You can officially call the Montclair State Red Hawks (25-2) Women’s Basketball team a dynasty.
Facing a battle-tested and resilient Rutgers-Newark Scarlet Raiders (12-16) squad in the NJAC Tournament Championship Game on Saturday afternoon at the Panzer Athletic Center on the campus of Montclair State University, the Red Hawks relied on the three-point shot in a 71-61 victory, their fifth straight NJAC Tournament Title.
“We knew it was going to be really tough because Rutgers-Newark was playing really great and their two guards are really difficult and in the second half of the season have been incredible,” Head Coach Karin Garvey said. “Ashley (Cieplicki) has done a great job with them and all the respect to Rutgers-Newark and everything they accomplished to get to this point.”
With the score tied at 53-53 in the fourth quarter, Montclair senior forward Sage Bennett (10 points) put the Red Hawks in front with a left-handed lay-up. Senior guard Rachel Krauss, who tallied 12 points with all of them coming off three-pointers, drained back-to-back treys extending the margin to 61-53 with 5:54 remaining.
Senior guard Katie Sire completed the trifecta, burying a jump shot 36 second later. Montclair’s stifling defense held the Scarlet Raiders to 30 percent shooting from the field in the period. Rutgers-Newark sophomore guard Faith Ashby had a team-high 26 points while senior guard Maria Simmons added 19 points and senior guard Shala Glenn added 10 points.
“I thought we played great today and we had a certain strategy today and think it worked,” said Harvey. “One of the biggest things we talked about is just doing what we normally do and biggest thing was rebounding and out rebounded them 48-29 and huge for us. These guys stick to the game plan, battled and every time Rutgers-Newark came down we had answer for it continuously amazed by how they continue to rise to the occasion.”
“In the fourth quarter, the game plan came together and that’s what’s great about these guys is they trust me and buy into 100 percent and don’t question what’s going on. I don’t want to live and die by the three but our three-point shot is a weapon and if we can get seven or eight it’s a game changer because it has momentum.”
In the third quarter, Rutgers-Newark came out aggressive, taking a 36-32 advantage with 7:40 left. Montclair responded with a 5-0 run capped off by a three-point play by Sire who scored 10 of her game-high 19 points in the quarter. Sire also proved to be a catalyst on the boards grabbing 12 of them.
“That happens sometimes when I start off slow,” said Sire. “Shots were not that easy in the first half but I just came out in the third quarter with a clean slate and helped out a lot.”
“I love this team and group of seniors and they have been everything to this program,” Harvey stated. “We had some great players come through this program and three seniors sitting here (Rachel Krauss, Zoe Curtis, Sage Bennett) have been our glue to our program from day one. Players that do everything you ask and never question it as they will play five or 40 minutes and it doesn’t matter. They work a little harder, good and bring their best every single day not matter what and if anyone deserves to win an NJAC Championship it’s them.”