Makayla Firebaugh helps Rider find positives in loss to Army

By Dylan Manfre

Consistent scoring is hard to come by for the women’s basketball team this season after it lost the nation’s leading scorer and one of the conference’s most consistent players to graduation.

One player did not take the bulk of the scoring against Army on Dec. 2. Instead, at the end of the first quarter, five different Rider players saw their names in the scoring column. By the end of the game, eight players contributed a bucket in the 70-55 loss

Army extended a double digit lead late in the game but it was not a bad loss — compared to Rider’s first two games against Villanova and Drexel.

“I think you saw some good things tonight and a step in the right direction,” Head Coach Lynn Milligan said on the team’s postgame Zoom call. “We’re building our puzzle and we’ll get those pieces in place.”

Maybe Milligan does not need to rely on one player to do a majority of the scoring as All-American guard Stella Johnson did a season ago. She just needs scoring she can rely on and if that comes from a variety of players, so be it.

“I think that’s what you’re going to see,” Milligan said. “I think you’re going to see a lot of different people step up and score at different times. I think, obviously, junior guard Amanda [Mobley] is going to be probably our most consistent scorer. … I’d be surprised if she’s not hitting double figures every game as we move forward.”

Mobley finished with 14 points and shot 5-for-22 from the field. She added six rebounds and four assists.

One of those “pieces” Milligan alluded to was freshman guard Makayla Firebough. The native of Winchester, Virginia, had two of the Broncs’ six first half blocks. They had two blocks all season before Dec. 2.

 Milligan said Firebaugh was not recruited to Rider for her defense. She was a 2,000-point scorer at James Wood High School. She finished with eight points on 3-of-7 shooting tonight with four rebounds and two blocks.

“It was not her defense,” Milligan laughs when asked what she said when recruiting Firebaugh in high school. “But she’s bought into our defensive system. It’s a lot for a freshman to learn to play defense at this level with the amount of screens and screen coverage and the different things that we play.”

Since she’s been here, Firebaugh said she has grown a lot into a defensive player.

“I made it a priority when I got here because if I want to play, I gotta be able to play defense also,” Firebaugh said. “So I really stepped it up this year.”

Firebaugh is an ultra competitor and even when the team has an off day, she will still “be sweating by the end of it” whether that is doing form shots or shooting drills. That’s what keeps her motivated to improve in all facets of basketball. It’s been that way all of high school for her too.

“Anything I do is just a competition. I love to be the best at everything,” Firebaugh said. “So I take everything as a competiton and, no matter what, I could be working out with myself and I’ll make it competitive somehow. Everything I do I always have a competitive mindset to get better.”

Rider fell to 0-3 for the first time since the 2018-2019 season when it finished 19-14 overall and with a first-round exit in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) tournament.

A notable stat from the game is that Rider had 25 rebounds at halftime. It had 26 rebounds total against Villanova and 28 total against Drexel. 

Rider’s games are played without fans this season because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The MAAC’s policy is there will be no fans until at least Dec. 23.

Next Game

Rider begins its MAAC slate of five two-game home series and five two-game away series beginning with Manhattan on Dec. 11 and 12. Both games are at 7 p.m. at Alumni Gym.

Follow Dylan Manfre on Twitter for the latest on the women’s basketball team.

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