Eight points were the last numbers the Peacocks recorded in the fourth quarter of their final game in the 2018-19 season. As they watched their opponent, Manhattan College, move onto the next round of the championship, they made their way back to Jersey City.
Last season, with a young team and new coaching staff, the Saint Peter’s University’s women’s basketball team landed last in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference with a 1-17 record and finished the overall season 6-24 with a 14-game losing streak.
But with days left before the new season, the women’s basketball team said they’re not looking back and, instead, are looking forward to what’s ahead of them.
Lessons From Being A Rookie
Head coach Marc Mitchell, who came from Fairleigh Dickinson University-Florham, was nabbed for the leading position in March 2018. His role at Saint Peter’s marked his first Division I coaching gig, which meant not only a new team, but also a new atmosphere, he said.
The second-year coach said, last season, he was going through the conference, trying to get a feel of the other coaches and their styles. And though they ended with a losing record, he said he thinks the team is more equipped for their upcoming run.
But one of their main obstacles was the disconnect between the staff and the players.
“We had lots of players who were recruited by the previous coaching staff and had a different mindset,” Mitchell said.
Former head coach Pat Coyle and assistant coach Phyllis Mangina -- who led the team from 2013 until 2018 -- left months before Mitchell was brought in. Coyle and Mangina recruited then-sophomore guards D’Aviyon Magazine and Anna McGuire, freshman guards Tyara McQueen, Briyanah Richardson and Cinnamon Dockery, junior-transfer guards Taiah Thornton and Gabrielle Harris -- who didn’t play any minutes -- and then-freshman forward Wil’lisha Jackson.
Jackson, a sophomore forward, said the staff change forced her to learn a new style, which affected the team’s game.
“It was a weird adjustment,” Jackson said. “When I came in I had to learn a new coaching staff all over again and they had to learn me as a player as well.”
Jackson put it some work under the basket last season, finishing off with 202 total points, averaging 6.7 a game, and 166 combined rebounds, tallying 5.5 per contest.
The 5’8” forward said last season the team wasn’t too open to criticism and struggled with communication on the floor, affecting their game. But that shouldn’t be the case moving forward, she said.
“It’s tough,” she said. “They’ll get on us when they need to. We’re all pretty much still learning (each other) at this point.”
Lost 5, Gained 4
Magazine and McGuire, who poured in a combined 78 three-pointers last season, transferred out. Forwards Precious Featherson, Dajiah Martin and Jordyn Hawthorne -- who are all above 5’10” -- also left the squad, leaving the team a hole in their defense.
“On the floor we lost a lot of size,” Jackson said. “We lost two shooters, but we’re managing and working with the pieces we have -- that’s all we can really focus on now.”
Jackson, Holmes and senior forward Zoe Pero can be expected to post up in the paint this season, all of whom are above 5’8” and recorded a combined 221 defensive boards. Junior-transfer forward Yamel Abreu will be joining the returning players under the basket.
And offense won’t be short of any shooters, Mitchell said. Redshirt-junior guards Kendrea Williams Harris and Thornton are said to be making some shots from downtown. They’ll be stationed along the three-point line with Dockery, Richardson, McQueen and senior guard Sammy Lochner.
But Jackson said losing some size and shooters on the court wasn’t what hurt the most.
“We were really close off the floor and all comfortable with one another,” she said. “So (losing them) hurt. It definitely hurt to see them go.”
“We’re The Underdogs”
Mitchell said, despite losing five players, he isn’t counting SPU out. Sure, there’s less rotation in the paint, he said, but the 11 players on his team make it up in “heart and effort.”
“This is a new year,” he said. “We take one game at a time, one quarter at a time and one possession at a time.”
The women’s basketball team ranked eighth offensively in the MAAC last season with a total of 1,688 points and an average of 56.3 per game. Marist College snatched the No. 1 seed with 2,246 total points and 68.1 per contest.
Defensively, SPU landed second to last while Quinnipiac sat at the top.
“We’re the underdog,” Jackson said. “We’re not expected to win, we’re not expected to do great this season, but we have to take that and turn it around.”
The squad put their first win of the season on the board on Saturday after a 75-79 victory against New York Tech. SPU will rally against LIU next on the road. The team is slated to host 14 home games.
Last year, on opening day, the Peacocks swept New Jersey Institute of Technology that marked the first of their six wins out of 30 games, which drew out hundreds. This year, they said they’re looking to do more.
“We’ve been working,” Jackson said. “We’ve been putting in hours training. And it’s not easy, but it is worth it.”