It was a sluggish start to the regular season for the Red Hawks, but after starting 5-6, the Montclair State University women’s basketball team is finally surging in the right direction with the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) tournament on the horizon.
Before narrowly losing to New Jersey City University (NJCU) on Feb. 12, the Red Hawks rallied off eight straight victories, which put them right back in the mix amongst the top of the NJAC.
With aspirations of claiming their first NJAC title in nearly four years, junior guard Nickie Carter didn’t want this slow start to define the rest of the team’s season.
“Obviously, we weren’t playing how we wanted to and we just kind of had to work through that,” Carter said. “We knew we wanted a championship, so a lot of it was coming together as a team when we were at our lowest and deciding we were going to work harder.”
Sitting at third in the conference and with an overall record of 14-8 (12-5 NJAC), the Red Hawks are confident as each player on the team can bring something different to the table, according to head coach Karin Harvey.
“We have a lot of different weapons,” Harvey said. “I think a lot of different people can do things for us at different times and we can be a great rebounding team.”
Although there were not any significant lineup changes throughout this season, Harvey has a lot at her disposal. With such a deep team and options everywhere, they can beat their opponents in many different ways.
If the Red Hawks meet a situation where it calls for different lineups, they are well-equipped with senior forward Kelly Smith, freshman forward Olivia Vero and senior guard Annie Walsh. All three players have provided a spark off the bench, particularly Vero, who is currently leading the NJAC in total blocks (36) and blocks per game (2.4).
What also makes this team so dangerous on the offensive end is their very talented backcourt. They are extremely skillful and between Carter, senior guard Julia Sutton and sophomore guard Kendall Hodges, they all have the ability to affect the game as a scorer or playmaker off the dribble.
In terms of scoring, Carter has been in the absolute zone all season. She ranks second in the NJAC in points per game with 17.9. In a Feb. 9 victory against Rutgers-Newark on Senior Night, Carter led the way with a career-high of 34.
With her scoring average this season jumping from over nine points from last season (8.6 in 2021), Carter spoke about where this newfound confidence is coming from.
“A lot of that is a thank you to coach Harvey and all of the coaches, they kind of gave me the green light,” Carter said. “They have a lot of confidence in me and they tell me to shoot when I am open and that’s a really good position to be in on any team.”
For much of the season, Harvey notes, the Red Hawks have been suffocating on the defensive side, leading to them having the number one scoring defense in the entire NJAC, as they are only giving up 53.8 points per contest.
“I think they really bought into playing some team defense,” Harvey said. “They worked really hard at it and I think defense and rebounding have made the difference.”
Hodges stressed that their team defense has become such a focal point during the season, they actually dedicated full practices to almost only that end of the court.
“I’m very proud of the team we have become,” Hodges said. “Our defense is unbelievable.”
Some would say senior guard Trisha Peterson acts as the enforcer for the Red Hawks. Peterson has dominated the glass all season and is second in the NJAC in rebounds per game with 9.1. Along with her rebounding, she’s been a phenomenal defender and makes it almost impossible for opposing teams to score with her near the basket.
Winning the NJAC is no easy task, considering every team will give the Red Hawks their best fight. Despite NJCU having a relatively down season this year (9-9), they were still able to pull out a victory over the Red Hawks in a tight battle that included scoring runs by each team.
Carter believes their success moving forward will come down to this squad being mentally tough during these seesaw affairs.
“We know all the teams have a pretty good scout on us and that other teams are going to go on runs,” Carter said. “Sometimes, we kind of let that get to us and take ourselves out of it. The most important thing for us, [however], is sticking together no matter what, pushing through those runs and just playing our basketball.”