After a team wins their regular season conference championship, it could be seen as a disappointment if they are not able to go on and win the tournament championship as well. Fortunately for Rowan’s Women’s Basketball team, they didn’t disappoint this season.
This past Friday, the Profs were able to beat Montclair State University in the finals of the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) Championship Tournament and became the champions for the first time in 21 seasons. It also comes after the team was named regular season NJAC Champions with a conference record of 16-2 and overall record of 22-3, currently 24-3.
Based on their record alone, it is clear to see that this team has been playing at a high level all season long. Head Coach Demetrius Poles believes that there were quite a few factors involved in getting his team to the position they’re at today.
“A lot of practice, giving them a lot of freedom and confidence and empowering the players is very important,” Poles said. “You have to make them feel like they can believe they can do it and put them in that position, and we’re doing it.”
One player who has proved that she can handle being a key role on this team is freshman Nicole Mallard. She has been a consistent stater all season and, in the big game against Montclair, was Rowan’s leading scorer and showed that she could perform in these pressure situations.
“I know that my team depends on me, so it can be stressful, and there is sometimes pressure, but in the past I am generally good at handling pressure,” Mallard said. “And I seem to do best when I am under pressure, so I feel like it is an advantage for me when I am under pressure.”
Mallard isn’t the only young player who is playing a big role in the team’s success. In fact, this is a team with no seniors, the majority actually being sophomores or freshman players. Poles doesn’t let this factor into his team’s mindset at all though.
“People box themselves in because they say they are freshman, junior, senior, but just because you are a senior doesn’t mean the greatest player in college basketball,” Poles said. “Age doesn’t mean anything, you have to believe you can play, this is the same sport everybody is playing, so we have talented young players and we’re just using it.”
Now while winning the NJAC was a huge success for the team, their season is still not over. Due to the fact they were conference champions, they received an automatic bid to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division III National Championship Tournament.
Rowan will be traveling to Massachusetts for the first round of play, where they will be facing the United States Merchant Marine Academy on Friday. And while this is all these players first time going to this tournament, Mallard confident that this team will be bringing the energy to these games.
“Definitely energy. We have had a lot of energy the past couple of games,” Mallard said. “Especially the NJAC games because if we lose, then we’re done, so I feel like we had a lot of energy and I feel like we are going to keep that energy throughout the NCAA tournament.”
While a lot of people think tournament games like this one are different from the rest of the games played all season, Poles doesn’t see it that way.
“It’s a basketball game, it is 40 minutes, the rules are the same, it is just another game,” Poles said. “I tell [the team] don’t put all the big stuff on it, the game is the game, it is never going to change whether it is the NBA Finals or a college championship or the NJAC play. It is still 40 minutes, still got four quarters, still played with five people, still the same game.”
The Profs start their tournament play this Friday at 5 p.m.
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