By Miguel Gonzalez
While a cold breeze swept through an empty campus this month, the College’s women’s basketball team brought nothing but blazing heat to Packer Hall.
So far this season, the Lions are currently undefeated at home and hold a 13-4 overall record while dominating the New Jersey Athletic Conference with an 8-2 record. The team has already won more games than last season, when the Lions only had 11 wins.
Head coach Chessie Jackson has been pushing the team to succeed in her first year at the College.
“I think that our success, both in and out of conference play, derives from our focus on one day at a time,” Jackson said. “We have been consistently pushing the team to care more about practices than games, compete a little bit harder every day and to gain toughness and chemistry throughout the course of the season.”
This past week, the Lions secured two conference victories at home against Rutgers University-Camden and Kean University. On Jan. 17, the Lions barely beat Rutgers, 50-45. The following Saturday, the Lions bested Kean with a score of 48-34.
The Rutgers squad challenged the Lions throughout the game. In the first quarter, Rutgers jumped to a 11-5 lead before the Lions gradually caught up.
The Lions offense began to wake up when sophomore forward Jen Byrne hit a jumper in the seventh minute with an assist by freshman forward Shannon Devitt. The Lions then caught up with Rutgers and gained a 14-12 lead by the end of the first quarter.
The team continued to lead Rutgers in the second quarter. The Lions defense was able stop three-point attempts by Rutgers freshman guard Jordan Harbaugh. By the 15th minute, the Lions built a 20-14 lead. Rutgers tried to make a comeback, but was constantly foiled by turnovers.
Two minutes later, junior guard Kate O’Leary sunk a three pointer. On the next Rutgers possession, O’Leary stole the ball, but failed to score on a layup attempt. The Lions finished the second quarter with a free throw made by Byrne.
The third quarter was similar to the second as the Lions withstood Rutgers’ offense and protected their lead. Rutgers forward/center Michelle Obasi initially caught the Lions off guard and scored back-to-back layups. The Lions responded with stronger, more coordinated defense.
In the 26th minute, senior forward Nikki Schott made a layup. O’Leary followed the play with a three-pointer. By the end the third quarter, the Lions were still ahead, 35-28.
In the last two minutes of the game, Rutgers managed to retake the lead until the Lions scored four consecutive times. Senior guard Charlotte Schum started off by scoring three points off the arc. Devitt followed with a layup. Byrne then capped with the game with two successful free throws to complete the Lions 50-45 victory.
Jackson emphasizes that senior leadership is bringing positivity to this season’s team.
“There certainly isn’t a single player or person who is leading the team,” Jackson said. “We have some great senior leaders in Schum, Schott and (forward) Chiara Palombi, who are approaching every day with a winning attitude and helping to bring everyone along with them.”
Last Saturday, the Lions continued their dominance in conference play as they defeated Kean University. After a quiet first quarter, the Lions’ offense sprung into action.
In the 17th minute, Schott made two free throws to give the Lions their first lead of the game, at 14-12. Schott then caught a rebound and sent O’Leary on a fast break to scored a layup. Byrne and Schum finished the second quarter with three pointers of their own.
In the third quarter, the Lions defense only allowed Kean to score six points. The Lion’s defensive eventually carried the team to a 48-34 victory.
After a successful start to the season, Jackson and the women’s basketball team plan to continue their process of practicing rigorously in order to make it far in the postseason.
“I think that slowly but surely, the team is recognizing that we are capable of more than anyone thought at the start of the year,” Jackson said. “I hesitate to jump to predictions about how we will finish, because I try my best to stay process-oriented and focus on our game tonight and then practice tomorrow, but I do think we have the talent and heart to go far this year. I am looking forward to this final stretch to see how all the hard work can pay off for this group.”
The women’s basketball team will be on the road this week as they continue to compete in the New Jersey Athletic Conference. On Wednesday, Jan. 24, the Lions head to Pomona, New Jersey for a match against Stockton University. The team then travels to Jersey City for a game against New Jersey City University on Saturday, Jan. 27.
Aside from all the recent victories, Jackson has enjoyed the College’s community atmosphere.
“My experience at TCNJ has been great thus far,” Jackson said. “The people here are awesome and passionate about this place, and I am grateful that this is the team I inherited in my first year as a head coach. TCNJ has such a rich history of athletic success, which is a huge reason why this position was so attractive to me.”