Broncs go 3-3 in last six after rough start

By Dylan Manfre

As the saying goes, if you don’t love them at their worst, you don’t deserve them at their best. 5-14 is not indicative of a team doing its “best,” but it is an improvement from the women’s basketball team’s 1-7 start to the season.

The above phrase was a social media trend over the summer when people posted throwback pictures followed by a second photo of the present day. Now that the Broncs have won three of their last six games, freshman guard Makayla Firebaugh said the phrase described the team’s situation nicely.

“We all know how good we are and how good we can be. We were trying to figure that out in the beginning and it was hard for us, kind of, obviously,”

Firebaugh said. “We all knew the connection was there; we just needed the pieces to fit tighter and we struggled some games, figuring it out obviously as you could tell. I think in the future we will be a good team and we won’t have those issues as [you were] starting to see this past weekend.”

Rider has miraculously played all of its games without a positive COVID-19 case in the regular season. The Broncs were on pause once before, but it was during the preseason period when games were not played. The same cannot be said for teams such as Monmouth and Niagara, to name a few, which have felt the full brunt of the pandemic.

Getting 21 games in gives the coaching staff plenty of time to canvass the players and see what works, especially over the latest stretch of games where the team has won three of its last four games. Some mid-season lineup adjustments and essential growth have boded well for the Broncs and provided momentum going forward.

Daija Moses out for Raphaela Toussaint

Toussaint, a freshman forward, replaced senior forward Moses in the starting lineup for the last three games, all of which Rider has won by a combined total of 46 points. Head Coach Lynn Milligan swapped because of Toussaint’s chemistry with post teammate Victoria Toomey. Rider is 3-0 when Toussaint starts over Moses.

“They’re always working on their, you know, high low passes, their counter move, just getting a feel for where each other is,” Milligan said.

Toussaint has steadily proven she belongs in the starting rotation. She has four double-doubles, averages eight points per game in her 14 starts and is shooting just over 46% from the field in all games.

Moses, on the other hand, might be more suited to come off the bench. She came off the bench much of last season, starting six games as a junior. Milligan said she is comfortable with that role too, based on experience. She recorded 14 points on 6-of-10 shooting off the bench against Monmouth on Jan. 31.

Toomey’s growth in 2021

Milligan touted the sophomore center as one of, if not, the most improved players this season. As a freshman, Toomey saw 5.7 minutes per game, off the bench playing behind a senior-heavy frontcourt.

Milligan called her their “rim protector” and Toomey has conformed to the role exceptionally well. She had a career-high eight blocks against Quinnipiac on Jan. 23 and is now fourth in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) in that category.

From freshman year to now, Toomey is averaging 5.7 more points per game and 5.0 more rebounds per game. She is also shooting 70% from the free throw line.

“There was a lot of growth left for a lot of our sophomore class and I think they’ve all really taken to it,” Milligan said. “But yeah, Vic has really bought into that role of being our rim protector.”

Overall growth

The first Quinnipiac loss was a gut punch.

“I just think it was a game where we just didn’t play the way we were supposed to play,” Milligan said. “But I think it was one of those games where the team recognized it without me having to tell them. They were like ‘Wait a minute, this isn’t [us,]” Milligan said.

“It wasn’t anything I had to call their attention to … They felt it, they saw it.”

Through its first 10 games in 2021, Rider has averaged 57.6 points per game which is up from 46.5 through nine games in 2020. A clear improvement.

Losses to Quinnipiac and most recently Marist on Feb. 7 and 8, gave the Broncs a little more guidance on what they need to work on to be a successful team.

Rider will have plenty of time to correct any mistake when it faces a three-week gap between the Niagara series on Feb. 13 and 14 to when it leaves for the MAAC tournament on Mar. 7.

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