Montclair State and Rutgers-Newark will battle for the NJAC Women’s Basketball Tournament Championship Saturday at the Panzer Athletic Center on the campus of Montclair State University, a game that will feature a tale of two different teams.
You have the experienced Red Hawks with a record of 24-2, a team that easily won the NJAC regular season championship. This is Montclair’s fifth consecutive trip to the tournament championship game. Meanwhile, the 12-15 Scarlet Raiders had to win their last game to qualify for the tournament. During the regular season, Montclair State swept both match-ups 62-49 at Newark on December 3 and 69-55 at Montclair on January 23.
However, Rutgers-Newark has become the Cinderella story, upsetting both Stockton and Kean University to advance to the final. Montclair reached today’s championship game by defeating Rowan 76-67 in the semifinals.
Senior guard Rachel Krauss scored a game-high 25 points while junior guard/forward Katie Sire (16.5 points per game) dropped in 23 points. The Red Hawks defense wreaked havoc, tallying 27 points off turnovers while the offense was sizzling from beyond the arc, draining 10 of 26 three-pointers and converting 12 of 15 free throws.
The Scarlet Raiders are led senior guard Maria Simmons (18.6 points per game) and sophomore guard Faith Ashby (15.7 points per game). In the 65-62 quarterfinal victory over Stockton, Simmons and Ashby combined for 47 points. The combination worked to perfection again in the 77-71 win over Kean in the semifinals recording 38 total points.
“Rutgers-Newark is a really strong team and are well-coached,” Montclair State Head Coach Karin Harvey said. “Ashley (Cieplicki) has done a fantastic job and she has her team peaking at just the right time. They are playing extremely well and we expect it to be a battle for 40 minutes. We are approaching this game, as we have every other game this season and hoping we can defend and rebound. We have to stop their guard play in transition and limit points in the paint that will be important.”
Rutgers-Newark Head Coach Ashley Cieplicki’s message has been to her team, why not, why can’t we be here and pull off another upset. There is nothing to lose, underdogs, have no pressure, enjoying this ride and making every day last longer.
“An unbelievable run these past two weeks and extremely proud of the accomplishment,” Cieplicki said. “We had to win to get into this tournament and have a group of girls that fight and biggest heart I have ever seen. We were swept by both Stockton and Kean but able to get a third win against them. Montclair has been in this situation so many times before and have the upper hand on us.”
“Everyone on our team has the capability of scoring and we’re a very aggressive team that likes to get to the basket,” she continued. “Our press has been really good of late, we’re getting points in the paint and guards getting points. Against Montclair State we have to force turnovers and if we do covert those in transition that will keep us in the game.”