By: Sean Martin, Assistant Sports Director & Upon Further Review Host
Two things have become constant around this time of the month of March for Montclair State University. The students are looking ahead to spring break, and the women’s basketball team is playing in the NCAA Tournament. After making a run to the national semifinals last season, the Red Hawks are back in the NCAA Tournament after winning the NJAC for the fourth consecutive year, winning a heart stopper against Rowan.
It has been quite the ride for Karin Harvey’s team this year, as the first season after the graduation of Melissa Tobie and Janitza Aquino saw the Red Hawks get off to an 8-1 start before heading to the Puerto Rico Classic tournament. Not only did MSU lose both games played in Puerto Rico, but the roster’s lone senior Kayla Ceballos went down for the season with a torn MCL and ACL.
However, as great teams do, the Red Hawks found a way to adjust. Players like Rachael Krauss and Zoe Curtis began chipping in more offensively, with Krauss shooting an absurd .431% from beyond the arc this season. Of course, it was her three pointer near the conclusion of the the NJAC Championship that sent the Panzer Athletic Center into a frenzy, and ultimately led MSU back to the NCAA Tournament….
— WMSC Sports #PackPAC (@WMSCSports) February 27, 2016
…which takes us to tomorrow night, when the Red Hawks will host the SUNY Polytechnic Wildcats at 7 PM. While MSU comes into this tournament with experience, the Wildcats do not – with this being their first ever appearance in the “big dance”.
It has also been said before, in any sport come tournament time, that the most dangerous team is the one that is not supposed to be there. This very well may be SUNY Polytechnic this year, as the Wildcats trailed Lancaster Bible 32-18 at the half in the NEAC Championship game. Head Coach Jess Skelton and her veteran team were able to battle back, thanks in large part to 17 fourth quarter points by Senior leading scorer Stevie Ray. She finished with 30 in total, as the Wildcats capped off a 20-5 regular season with a conference title of their own.
Potentially playing with house money, SUNY Poly also presents some serious challenges to the style of basketball that Montclair State likes to play. Stevie Ray makes up a balanced scoring trio alongside Geena Gallo and Lauren Knowles. This team is also physical on the glass, and does not often turn the basketball over.
If there is one area that MSU can dominate in, it’s taking advantage of the Wildcats’ inconsistency. In their first round conference tournament game, SUNY jumped out to an early lead only to see Penn State Abington battle back. In the following round, they once again played to a close 65-55 win over Gallaudet after leading 34-15 at the half.
The Red Hawks have been great, at times, in putting team’s in a hole early. This was the case in the final against Rowan, as MSU led 23-11 after one quarter of play. However, as good as they have been at setting the tone of a game early at times, they have also struggled mightily in this regard. In the previous round, it was William Paterson that stunned MSU at home by jumping out to an early 11-0 lead.
This is a Montclair State team that lives and dies on making that one big run in a game. While this is an incredibly dangerous way to play, it has also taken them this far, and there is no reason to think that it cannot propel them well past this first round on Friday night. For that big run to come, Karin Harvey will look to familiar faces in Krauss along with Katie Sire, Kate Tobie, and Sage Bennett.
It’s time to find out if the exciting brand of MSU basketball that brought them their fourth consecutive conference title is good enough to bring them the ultimate goal – a Division III National Championship! That journey begins tomorrow night at 7 PM from the Panzer Athletic Center, as the Red Hawks face the SUNY Polytechnic Wildcats. The game will be right here on WMSC, with Twitter updates available @WMSCSports.