by, Pete Janny, Sports Editor
The Lady Jaspers hit the ground running in 2021 making quick work of the Saint Peter’s Peacocks this past weekend. The team’s strong play across both games allowed them to outscore the Peacocks by a total of 39 points to elevate the program’s record against Saint Peter’s to 10-0 in the Heather Vulin era.
The Lady Jaspers had a gameplan coming into the series and acted on it with precision. Coming off a lopsided loss at Rutgers, the team showed no aftereffects in game one by cruising their way to a 71-46 blowout win with the help of a season-high 26 bench points.
Having had their own fair of struggles in second quarters this season, Manhattan returned the favor in game one outscoring the Peacocks by a meager 12-5 count in the second stanza. The Peacocks had no response to Manhattan’s defensive intensity and it resulted in a 1-of-14 shooting performance in the quarter for the Peacocks. The Lady Jaspers were suddenly on a fast track to victory up 30-19 at halftime.
Other than defensive success, Manhattan also received a big boost with their scoring depth. All 11 Manhattan players that played in game one were able to find the bottom of the net, giving the Peacocks good reason to pack their bags early in this one. With the win, Vulin’s team extended their unbeaten streak to 12 games for games in which they scored at least 70 points.
The first lopsided win of the season was steered by four double-digit scorers for Manhattan. Courtney Warley went for 13 points and 12 rebounds while her sidekick Emily LaPointe added 12 points. D’yona Davis scored all of her 13 points in the second half and Pam Miceus rounded out the attack with a career-high 12 points, seven rebounds, and two blocks to add to the satisfaction of the win.
Miceus was given the nod for Player of the Game in the opener, according to Go Jaspers, which set the tone for her memorable weekend and provided yet another reminder of her indispensable presence for the team. Her magic also carried over into the next night when she delivered nine points, nine rebounds, four blocks, and four assists in game two to help complete the sweep of the Peacocks. Additionally, her legacy reached new heights over the weekend as she moved into seventh place on the program’s all-time blocks list with 85 career rejections.
Miceus, now a graduate student, did not announce her plans to return to the team until later in the offseason after choosing to enroll in graduate school. The whirlwind year for Miceus saw her continue her climb up the program’s all-time blocks list, get a diploma, and broaden her intellectual horizons by immersing herself in graduate-level studies. Miceus’ return was likely motivated by the program’s serious championship aspirations this season following last season’s anticlimactic ending in Atlantic City due to COVID-19 concerns. Vulin, in essence, had a mountain lifted off her shoulders upon finding out that a leader like Miceus would be back for one last rodeo.
“I probably give her a hug a few times a week,” Vulin said when asked about Miceus’ decision to return. “I am really excited to have her both on the court and off the court. She’s a high character young lady and is brilliant. She’s someone 20 years from now we’ll be like ‘hey we know her’.”
The good got better in game two for Manhattan. The Lady Jaspers’ took the decision 69-55 to improve to 5-1 in MAAC play, their best start to the conference season since 2008-09.
A shoddy start to game two put them in a 19-13 hole after the first quarter until Manhattan got the better of the Peacocks in the second quarter by outscoring them 17-12 to head into halftime with a one-point deficit.
The catalyst for Manhattan’s comeback was sophomore Christina Katsamouri, who is quickly becoming a household name for Jasper fans. A stretch in the second quarter saw Katsamouri score eight unanswered points fueled by her versatile package of skills. It started with a three-pointer, which was followed by a three-point play, and was then capped off with a layup to cut her team’s deficit to only one at halftime.
Katsamouri has shown tremendous growth from just a season ago when she barely received any playing opportunities. So far this season she has had an uncanny ability to make big plays at important times. Whether it be through her assertiveness in the paint or her natural feel for passing, Katsamouri has continued to impress for the Lady Jaspers much to the delight of her coach and teammates.
“I am able to let her practice at the three and also play at the three which is her natural position so I think that has allowed her to shine,” Vulin said. “Her versatility has been huge for us.”
Once Manhattan started to find their footing in the second half, the complexion of the game changed for good.
The third quarter contained a game-changing 8-0 run ignited by a cast of different Manhattan players clicking on all cylinders. The teamwork on the offensive end was deja vu from game one; the only difference being that this time it was Katsamouri—who only scored two points in game one—playing the lead role for the Lady Jaspers. The Peacocks simply failed to keep the Greece native in check as she kept making crafty plays throughout. As part of the Manhattan scoring surge, Katsamouri converted two more layups in addition to a layup each from Warley and Miceus.
Another positive take away from the weekend series was Manhattan’s execution late in the game. As was the case in both games, the Lady Jaspers made the necessary plays to finish off the Peacocks to the tune of out-scoring the opposition by a combined 23 points in the fourth quarter.
“I went with more of a defensive lineup that was able to create easy points in transition,” Vulin said when asked about her team’s ability to close games.
Maintaining a 54-53 lead with six minutes left in game two, Manhattan made their final push to victory with a 15-2 run in which five different players scored. The Lady Jaspers took control in virtually every facet in assuring that they would send the Peacocks home with their 15th straight loss against Manhattan. It was all Warley and Miceus down low—who finished with a combined 21 points and 18 rebounds—while LaPointe put her finishing touches on the game with two three-pointers in the fourth quarter.
Although LaPointe’s shooting has been inconsistent in the early stages of the season, the way she performed in game two further proved how much value she still brings besides just scoring. In addition to her 11 points, LaPointe amassed seven rebounds and six assists. Her unselfish attitude on the court was best on display when she set up teammate Sini Makela for a three-point play off a fast break as Manhattan started pulling away in the fourth quarter.
“In the beginning I think a little bit of it was shot selection and she was rushing,” Vulin said. “But now I feel like she’s taking the right shots and part of it is with a good team you may go several, minutes without a shot so you could lose your flow. She just gives so much value so it’s really hard for me to take her off the court.”
Manhattan’s ability to get easy buckets down low in game two was a big plus in that it took pressure off the shooters from trying to beat the Peacocks from deep. Heather Vulin’s team is normally most effective when they are grabbing offensive rebounds and finding success in the paint. For the entire weekend the Lady Jaspers had their way with the Peacocks en route to winning the battle for points in the paint by a total of 34 points across the two games.
One area Manhattan can afford to clean up is turnovers. The Peacocks turned them over 37 times over the course of the weekend which hopefully won’t become a trend for Manhattan as they prepare to face top-tier teams like Marist and Fairfield. For now, Vulin can probably tolerate some of those unfortunate instances of miscommunication or sloppiness so long as her team is making shots at a high rate.
Manhattan’s 5-1 start in MAAC play is the envy of many teams looking up at them and Fairfield (5-1, 4-0 MAAC), who currently share ownership of first place. But with most of the season still ahead of them, Vulin and her players are trying to not let their fast start distract them from the bigger goal of winning the MAAC Championship. The abrupt way in which last season ended provided a lesson that nothing is guaranteed — irrespective of who you’re playing or under what circumstances.
“Nothing is guaranteed and we don’t know what will happen next week or tomorrow,” Vulin said. “Last year we were playing really well leading up to the tournament and we felt that opportunity was taken away from us so we are not taking anything for granted.”
The focus will now be on third-place Marist (5-1, 3-1 MAAC), and no one else, in anticipation of the weekend series in Poughkeepsie to be played on Jan. 9 and 10. Each game will tip-off at 5 pm on both days.