West Windsor, N.J. - For Mercer County Community College (MCCC) women’s basketball head coach, Mike Tenaglia, the afterglow of a stellar coaching season did not last long.
The 2018-19 season, Tenaglia’s 29th at Mercer, encompassed his 400th career win. Coming against Rowan College of South Jersey at Gloucester on the athletics department’s annual Breast Cancer Awareness Fundraiser, the milestone was a cherry on top of a hall of fame worthy career.
Now, eight games into his 30th season, Tenaglia has had a chance to reflect on his time at Mercer.
“What keeps me coming back to coach?” Tenaglia wondered. “My love for competition and my passion for helping these student-athletes learn the game.”
“Some of my favorite moments as a coach involve seeing my former players find success in their lives,” Tenaglia said. “I see the impact Mercer has on these women time and time again.”
However, this season, Tenaglia isn’t lingering on his all-time success. The Lady Viking’s roster features a mixture of old and new faces, meaning he’ll start the season much the same as years past: learning.
“We have four sophomores in the starting lineup, but we’re still working to play up to our expectations,” Tenaglia said. Mercer’s returning group of players features five sophomores total – Zena Aluboudi, Madison Diaz, Nadine Elamary, Darnella McMillan and Morgan Papp – but plenty of freshman have seen minutes early in the season.
Papp is one of the returners leading the Lady Vikings’ offensive charge, netting 13 points per game through the first eight games of the season. Her return to form is particularly intriguing: A meniscus tear curtailed Papp’s 2018-19 campaign, sidlining her for all but six games.
Since then she bounced back to connect on 40 percent of her 3s while adding nearly six rebounds and an assist and a half per game. Currently, Papp sits among the top 100 National Junior College Athletic Association women’s basketball players in Blocks (95th), 3-point percentage (63rd) and 3-pointers made (51st).
“When I tore my meniscus last season it was really frustrating because it was early on in the season,” Papp said.
“This injury taught me to never take opportunities in life for granted and to make the most out of them, because they can be taken from you at any moment,” she added. “I spent a lot of that year thinking about how much I missed the game and whether I could ever play like I use to. I had surgery in December, spent five weeks on crutches, then spent months doing body weight exercises with small increases in weight.”
A sophomore from Bordentown, Papp’s return has included three consecutive 20-point performances, including 24 points in a win over Raritan Valley Community College On Nov. 26.
Supporting Papp’s offensive efforts is Shappelle Brewton, a freshman guard from Morrisville, Pa. Brewton’s 11.5 points per game are the second most on the team, and include scoring 24 points in 26 minutes against Cecil College on Nov. 14.
Defensively, the Lady Vikings are led by Darnella McMillan’s 6.4 defensive boards per game, which puts her among the top 70 rebounders in the country. A graduate of Bristol High School in Pennsylvania, McMillan has also reject 14 shots this season, good for 24th in the nation.
Coupled with McMillan’s 3.3 assists per game, the Lady Vikings have the foundation for a strong season.
“Even though we haven’t started on the best foot, our team has great chemistry,” Tenaglia said. Mercer is 2-6 through the first eight games, seven of which have been on the road, which has made finding a rhythm early on a challenge.
“This team gets along really well. Now it’s just a matter blending everything we have to offer,” Tenaglia added.
Following the Thanksgiving break, the Lady Vikings will return to home action at 5 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 12 to host the County College of Morris. After that, Mercer won’t return home until the Jan. 16 of the New Year, against Valley Forge Military Academy.