Women’s Basketball Team Captures Region 19 Crown
According to Head Coach Mike Tenaglia, this was a good year for women’s basketball at Mercer, as the Lady Vikes captured the Region 19 title for the seventh time in eight years. The title was particularly sweet because the road was tough this season. With a 21-12 final record, the women improved their game as the year progressed, worked extremely well as a team, and made their college and their coach proud.
Going into the regional tournament as the no. 2 seed behind undefeated newcomer, Harcum Junior College, Mercer cruised to a 70-52 quarterfinal victory against Union County College on March 1. Next up was Essex County College on March 3, a much bigger, more physical opponent. That’s when a bit of heroics on the part of several key players made the difference.
Down by one point with just 1:18 left to play, freshman forward Kourtney Gibbs stole the ball and made a layup to put Mercer ahead. Guard Tashema Whittaker added a foul shot and the Vikings won 57-55.
“We were concerned,” recalled Tenaglia. “Essex is a big, strong team. But somehow the girls put it together when it counted.” In addition to co-captains Whittaker (12 points and six assists) and Nicole Brown (12 points and six assists), Tenaglia credits freshmen Gibbs (21 points) and Leslie Maurer (11 points) with some key plays.
It is a pattern that Tengalia has observed over the years. "Our teams consistently get better as the season progresses."
No one understands that better than Harcum Junior College, which beat Mercer convincingly twice during the regular season and had a record of 26-0 going into the Region 19 final. Then they came up against an improved Vikings squad on March 5.
“We made some adjustments to our game,” Tenaglia said. “Harcum is the kind of team that presses the entire time. We turned the tables on them, pressing them back. They were not prepared for it. It really came down to which team was going to have a run at the right time.”
That team was Mercer. Pulling ahead 62-61 with five minutes left, the Lady Vikes could feel the momentum shifting as they went on to score 13 unanswered points. Gibbs finished the game with 18 points, nine rebounds, six steals and four assists. Freshman Randi Temple had a double-double with 16 points and 12 rebounds. Brown also had a double-double with 11 points and 16 rebounds. Maurer had 15 points and six rebounds. Whittaker had 14 points and six steals. All five starters scored in double figures.
“Harcum learned their lesson. They’ll never take us lightly again,” Tenaglia said.
Then came the Northeast District game on March 9 against nemesis Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI), the same school Mercer had lost to in overtime in last year’s district championship. Mercer had also had two previous losses to CCRI this season, 65-53 and 83-59.
Reflecting on the game, Tenaglia said, “We got stopped once again at the district level. We can’t seem to get by them,” adding that CCRI boasted an all-sophomore starting line-up and a strong inside game. “We got behind early and had to play catch-up for the rest of the game. In order to win our players would have had to be superwomen.” The final score was 88-61. Brown had 19 points, followed by Maurer with 17. Whittaker had 11 points and six assists.
But the women took the loss in stride, recovering quickly. “This team had a lot of heart and a lot of enthusiasm. There was a very positive flow and a great attitude among the players,” Tenaglia said. And the process of building up for next year has already begun. While the Lady Vikes will lose two great players, Whittaker and Brown, the solid nucleus of freshmen, who got plenty of playing time this season, should step on the court next season with experience and confidence.
“With just two sophomore starters, we relied on our freshmen,” Tenaglia said. “We’re also looking at some strong recruits.” His seven returning players are Gibbs, Maurer, and Temple, as well as Toschi Shilow, Chrissy Redondo, Amora Dawson-White and Kathy Prassas, all of whom had solid seasons.
Both Nicole Brown and Tashema Whittaker were selected for the GSAC All-Region team. Brown was named to the All-Region 19 first team and Whittaker to the second team.
Along with assistant coaches Regina Brown and Tameka Turner, Tenaglia said his goal is to help his players improve their game, stay focused in the classroom, and get the most they can out of their Mercer experience.