After finishing last season with only three wins overall, Manhattan’s women’s basketball team is just two games out of third place in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference this season.
With under two weeks remaining until the conference tournament, the Jaspers are currently in fifth place. Head coach John Olenowski said that they want to improve to at least fourth place.
“It feels tremendous,” Olenowski said. “Last year was a struggle and to be in the upper echelon of the conference is what our goal was all season long. We are so happy that we are close to that goal.”
Last season, the team was in last place with a 3-27 overall record. They are currently 9-7 in the MAAC and 12-13 overall. They are coming off of a two-point loss to Canisius, just missing their final shot at the buzzer.
“Compared to last season, our team chemistry is much better,” guard Jacqui Thompson said. “We all have the common goal of getting to the championship, getting a bye the first round. I think everyone’s mindset is way different than last year.”
Differences between this season and last season are more depth and chemistry among the team as well as more player experience. Olenowski has emphasized defense for his team and it has shown significantly this season. With that comes more team and individual success.
Amani Tatum averages a team-best 11.6 points per game and leads the conference with 3.2 steals. Center, Kayla Grimme has 61 blocks on the season so far, equaling the second-highest total in program history for a single season. She averages 2.5 per game, which is the second-best in the conference. Shayna Ericksen and Blake Underhill average 7.5 and 6.5 points per game, respectively.
“I think individual goals are great,” Olenowski said, “because we all kind of share them. Everyone is really happy for every player. So it’s a really positive thing that individual goals are being celebrated by the whole team.”
“Certainly, we feel that we can do very well in the conference tournament,” he continued. “So we are hoping we have a good shot to win it and get into the postseason tournament.”
Manhattan’s shot at winning the tournament might be aided by its place in the standings by the end of the season. One aspect to look at for the Jaspers is the rest of their regular season schedule. They have the easiest schedule remaining in the MAAC. After facing second-place Quinnipiac on Feb. 26, the Jaspers will finish the year with games against ninth-place Rider and 11th-place Saint Peter’s. Despite this, they are not taking anyone lightly.
“We got the hard games over with, sort of,” Thompson said, “but every team in this conference has been really up and down. Any night anybody can win. So yeah we have the lower-placed teams left but we have to take everyone like they are the first-place team.”
For Olenowski, Manhattan’s tough schedule to start the season has made his team battle-tested.
“Every game is a key one but certainly we have played all the top teams so far,” Olenowski agreed. “We are hoping that is going to be an advantage but we do realize that every game is a big game and we have to be prepared for it.”
The Jaspers have a tight finish to the regular season, with their last five games being over a 10-day period. They started the busy stretch in Western New York against Canisius and Niagara. They finish with two home games and a trip to Jersey City.
“We want to try and take it one game at a time,” Grimme said. “We’re in fifth place, only two spots from being in third so it’s a little easier to look at it in small steps.”
While the team is focused on the regular season and the next game ahead, they have a set goal on really making a run at the conference tournament, which starts March 3 in Albany, N.Y.
“We all talk and believe that we can win the tournament,” Thompson said, “so I think that’s our goal. We are going to take every game one step at a time but when we are in the tournament, our goal is to play the best basketball we’ve played all year.”