PREVIEW: Broncs embracing underdog mentality

By Logan K. VanDine

With the 2023-24 regular season winding down for Rider women’s basketball, eyes are set on the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament, which is slated to begin on March 12.

The Broncs will be motivated when they set foot in Atlantic City, New Jersey, after their crushing loss in the second round a year ago. 

With that loss behind them, Head Coach Lynn Milligan and her squad are hoping to build off a nice finish to the regular season which including a four-game winning streak.

‘Playing some good basketball’

Milligan, who is wrapping up her 17th season as the Broncs’ head coach, gave her overall assessment of the team with one more home regular season game to go on March 7 when they take on Siena at 5 p.m.

“We’ve been playing some good basketball,” said Milligan. “We know we have some tough games in front of us, but the end of February and beginning of March is about tightening things up.”

Heading into the tournament as a likely lower seed and underdog, Milligan still trusts and believes in her squad’s ability to go on a deep run in the tournament.

“I think just with who we are and how we relate to one another … those are the things we have to rely on in the MAAC Tournament,” said Milligan. “Early in the season, you’re building chemistry with players … when you get to March, you’re counting on that.” 

Graduate student guard Taylor Langan who is averaging a team leading 14.4 points this season in her first season at Rider, echoed Milligan’s sentiment.

“After a while when you have so many new players and a lot of returners it takes a little longer than what people anticipate,” said Langan, “but luckily for us, basketball is a long season.”   

‘Critical wins’

The Broncs have also been in their best stretch of the season, as they’ve gone 4-2 over their last six games and have scored over 50 points in five of those six games. Milligan thinks is vital for her team to be playing well especially on the offensive side of the ball at this point in the season.

“It’s critical. We’ve won home games, we won road games, we won a game at the buzzer, we won a game in overtime, so those are all things that are lessons for us,” Milligan said.

Senior guard Makayla Firebaugh and Langan expressed the significance of playing their best at this point in the season.

“You don’t want to have continuous losing streaks going into the tournament, because, like people say, your mental state is going to be defeated,” Firebaugh said, who has averaged 12 points per game for Rider.

Langan added, “Basketball is a game of runs. Some teams go on winning streaks and some go on losing streaks, and luckily for us, we’ve actually peaked at the right time and we just have to keep showing our best.”

‘We are prepared’

Heading into the MAAC Tournament, the Broncs will most likely be a lower-seeded team again, having been a 10-seed and a nine-seed the last two seasons. Despite this record, Milligan still said she always finds her team playing their best basketball of the season at Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall.

“The MAAC Tournament has always been a place where we’ve been relatively successful,” Milligan said. “I want to say we have been in the semifinals five out of the last seven years … as a staff and as a program we are prepared for that week,” Milligan said.

Firebaugh, who will be playing in her fourth MAAC Tournament, was asked if she has felt a difference in playing in the tournament each season.

“I kind of feel the same except freshman year when … I was nervous out of my mind, but years after that, I was fine and felt the same nostalgia and simply excited to be here because everybody plays different basketball when you’re in the tournament,” said Firebaugh.

For Langan, this will be her first time playing in the MAAC Tournament, and with this year being her sixth and final season playing college basketball, excitement is what’s going through her mind.

“I’m just excited, this is my last year ever playing college basketball, so … I’m excited to end on the note that we all are ending as a team … we have a lot of good people that can help us get the job done,” said Langan. 

Rider is also hoping to bounce back after a crushing loss in the second round against Niagara 67-64 just a year ago, where Firebaugh led the Broncs in scoring with 27 points. Firebaugh said the game still motivates her now.

“Obviously after losing in the MAAC Tournament, I’m fueled every year and ready to just come back and prove it, because I believe in this team, I believe in this program,” she said. “We have a shot to win it, so it’s all about believing in each other and in our team.”

Milligan felt that same determination that Firebaugh and some of her other returning players have from last season’s heartbreaking exit.

She said, “Our returners have been in some close games and have had success in Atlantic City, so yes, we will absolutely be relying on our veterans.”

Related Articles

Back to top button