Basketball season is back in Glassboro. The Rowan women’s basketball team is looking forward to the start of a brand new season on Wednesday, Nov. 8, when they host The University of Scranton at Esbjornson Gymnasium. The Profs will be defending their New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) title that they won last season.
The team has a new head coach in Kate Pearson, who spent 14 seasons coaching at Cabrini University and helped bring the Cavaliers five conference titles. Pearson does not mind the Profs being ranked No. 3 in the NJAC preseason poll despite entering the season as defending conference champions.
“There is some value in these preseason rankings,” Pearson said. “But they do not impact what happens once you are on the court. I know the teams above us returned a lot of starters from last year. I know NJCU is a team a lot of people like to chase in our conference. We beat them last year at their place. I think third is a nice place to be. You are not hunted in the same way. The players are excited to have the opportunity to defend their title.”
Returning for her last season in the brown and gold is Nicole Mallard. The senior is coming off an excellent season, one that earned her an All-Conference First Team nod. She also surpassed 1,000 career points, which is a significant achievement. So what else is left for her to accomplish?
“I would love to be in the First Team again. Maybe I could even get a bigger award off of that,” Mallard said. “Whether that be Player of the Year or Defensive Player of the Year. I think I’m fourth or fifth in scoring all-time at Rowan. I would like to move up that list.”
The Profs’ rotation this year will look very different than their championship-winning 2022-23 team. Two of their top three scorers from last season, Grace Marshall and Dakota Adams, have graduated. In addition, guard Ny’emah Middleton, who showed promise as a freshman, is not returning to the team.
“We have a lot of players that are vying for opportunities,” Pearson said. “Nicole Mallard was an All-Conference player last season, and she has a lot of experience. She has already stepped in during practices and our scrimmages. Kate Herlihy gave a lot of contribution off the bench last season. Eliana [Santana] and Savanna [Holt] are fifth-year players with lots of experience. We have a couple of other new players coming in. Rowan has had a lot of balance in the last few years, so I feel like we have a lot of players that may fly under the radar.”
Herlihy was a standout player for the team last year. She was the fourth-leading scorer, averaging seven points per game. She also made herself known on the defensive side of the ball, accumulating 46 steals, which was third-most on the team. The most impressive part is Herlihy reached these numbers while averaging only 15 minutes per game.
“We are definitely looking for Kate [Herlihy] to fill in and be a big scorer for us,” Mallard said. “She was right behind Grace [Marshall] and I in scoring last year. She is definitely going to get a lot more opportunities this season.”
Another hole that was opened up on the team is the depth in the frontcourt. Adams, Danielle McCurdy, and Ayanna Johnson are no longer on the team after graduating.
“We lost some bigs,” Mallard said. “I think we have a good transfer in Shayla Johnson. She is really tall and will have a lot of opportunities with us. I also think [Eliana] Santana has a big chance to be a big scorer for us this season. Jes Mastriano as well, she is the hardest working person in practice.”
With the start of the season inching closer, it is hard to look past the tragic passing of head coach Demetrius Poles in May. His passing has expectedly had an effect on the players and the Rowan community as a whole. Mallard wants this season to be for Coach Poles.
“Every game we play is for him,” Mallard said. “He has wanted to bring us to a national championship. This is my last chance to be able to make that happen for him.”