By Steven Eggert
After losing 15 of its last 16 games for the 2011-12 year, the slate is wiped clean for Head Coach Lynn Milligan’s women’s basketball team as the Broncs look to start fresh this season.
During the first 13 games, the team was 8-5 before dropping 15 of its last 18 games to end the year with an 11-20 overall record. When facing teams in the conference, the Broncs only managed a 3-15 overall record.
Senior center Caitlin Bopp felt that MAAC opponents provided more challenges because they know Rider better than non-conference teams.
“MAAC games are always harder than non-conference games,” Bopp said. “I think we tried to continue the momentum we had at the beginning of the season, but with a couple of injuries that occurred and playing harder teams that scout us all year, I just don’t think we adjusted enough.”
In the midst of it all, five players missed games because of academic issues or injuries. Milligan found it difficult for the team to play without key players halfway through the year.
“The easy answer is that we got decimated by injury,” Milligan said. “We had four ACL [injuries] last year and we had a lot of adversity right in the middle of the season. Shereen [Lightbourne], our returning MVP, got hurt the first day of workouts, seniors Ali Heller and Alyssa [Parsons] got hurt, Sironda [Chambers], academically ineligible, was our leading scorer and Manon [Pellet] was on her way over from France to play for us, but she blew out her knee. Did we respond the best we could? Obviously not, but hopefully lessons were learned.”
Lightbourne, a redshirt junior, was Rider’s women’s basketball MVP two seasons ago. At the beginning of last season, she tore her left ACL and had to miss the entire season as a result. After recovering and being cleared to play about two weeks ago, she tore her right ACL within a week. Once again, Lightbourne will miss this season to recover.
Milligan was saddened to hear the news for a second straight year.
“My heart breaks for her; [it’s] a devastating blow,” Milligan said. “She worked her butt off coming back and sometimes the gods of basketball are just cruel. It’s her third ACL [tear]. She did one in high school, so her left knee twice, and now her right knee for the first time. She’s confident, wants to get the surgery done and she’s very determined to put that uniform back on and do what she has to do.”
The Broncs were last in the conference in scoring against MAAC opponents. To fulfill the need for more scorers, Milligan recruited forward Janine Loutzenhiser, guard Mikal Johnson and guard Taylor Wentzel, along with redshirt freshman guard Manon Pellet.
“They’re an extremely talented group,” Milligan said. “Janine is what we call a trail post and she can shoot the lights out from three. Mikal is a long-range bomber — she can shoot the lights out too, which were things we were missing from last year. Taylor is a strong, steady guard that can play the one or the two and has had a fantastic preseason. Manon is not quite 100 percent [after her knee injury]. She can shoot the ball, handle the ball and help us at point guard.”
Despite the quality of freshmen, the upperclassmen are still the leaders. The three captains are Bopp, senior guard Sironda Chambers and graduate student forward Carleigh Brown.
Brown is in her senior season of NCAA eligibility, but a graduate student academically. Since it is her final season playing college basketball, Brown wants to end her career positively.
“As a team captain, it is my job to lead,” Brown said. “I am a very vocal person, but [I’m] learning to be vocal in the right way, whether it is encouraging my teammates, correcting them or just giving a high five. As a senior class we have one goal in mind and that’s to win, so I and the other seniors are doing everything to make sure we accomplish that goal.”
Milligan will rely a lot on Carleigh Brown and other seniors such as Bopp, Chambers and Dior Brown.
“Our senior group, Carleigh and Caitlin have been like our post combo for four years,” Milligan said. “They’re both great leaders, both steady kids that just get after it. Caitlin is probably one of the top post players in the league, and she’s poised to have a breakout senior year. Sironda Chambers is another senior who people didn’t see enough of last year. She can play the one, two or three for us and is a very talented young lady. Dior Brown has always been a steady guard sub for us for the last three years, so I’m expecting nothing less from her.”
Junior guard Myneshia McKenzie led the 2011-12 Broncs in points per game (10.8) and was also first in the MAAC in rebounds per game (9.1). Emerging into the second half of her college career, Milligan expects McKenzie to be a one of the top players in the conference this year.
“Myneshia is in that fold of understanding, ‘Wow, I’m an upperclassman now — I got this,’” Milligan said. “What she’s finding out that in order to be a great player, it’s hard work every day. She was a leading rebounder, an all-conference player, very talented, causes a lot of mismatches for a lot of teams and I think she can [step up this year] because she wants to be a great player.”
After going 3-15 in the MAAC last season, Milligan anticipates a better performance from her team in the challenging conference.
“The MAAC is a really competitive league,” Milligan said. “Marist is at the top of our league and [has been] at the top for the last seven years now, and everybody else is striving to catch Marist. It is one of those types of leagues where anybody can beat anybody any given day. There’s always a sleeper team that emerges, a surprise team. We’re hoping it’s us. With a veteran group, we feel we can do that.”
Bopp believes that the team has had a better preseason this year than last year. She is hoping that it will translate to how the Broncs are able to perform this season.
“We’ve really taken a step up from last preseason, and it’s really pushing us and making us excited for our games,” Bopp said. “The main goal is always to win, but we want to go further than that. We want to make it past the first round of the MAAC tournament and go all the way. Everyone on our team believes we can do it; we just have to prove it this year.”
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