By Dylan Manfre
Ironically, the team with the worst home record in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) had a stretch of three home games in five days that could alter the trajectory of its season.
That was the situation Rider women’s basketball was in when it hosted Monmouth on Feb. 17, Marist on Feb. 20 and Canisius on Feb. 21. Veteran Head Coach Lynn Milligan led the Broncs for 15 seasons and never posted fewer than three home wins; that mark was set last year.
Rider survived dipping below three after ending the week with two home wins. Three games in five days? Try five games in 11 days. The Broncs had some momentum after wins over Monmouth and Canisius before reverting to old habits against Marist.
Rejuvenated and refreshed
“It’s huge, it’s been a while,” Milligan said with a smirk, after the team’s first home win since Dec. 1. “It’s been a minute. It’s nice to win here.”
That comment came on the heels of a 51-41 win against the Monmouth Hawks to avoid another season sweep.
Rider’s frontcourt shined unlike other times this season when the chemistry was in question — and there were plenty of times that was called into question. Sophomore Raphaela Toussaint loaded the box score with 12 rebounds. Juniors Anna Ekerstedt and Victoria Toomey had respectable games as well with Toomey getting six points and four boards and Ekerstedt having the opposite; four points and six boards.
The duo combined to shoot 5 of 9 from the field too.
The defensive efforts of the three front-court players to keep Monmouth’s Belle Kranbuhl out of the paint was a crucial factor in the game. Kranbuhl is one of Monmouth’s main scorers and erasing her presence kept the Hawks from scoring double-digits in two quarters, which is something seldom for Rider.
“I think she’s one of the best post players in the league,” Milligan said. “I thought Anna did a good job on her with her length and speed and I thought Vic did a good job bodying up with her. And I think Vic made her work on offense a little bit.”
Senior guard Amanda Mobley felt more comfortable playing Monmouth the second time around too. She spent most of the season in a boot and made her return against the Hawks on Jan. 27 and now is in the swing of things.
“They looked to go [inside] more to try [and] take advantage of what they could or go into who they thought did work on us … the first time,” Mobley said. “I think we were ready for that and shut them down.”
Defeating Canisius had Rider winning two in a row for the first time since mid-January. But Canisius is a MAAC-bottom feeder. A win against the 4-22, 2-12, Griffins was expected. The Broncs would have to royally mess this up to lose.
The 71-57 victory on senior day secured Rider’s first sweep of an opponent this year. Two home wins help the Broncs get closer to Milligan’s goal of peaking in mid-February.
Senior forward Teresa Wolak and Lenaejha Evans were honored pregame with their families. Wolak’s Rider career has been riddled with leg injuries limiting her to 30 games before Feb. 19.
She warmed up with the team participating in passing drills and taking small hook shots as she tended to the leg brace on her left leg. During the game, she sat on the bench in full uniform with her clipboard. She was not cleared to play because of her injury but Milligan made sure she had a good experience.
“Her and I talked about it and it’s senior day. I wanted her to hear her name and I wanted her to put her jersey on because she deserves that,” Milligan said.
After the game, Milligan also said they were “close” to playing the full 40 minutes citing defensive troubles in the second and third quarters. While it is an encouraging sign for Milligan to say the Broncs nearly played a complete game to her liking, Rider still has to close out some games.
The Broncs are hoping they never play like they did against Marist as they lost 70-62 to close out the three-game homestand.
Rider did not hit on “KYP,” the team’s initialism for “know your personnel,” leading Milligan to say for the third time this season, “I didn’t have my team ready. You can print it, you can tweet it, you can do whatever you want to do with it but I did not have my team ready and we did not play a good basketball game.”
The Broncs allowed Marist, who had one road win before Feb. 21, to dominate the second, third and fourth quarters. Marist guard Kendall Krick finished with a career-high 20 points on 7 of 10 shooting from the field.
“She was sneaking around and found open spots for herself,” junior guard Jessika Schiffer said.
Rider committed eight turnovers in the third quarter and struggled into the fourth as well. The lack of production from players such as Toomey and Ekerstedt was apparent late in the game. Both were scoreless in a combined 30 minutes of action.
“We got them touches early. I thought Marist did a good job of collapsing their defense on them,” Milligan said. “I thought we needed to be a little bit stronger with the ball and make quicker decisions. We just didn’t do that.”