For the sixth time in a row, the Montclair State University women’s basketball team held the throne at the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC). The sweaty and cheerful 10-player team was ecstatic to hold the trophy together after the 58-51 victory over The College of New Jersey (TCNJ).
Playing at home was definitely an advantage. The Red Hawks had family and friends splattered across the entire bleacher section at the Panzer Athletic Center. Fans stood and cheered, “Let’s go Red Hawks,” for their beloved team while wearing red and white T-shirts to show their college spirit.
Although the Red Hawks were ranked first in the Atlantic Region, coaches and players knew that this competition would take extremely hard work against their biggest rival, TCNJ. The team lost against the second ranked Lions earlier in the season 59-62.
Senior Katie Sire picked the right day to bring her all, posting 25 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks for the Red Hawks. With a 23-3 record, the team focused in, kept their composure and captured another consecutive league title. As a result of the crucial win, the team also received the NJAC’s automatic bid to the NCAA Division III Women’s Basketball Championship.
Montclair State entered the evening with a 16-2 overall record in the conference, and a 10-0 record at home. One of the successful skills the team is notorious for is their three-point field goal defense, which was used strategically in the NJAC championship match.
The initial start of the game was nerve-wracking and tense after the Lions’ Jen Byrne sunk a two-pointer on the opening possession of the game. However, freshman Alex McKinnon along with seniors Sire and Taylor Harmon diminished that lead by contributing field goals to put the Red Hawks ahead. McKinnon scored six points, while Harmon racked up 15 points and eight rebounds.
Sire boosted the lead even more by swishing a long jumper with little time left in the first quarter. The quarter ended with a 14-10 advantage for Montclair State.
On the court, there is an evident hefty bond between the Red Hawks’ upperclassmen and underclassmen. Many people underestimate the tiny squad because of all of the newbies, but the freshmen always prove them wrong and show out during their game time.
In the second quarter, freshman Kim Calloway caught a long court pass from Kate Tobie and slayed a shot for a 21-13 lead.
The Lions did not back down and cut the lead to 27-24 with only seconds left in the quarter. Senior Tobie battled right back by connecting a clean shot to lead the Red Hawks 28-2 at the halftime mark. Tobie had four points, six rebounds and six assists.
The persistent NJAC championship battle was neck and neck as Montclair State closed the third period with a short 43-42 lead against the Lions. Sire made another senior statement to keep the lead after immersing a pressured free throw shot with only eight seconds left.
In the fourth quarter, junior Dominique Wirsing helped maintain Montclair State’s lead by connecting a clean layup. Sire’s adrenaline continued to pump as she sank another short range shot to make the lead 53-49. Sire also captured multiple rebounds, which kept TCNJ distant and connected several more in the paint to boost the Red Hawks’ lead to 55-51.
The NJAC championship game on Friday evening marked the eighth time Montclair State and rivals TCNJ have matched. The mighty Red Hawks hold a 5-3 mark in NJAC tournament games and bear 12 consecutive conference tournament contests on their belt.
The Red Hawks will celebrate now, but they still have work to do.