Numerous times during the 2016-17 season, Manhattan College women’s basketball coach Heather Vulin said her first year would serve to build a culture and a style of play.
The product on the court, on the other hand, was disappointing. The Jaspers went 8-22, and were bounced out of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament in the first round. Immediately following the loss, Vulin admitted the season’s struggles were partly due to the lack of depth on the roster.
“In terms of execution of our game plan, it was really frustrating for me that our Achilles heel all year was we didn’t have people consistently knock down open shots, and rebounding was a major struggle,” Vulin said March 2.
Vulin has now addressed the lack of depth with her first recruiting class, consisting of six players: Sini Mäkelä, Tuuli Menna, Lizahya Morgan, Nyala Pendergrass, Lynette Taitt and Courtney Warley.
Despite the Jaspers returning all but two players next season, the recruiting class likely play a significant role on the team. Vulin was not shy about admitting that at times last year she just didn’t have enough players that produced consistently. So the incoming freshmen could see substantial playing time.
“I think we definitely have an improvement in just talent,” Vulin said.
The additions to the roster seem to address the specific issues that plagued Manhattan last season: scoring and size. Mäkelä, a 5-foot-8 guard, was an elite shooter for her team, Helki Basket, in Finland. She also was named shooter of the year in 2016 with a 43.2 percentage rate from three-point range.
In Pendergrass, Tuuli and Warley, the Jaspers add some much needed size. Tuuli, a 6-foot-1 forward, will sit out a year after transferring from the University of Richmond. Warley, at 6-foot-3, provides immediate help for Kayla Grimme, Manhattan’s lone big last season.
Pendergrass, at 5-foot-9, doesn’t fit the traditional bill of a big, but because of her athleticism, she played the power forward position at times at St. Rose High School in Belmar, New Jersey.
Pendergrass “is probably one of the most athletic kids I’ll ever work with,” Vulin said. “She can dunk a tennis ball. She’s just really incredibly athletic.”
The Jaspers also will count on the services of Alex Smith, who will be eligible after sitting out last season after transferring from Middle Tennessee State.
“Alex Smith is going to have a chance to be real special,” Vulin said. “We’re working on her conditioning because she’s a bigger girl. But when it comes to hands and strength, ability to finish around the basket, ability to pass out of a double or triple team, she’s going to be a really, really tough mismatch in our conference.”
Vulin believes Manhattan’s additions will suit the team’s up-tempo play adequately.
“We’re definitely going to be built to run this year because now we’ll have some depth,” Vulin said. “It’s disappointing last year because I just didn’t have enough.”
The recruiting class, Vulin hopes, will give her enough personnel to work with this season. If that’s the case, Vulin believes the 2017-18 campaign could be special.
“I’m really big on approach,” Vulin said. “Doing things the right away and being committed to doing things the right way, and I feel that each of these players are ready to be a part of something special.”