Monday, February 15, 2016

Manhattan women continue to make progress while furthering MAAC tournament push

Head coach John Olenowski has guided Manhattan to 12 wins and 9-6 record in MAAC play, a far cry from last season's 3-27 finish. (Photo courtesy of Ray Floriani)

Through a 3-27 campaign that provided few, if any, highlights, John Olenowski continued to preach positivity, insisting the best was yet to come for a young Manhattan team gaining their first real experience at the Division I level.

Not even one year later, the Jaspers have four times as many wins as last year, improving to 12-12 after Sunday's 56-49 win over Siena, a victory that moved Manhattan to 9-6 in Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference play with five games to play in a regular season that has gone far beyond even the highest expectations the seventh-year head coach had going into the year.

"I think we've really shored up our defense," said Olenowski about one of the biggest differences between last season and the current one. "We're playing really good, solid pressure defense. I think the addition of Amani Tatum really, really helps, because she dictates both the offense and defense."

Tatum, who sat out last season after transferring from James Madison, is Manhattan's leading scorer, averaging over eleven points per game and complementing that total with more than three assists and three steals per contest. In fact, her eleven thefts against Saint Peter's on January 21 tied a school record, and fell one shy of the MAAC record for most steals in a single game.

"Those steals are everything," Olenowski said of his sophomore guard's defensive prowess. "When you get steals like that, it really frustrates the offense, and a lot of times, she converts those steals into baskets. She really kind of changes the complexion of games for us, and does that on a pretty consistent basis."

Tatum is not the only newcomer on this year's roster, as her former James Madison teammate Crystal Ross has come to Riverdale as well, providing both experience and interior depth as a fifth-year senior down low. The 6-4 Philadelphian is Olenowski's second option off the bench behind fellow senior Shayna Ericksen, and together, the two join Kayla Grimme to form one of the more underrated front lines in the MAAC.

"She's given us some really good size," said Olenowski of Ross. "She's long and is really aggressive in there. I think more than anything, we've got really good depth now at the post position now. We're able to rotate a lot of players, and I think that helps us be a better basketball team."

Picked in a seventh-place tie in the MAAC preseason coaches' poll, the Jaspers shook off a slow non-conference start by winning three of their first four league games, including road victories over reigning conference champion Quinnipiac and preseason favorite Fairfield. After three straight defeats that brought Manhattan to the middle of the pack, Olenowski's team has since responded with wins in six of their next eight games, including two against current conference leader Iona and perennial MAAC kingpin Marist to bring them to their current record, standing two victories away from their first winning conference record since the 2011-12 season, when the Jaspers posted a 10-8 mark in league play.

"It was imperative that we got off to a good start," Olenowski recounted. "We opened up 2-0, so that kind of got us rolling, and we've been playing good basketball ever since."

Manhattan takes its annual Western New York trip this weekend, traveling first to Canisius on Friday before facing Niagara Sunday in a pivotal two games that will determine seeding in Albany, and maybe whether or not the Jaspers can secure a first-round bye at the Times Union Center. It gets no easier after that, with Quinnipiac coming to Draddy Gymnasium one week from Tuesday as Olenowski's young charges get a critical test right before the postseason begins. What he anticipates, however, is no different from any other game on the schedule.

"Our whole goal the entire year is to move up to the upper echelon," he reaffirmed, "and that upper echelon is the top four of the conference. I think we're right there to be able to achieve our goal and move up, and we're just really happy with the way we've played so far."

"What's most valuable is that they're playing hard," said Olenowski of his team and what will stand out the most, regardless of how the season ends. "They're really enjoying themselves. They play together as a team, and they really get after it. They take each game on an individual basis and they stay focused. They've really done a good job in every single game."

1 comment:

  1. We are all very proud of Coach John Olenowski!