play key roles this season.
According to Harvey, there is no set starting lineup for this season, so expect the Red Hawks to come out with multiple different lineups, depending on the matchup.
Along with being a very strong offensive team, the Red Hawks were statistically one of the best teams in the NJAC last year in terms of defense. This stingy defense allowed the fewest points in the conference last season (55.2 points per game) and finished second in the conference in blocks, rebounding and opponent field goal percentage.
This comes as no surprise as Harvey’s defensive schemes have historically made the Red Hawks a tough team to score on, and is a big reason for their success in recent seasons. Despite their success on that end of the floor last season, she believes there is still room for improvement this season.
“We want to hold teams to less than 55 points,” Harvey said. “That was the difference between our Final Four team in 2016 and last season team, where we only allowed 52 points.”
“We have to find a way to take three points off the board, and can do this by rebounding better and playing better half-court defense,” Harvey said.
The Red Hawks seemingly have all the tools to make a run for another NJAC title this season, including experience, confidence and talent. With this being Harvey’s 13th season as head coach, expectations remain high for this program. However, the Red Hawks are soaring into the 2019-2020 season with the faith that they can return to their former glory.
“This team is absolutely ready to get back to the levels that we were at before,” McKinnon said. “Instead of looking at all of these expectations as pressure, we look at it as fun because know we can meet them, it’s just about our mindset.”
The Red Hawks started off their season strong with a 66-58 win over Hunter College on Tuesday, Nov. 12.