By Dylan Manfre
Women’s basketball head coach Lynn Milligan wants respect put on the Broncs.
Milligan said nobody in the locker room was surprised Rider made it to the semifinals of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) Tournament although it lost in a valiant effort to Saint Peter’s on March 12 in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
She said everybody had fed into the “easy thing to say” about the team. Losing six seniors, having lots of youth, one senior, etc. It is frustrating to Milligan because of the good culture they instituted.
“I mean, to be honest with you, the narrative out there about us is wrong to be really honest. You know, the direction of our program is that we’re a top team in this league and we’ve been in the semifinals five years in a row. And the expectations of this program are winning championships,” Milligan said. “And whether we have six newcomers and a bunch of freshmen and sophomores or whether we have Stella Johnson, that’s the expectation that we have on our program. So yeah, we didn’t start the way we wanted to. But there’s nobody in that locker room that [was] surprised about where we are.”
Heading into the Quinnipiac matchup, which put a no. 7 seed against a no. 2 seed, there was some anticipation surrounding the contest. The Bobcats are one of the league’s best programs and Head Coach Tricia Fabbri is one of the MAAC’s best coaches. But Milligan was not surprised one, that her team made it that far and two, that Rider beat them.
“We’ve beaten Quinnipiac four of the last five times we’ve played them,” Milligan said.
And Rider won those four games by an average point margin of 9.25. That one loss was earlier this season when Quinnipiac won 72-50.
“So yes, they were the two seed and we were the seven, but our kids don’t look at it that way,” Milligan said. “The culture that we build is that we look at things as Rider women’s basketball and we feel we’re one of the top teams in the league and we want to do everything we can to make sure we keep ourselves there. But sometimes, we want the respect for the work that we’ve done.”
Junior guard Amanda Mobley agreed that a false narrative was cast upon the Broncs and that the record did not reflect their play.
“Obviously people didn’t think we were going to do great just because we did lose six seniors, most of the starters [from last season] and everything,” Mobley said. “We didn’t start out great but you can see that we did get better and obviously [made] it to the semifinals.
Starting the season 1-12 did not do much to help the Broncs’ cause in the gaining respect area. They lost to teams previously they would not have lost to, such as Iona and Siena. The last time Rider lost to both of those teams in the same season was 2015-2016.
Mobley is confident they will be, as Milligan said, back in the same spot next year.
“It took us until the end of the season for us to really start figuring everybody out … because we get mostly everybody back, except Daija, that’s basically a head start,” Mobley said. “We can pick up right where we left off and keep going. I definitely think next year we should be in the semifinals [or] go farther.”
Players who made big jumps this season
Freshman forward Raphaela Toussaint
Toussaint is probably the rookie to make the biggest jump from the start of the season to the end.
Milligan, along with multiple players, said during the season the main thing holding Toussaint back was her confidence. A fair assessment for a freshman. She overcame her barriers and charted her way into the starting lineup and the All-MAAC First Team by the season’s end.
“It took a little bit to get her to come out of her shell and knowing that if she gets the ball under the hoop she can put it in every time,” Mobley said. “The only thing stopping her was herself.”
Freshman guard Makayla Firebaugh
The league dubbed Firebaugh Co-Rookie of the Year along with Caitlin Weimar of Marist.
She impressed many by making her way into the starting lineup early in the season and ended the year as the Broncs’ leading scorer and the top scorer in the league among the freshman class.
Firebaugh averaged 11 points per game and four assists per game.
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