Heather Vulin was in a tight spot.
Manhattan College’s head women’s basketball coach was looking to end a four-game losing streak last Saturday at LIU Brooklyn, and she was going to have to do it without the services of two starters. Not exactly a comforting thought on the ride out to Brooklyn.
But it turned out Vulin needn’t have worried about the Jaspers’ matchup with the Blackbirds as Courtney Warley stepped in and produced a 14-point, 12-rebound effort, and senior Kayla Grimme added 15 points and six boards as Manhattan smoked LIU Brooklyn 72-38 last Saturday afternoon.
“We were down two starters for the game because (senior center) Mikki Guiton was sick and (freshman guard) Lynette Taitt had an ankle issue,” Vulin said. “So Courtney Warley, a freshman making her first start, had a double-double. The thing with Courtney is, when you watch her play, she’s like a 6-(foot)-3 jet when she runs the floor.”
Manhattan was barely tested in the game as the Jaspers jumped out to a 21-9 lead after the first quarter and held a comfortable 43-19 lead at intermission. LIU Brooklyn never made a run to get back into the game as the Jaspers’ defense limited the Blackbirds to just 19 points in each half.
“We were able to really hone in on what we needed to work on in terms of execution and defensive game planning, and I thought we were very well prepared for LIU,” Vulin said. “The plays they were usually able to score on we took away from them and once we took those things away I think they really struggled to find a way to score.“
Scoring was not a problem for the Jaspers as four different players scored in double figures, with Amani Tatum (13 points) and Alex Smith (10) joining Warley and Grimme. It was a dominating way to end the Jaspers’ four-game slide.
“I’ll be honest, even during the four-game losing streak, we weren’t playing badly,” Vulin said. “Every team we played was picked to beat us, and we were playing really well, very competitive games. But at the end of the day, we weren’t finishing. We weren’t sustaining what we needed to accomplish to get the victory.”
The Jaspers dominated in the middle, outscoring LIU Brooklyn 38-16 in the paint while holding a commanding 46-30 edge in rebounds.
“We had a big advantage in the post because LIU is a little undersized,” Vulin said. Grimme, Warley and Alex Smith “all did a great job of posting up strong and finishing strong, and our guards did a very good job of getting them the ball.”
It was a nice, balanced performance in which both veterans and first-year players contributed equally to the win. It’s the recipe Vulin hopes to continue to use as she rebuilds the Manhattan program.
“With a big group of freshmen, you still do need your upperclassmen to set the tone, and that’s one of the things I complimented Amani and Kayla about after the game,” Vulin said. “I told them, ‘The reason we were able to score and get everybody in on the game was because you two set the tone. You two, game in and game out, should be the best players on the floor, and you guys did your job, and everyone fell in line.’”
Vulin is preaching accountability to her young team as the Jaspers move closer to opening their Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference season at the end of the month.
“That’s a big thing we’ve talked about, you’ve got to do your individual job,” Vulin said. “If you can’t do that, then I got to find someone who will take care of what they’re supposed to do. We do have a lot of talent here, but now I have to make sure the ones who are playing are the ones who are going to be the most consistent for us. It can’t be an up-and-down type thing.”
The Jaspers (3-7) will play their final non-conference game of the season at Virginia on Dec. 21 before opening MAAC play versus St. Peter’s College on Dec. 28.
“I don’t want to just get wins,” Vulin said. “I want to build a program that will be one of the top two or three programs in the MAAC year in and year out. And I felt going with a more challenging schedule this year it would help accelerate the learning process.
“Now when I look at what we did last year compared to this year at this point, in terms of our rebounding and our scoring, we’re a much better team than we were last year.”