Ready or Not, Lady Jaspers Will be Thrown into Fray of MAAC Tournament

by Pete Janny, Sports Editor

As it stands, the next time the Lady Jaspers will be playing games this season will be at the 2021 Hercules Tires MAAC Men’s and Women’s Basketball Championships to be played in Atlantic City from March 8 to March 13. 

Manhattan’s uber successful regular season, in which they posted a 9-3 conference record, ended earlier than expected after a member of the Tier One group—consisting of student-athletes, coaches and support staff—tested positive for COVID-19. 

Rather than preparing for their last few games of the season, the team had to undergo their second season quarantine of the season after being sidelined earlier in the season for what ended up being a “false positive.” 

The timing of the second quarantine is cryptic for many reasons, including how last season ended when the Lady Jaspers were on a five-game winning streak just as they are. Manhattan is hoping this second trip to Atlantic City is far more enjoyable than last time as they have their eyes set on a MAAC Championship. 

“Last year’s winning streak made us feel good and ready to go and now we’re in the same position this year,” sophomore guard Emily LaPointe said about the parallels between this season and last season. “Every team is competitive and I think that especially this season has shown with the back-to-back games that one game can be a blow out and the next game the other team wins.”

Since last March, the team has been through so much from roster changes to the uncertainty of whether there would even be a season. But all along, the players have been fully invested, while also knowing the importance of supporting each other during this unprecedented season that has separated players from their loved ones

“This team has a unique vibe to it so no matter what’s going on in the world we’re all going to hold each other closer,” said red-shirt sophomore guard Dee Dee Davis, who leads the team in scoring at 12.9 points-per-game. “The current situation with the world is really fluid, however our team chemistry is forever no matter what’s going on elsewhere.”

Despite all the distractions off the court, the team has taken care of business on the court while having to play with the expectations of being the preseason number one team in the MAAC. Manhattan has notched series sweeps over Rider, Iona, Monmouth and Saint Peter’s, as well as a series split against perennial MAAC contender Quinnipiac. 

Even more impressively, the Jaspers have built their spectacular record despite losing LaPointe for more than a month due to injury. In her recent return against Iona, LaPointe, who was last season’s MAAC Rookie of the Year, continued to show her ability to impact the game in different ways even without the high-volume scoring she’s capable of. If Manhattan can get LaPointe back to her regular scoring ways, it adds another dangerous dimension to a Manhattan that is already pretty well-rounded relative to their MAAC opponents. 

“What’s key for me right now is to just do what I can to help this team win a championship whether that means getting rebounds, scoring some points or just making the right plays,” LaPointe said. “I’m coming back at a crucial time so I think I just need to lock in and just do what I can to get it done.” 

Beyond the big names like LaPointe and Davis, the Lady Jaspers’ depth is hard to ignore, too. The team has received boosts from role players like Lizayha Morgan, Christina Katsamouri and Sydney Watkins, and are hoping that continues into the MAAC Tournament. 

“Our style of play is very fast and up and down so it helps us a lot that we have players who can come in and contribute,” Warley said of her team’s depth. “This season has been so weird but it has also been normal with injuries so it’s been good to have players who step up when roles are given to them.”

Those who have watched Pam Miceus this season know how important she is for the Lady Jaspers, even after she almost chose not to use her final year of eligibility due to having already earned her undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering. Her play and leadership have been indispensable, illustrating how much she’s developed since joining the team as a walk-on her sophomore year. In many ways, the pairing of Miceus and Warley in the frontcourt will determine how far Manhattan advances in the tournament. 

“Last year I was so excited when Pam told me she was coming back and she’s probably one of my favorite teammates ever,” Warley said. “I think we have a good connection offensively and defensively because we are very similar in the way we play and the way we move.” 

The old cliché of how the best teams want to play the best teams is always true in competitive circumstances, even amidst a pandemic. Due to the quarantine, Manhattan’s two-game series with Fairfield was cancelled, depriving fans of what could’ve been a preview of the MAAC Championship game. However, the Lady Jaspers are just focusing on what they can control, as potential match-ups in the tournament with top teams like Fairfield and Marist loom large.

“The best practice for basketball is playing in games and our preseason was mostly just practicing,” Warley said. “I think we will miss out on playing in a game against them [Fairfield] and knowing what they can do come game time. But we’re going to take this time to prepare for Fairfield and other teams in the MAAC.”

In the lead-up to the tournament, Manhattan is hoping to get back into a consistent practice routine once they clear all the quarantine protocols. Instead of ranking teams by winning percentage, the MAAC standings are determined by the number of wins, regardless of how many games a team has played due to complications with COVID-19. As it stands, Manhattan can be anywhere from the third to fifth seed in the tournament depending on results from Fairfield and Saint Peter’s. 

Although tickets won’t be sold to the public due to COVID-19 restrictions, the MAAC announced last week that a limited number of family and friends of the players and coaches will be allowed into Boardwalk Hall for tournament games.