Rowan women’s basketball gets eliminated by Kean in the NJAC playoffs

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(Left to right) Savanna Holt, Nicole Mallard, and Eliana Santana pose with their two NJAC championship trophies. - Photo via @rowanwbb on Instagram

A season of ups and downs for Rowan women’s basketball ultimately ended in a down on Saturday, Feb. 17. In the quarterfinals of the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) quarterfinals, the Profs took on the Kean Cougars, who entered the playoffs as the No. 3 seed, and fell by a final score of 78-68, one that eliminated Rowan and ended its season.

The Profs came into the contest with low expectations from outsiders, but they did put up a good fight. The game was close up until the third quarter, one in which Rowan was outscored by ten points, which wound up being the difference. They did attempt a late comeback in the fourth quarter, outscoring Kean 23-16 in the final frame, but it was too little, too late. Kate Herlihy once again had a stellar performance, as she poured in 13 points and finished 4-4 from three-point range.

“I was proud of our kids. They fought hard,” Head Coach Kate Pearson said. “We got down early, fought back to cut the lead going into halftime, had a couple things go crazy in the third quarter. And instead of folding, they fought back and had a chance in the last two minutes to make it interesting.”

In Pearson’s first season as head coach of the Profs, she led her team to the postseason. Considering the circumstances she entered when she took the job, such as Rowan losing key contributors from the previous season like Grace Marshall and Dakota Adams, the start of her tenure could certainly be marked down as a success.

“I think we have a lot to build on,” Pearson said. “I think this year was an opportunity to kind of get to know some things about the league about the players. We definitely wanted to finish a little bit stronger for our seniors. But overall, I’m really grateful for the opportunity to coach some really great girls.”

Those seniors Pearson is referring to are Nicole Mallard, Eliana Santana, and Savanna Holt, the three team captains. All three of them have been with Profs for four seasons and taught Pearson a lot about the history of the program.

“They just taught me a lot about the legacy here and playing for coach Poles before them,” Pearson said. “Competing in the NJAC and being one of the teams that everybody’s coming out to get and trying to make sure we hold up that legacy moving forward.”

Mallard is one of the best players in the history of Rowan women’s basketball. She finished her career with two All-Conference First Team selections, one All-Conference Second Team selection, and an All-Conference honorable mention this season. On top of those individual accolades, Mallard also won two NJAC championships.

Mallard finished her career as the fifth-leading scorer in Rowan women’s basketball history with 1,307 points. Not only was she a great scorer, but she also finished with 231 assists which is good for the fourteenth-most in program history. In addition, she is sixteenth in rebounding and first in free throws made. In perhaps the greatest honor of them all though, she never failed to be a fantastic leader for her teammates.

“She impacted me, mainly because she was somebody that I looked up to a lot,” Herlihy said. “I always loved how she played. I loved how much effort she always gave and how hard she played. Just watching her inspired me because she was such a good athlete.”

Santana was one of the keys to Rowan’s success throughout 2023-24. Her presence inside always took up a large chunk of Rowan’s game plan. She led the team in rebounding at 6.3 per game and also became the thirteenth-leading rebounder in program history. It wasn’t just the dirty work where Santana found success though, as she was third on the team in scoring this season. Like Mallard, she also has two conference championships to her name.

“She was very helpful,” Herlihy said. “She could be a little bit stern, but she always had our best interest. And I think she just helped my confidence grow a lot.”

If there was one word to describe Holt, it would be energy. That energy helped spark the Profs towards their two championships in her four seasons with the team.

Holt is a player who you do not see light up the stat sheet often, but you always felt her impact throughout the game. Whether it was her intense defense, diving for a loose ball, or hitting a three when the team really needed it, her impact was felt. The three-ball was undoubtedly the biggest strength of her game, as she finished fourth all-time in program history in three-pointers made with 119.

Holt also had a knack for her celebrations after doing anything positive on the floor to get everybody fired up. Even when her shots were not falling, she always shot them confidently, which rubbed off on her teammates.

“She just reminded me to have fun when I’m playing and be confident when I’m playing,” Herlihy said. “She was like a ball of sunshine to play with. She was just always laughing, always having a good time. And she kind of reminded me that I don’t need to be stressed, I can have fun. It’s a sport and it’s supposed to be something that you can smile while doing.”

With those three seniors not returning next season, Pearson is going to need multiple players to step up and fill the void that will be left by those high-impact players. It will be interesting to see who will be the ones that rise to the occasion, and Pearson already has an idea of who she would like it to be.

“I think with some of the returners, you know, Kate [Herlihy] had a really good year this year,” Pearson said. “I want to see her continue that growth. Charlotte [Carlies] started to come into her own, and we’re gonna look at her to be a little bit more offensive-minded. And then after that, try to have other people step into different roles and continue to move forward.”

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