|Katie Sire will be expected to improve on her 8.2 points per game from last season.
Montclair State athletics photo
The Montclair State women’s basketball team had just advanced to the NCAA Division III Final Four for the first time in program history. It was March 14, and the Red Hawks had beaten Salisbury, 68-44, in the Elite Eight. In a postgame news conference, Montclair State coach Karin Harvey described her halftime talk with her team. She said that she had spoken about the need to keep playing hard, to not get complacent with a 15-point lead.
“We play best when we’re pushing,” Harvey said. “We don’t play best when we slow down the game and when we sort of go into idle mode.”
So it should come as no surprise that No. 12 Montclair State has approached this season with the same mentality. There is no “idle mode” for the Red Hawks, even with All-Americans Melissa Tobie’s and Janitza Aquino’s playing days over, even after a season of unprecedented success -- a program-record 31 victories, a third straight NJAC championship, the Final Four appearance -- that will be tough to top, even though a letdown would be understandable, and, perhaps, expected.
“We’re not looking at this like a rebuilding season,” Harvey said in a telephone interview on Monday morning. “We’re looking at this like, we’ve got a lot of players with a lot of experience, and we’re expecting to be able to compete at a high level.”
Montclair State (2-0) did just that in its first two games, a 77-62 victory over Ithaca and a 67-40 win at Vassar. Sophomore guard/forward Katie Sire had 19 points and 17 rebounds, both career highs, against Ithaca. She followed that with 17 points and 11 boards against Vassar.
“Katie’s going to be a big-time player for us, and we knew that while we recruited her,” Harvey said. “I think she’s ready for that challenge.”
Sire is a returning starter, along with sophomore point guard Kate Tobie and junior forward Sage Bennett. Junior guard Rachael Krauss and senior guard Kayla Ceballos joined the starting lineup this year.
Ceballos scored 19 points against Ithaca, making five of seven 3-pointers. She was a captain along with Melissa Tobie and Aquino last year and is the only captain this year. Harvey noted that Krauss and junior guard Zoe Curtis had improved and that they give the starting lineup some flexibility.
“I think our lineup is going to change just based on our defensive needs,” Harvey said. “We’re a little deep at the guard position now, so we have the option of going with a big lineup or a smaller lineup.”
The other NJAC coaches don’t consider this much of a rebuilding year for Montclair State. In the preseason poll, they picked the Red Hawks to finish second in the league.
“We know that it’s going to take some time to bring it all together,” Harvey said. “But I think that we have the players to do that.”
Paterson has eyes on conference crown
The William Paterson men’s basketball team is coming off of two straight 21-win seasons. Last year, the Pioneers earned their first NCAA Tournament bid since 2011-12. But for all of their successes in the last two years, they are also missing a major accomplishment: an NJAC championship.
William Paterson reached the NJAC tournament final in each of the past two seasons. Each time, Stockton took the crown.
In the NJAC preseason coaches’ poll, Stockton was picked to finish atop the league for a third straight year. William Paterson was picked to finish third, behind Rutgers-Newark.
Last year, the Pioneers’ 13-5 NJAC regular-season mark was good for second in the league. William Paterson has the talent to contend again this season. Senior guard Terik Bridgeman was a first-team All-NJAC selection last year, and senior guard Bright Mensah is the reigning NJAC Defensive Player of the Year.
The Pioneers lost two starters, guards Jaques Conceicao and Sandy Burgos, to graduation. Burgos was an all-NJAC second-team selection in his final two seasons.
“Sandy was a very special scorer,” head coach Jose Rebimbas said. “He had the ability to, when things weren’t going well offensively, to create opportunities for his teammates and for himself, so his ability to put the ball on the rim is going to be sorely missed.”
Rebimbas said that replacing Burgos’s production would require a group effort among William Paterson’s players. So far, the Pioneers have responded.
William Paterson (2-0) started the season with a 100-78 win over No. 7 Mount Union on Saturday. Senior forward James McLane scored a game-high 23 points, Mensah had 22, and Bridgeman added 20.
“We’re excited about the fact that we’re able to have that many athletes on the court that can on any given night put up 20,” Rebimbas said. “It’ll be hard for us to be scouted.”
In William Paterson’s 70-62 win at Drew the next day, Bridgeman scored a game-high 23 points, while McLane chipped in with 21.
The Pioneers host Stockton on Dec. 5. It will be the teams’ first meeting since the 2014-15 NJAC final.