by RIKKILYNN SHIELDS, Asst. Editor
In late April of last year, Heather Vulin, former assistant coach at Virginia Tech was announced as the head coach of Manhattan College’s women’s basketball team. With the 2016 season set to get underway, Vulin is training her team to prove everyone wrong this season.
After losing five seniors from last year, the women’s basketball team feared a rough season. However, Vulin has brought hope to the team in the first set of practices.
“I’ve really been impressed with the way the team has been working,” Vulin says, “so what we’re working on now is not just working hard, but working with a sense of purpose and a sense of urgency as you’re working. It’s a really good group, they’re really motivated to really prove people wrong. Because we lost five seniors last year, people are thinking that we’re going to take a step back but we definitely want to take a step forward.”
As head coach, Vulin is making the best changes possible to the team. She calls herself a motion coach, and believes there are other ways to coach a team rather then just teaching them plays.
“I believe that in the past there were more set plays and set offenses. I like freedom of movement, freedom of play,” Vulin says. “I want to teach my kids how to play basketball not plays. I want them to know how to play. So I also think the intensity level has definitely upped and they’ve really responded. It’s just going to take a little bit of time because they’re used to a different style but I think who we have on our team is a good fit and we’ll be able to maximize the talent by playing this way.”
Vulin has made her first set of changes to the team, selecting three captains. Vulin chose juniors Amani Tatum and Mikki Guiton, and senior Maeve Parahus.
Vulin had the opportunity to spend a couple of weeks with the team after she first got the job in the beginning of May, just before they went home for summer break. Then, she had all summer sessions to really watch the team, and see who emerged as a leader.
“I really believe that people don’t follow titles– they follow leaders,” Vulin says. “I feel that all three really stood out. [Tatum] was a captain last year, and you can just tell that she was comfortable, vocal and good at holding people accountable. [Parahus] is a senior who has really just been one of our most positive influences on the team in terms of her energy level and commitment to being a great teammate. And [Guiton] has really emerged as someone who I think is going to have a breakout year from her sophomore campaign. She’s just high energy and high intensity. All three girls really stood out to me, and I’m very pleased with the captains we have this year.”
Guiton believes that practice has been going well so far this season.
“We have a new set of coaches and we’re very excited for this season,” Guiton says. “We started working with them this summer, lifting and having court time, and since then we’ve learned many new things. I believe that we’ve all been working really hard and we’re ready for the season to approach. As a team, the goal this year isn’t just to win the championship, but also to grow together.”
Male Practice Players
Vulin has also taken advantage of something that is very common among colleges—male practice players. Vulin spoke to the head of intramurals, and got the word out that they were looking for men to practice with the women two or three days per week.
After holding tryouts, Vulin picked eight men based on a combination of talent, but also flexibility in their schedule.
“I know Manhattan hasn’t really had them here in the past, but I find that they’re very useful,” Vulin said about the male practice players. “We only have 14 bodies, and usually we have to worry about class schedules, some girls coming late, or even injuries. It’s just nice to have another group that we can use for scouting purposes. … I also think it’s a great opportunity for other students here at Manhattan College to be a part of a team.”
Not only is it convenient for the coaches and the team to have a few more bodies at practice, it also helps up the team’s training intensity. The male practice players bring a different level of speed and a different energy to every practice.
“I think too sometimes that since they’re not on the team, our kids will play more physical against them,” Vulin said. “So there’s a lot of advantages of it. You can ask all of our girls, they like having them because it also gives them a little brief second of a break. At practice, it’s go, go, go. I usually only get two to three hours of practice in a day and it just goes so fast.”
Before thinking about winning any championships this year, Vulin has set more realistic goals for the team.
“My No.1 goal is to get our culture as strong as possible,” Vulin said. “Before you can even start talking about championships, you have to make sure that your foundation is strong. When I say culture, I don’t just mean on the court, but also in the classroom and in the community, make sure we’re acting like champions in every aspect. We expect to set the tone and be champions wherever we’re at.
“Second, I think as a motion coach it will take a little bit of time for them to have the natural reactions that they need, but by conference play, I am very confident that we will be ready. If we can do that, I’d like to be among the top-five in the league this year, and maybe make a run in the MAAC tournament to compete for a MAAC championship this year as well.”
Vulin says to keep an eye out for Tatum and Gabby Cajou this year.
“Although many people already know [Tatum], I think she has made significant improvement over the summer with her offensive skills,” Vulin said. “I think what people are going to be very pleased with is freshman, Gabby Cajou, whose speed is really at the top tier of the conference. With us wanting to play up-tempo, I think she’s going to be able to really get us in the direction that we need to go. … I expect at the end of the year, when we look at the stat sheets from the year before to this year, that everyone’s going to have improvements with their stats.”