West Windsor, N.J. – It was a tale of two seasons for the Mercer County Community College (MCCC) women’s basketball team – one before winter break and one after.
Starting out 12-strong in November, the team lost several key players by January, players who were beginning to contribute in significant ways. According to Head Coach Mike Tenaglia, that changed the course of the season irrevocably. The Vikings’ final record was 4-20.
So, while this year was not about wins on the scoreboard, the team remained focused on the lessons they learned on the court. And Tenaglia says there were plenty. “We concentrated on moments of excellence like the game in which we held powerhouse Lackawanna to just 51 points. We had little victories. We looked for successes we could build on.”
Tenaglia notes that while they may have made mistakes, his players learned a lot of basketball. And with a considerably smaller roster, players who were not expected to be starters found themselves playing whole games. “When you have a small roster, each player is going to see a lot of minutes.”
Through it all, team chemistry stayed strong. “These women took defeat in hand and continued to work on improving their game,” Tenaglia said.
With numbers in short supply after winter break, two athletes were recruited from other Mercer sports teams – Angelique Wysock from women’s soccer and Brianna Castellano from softball. (Dana Davies played both soccer and basketball.) Anchoring the team at center was 6’2” sophomore Chioma Okoro. With only Khrystyna Chaykovska at forward, guards played a major role including sophomores Cai Cai Hahn and Brianna Gurdon and freshmen Britannie Bingham and Dana Davies.
Tengalia considers Bingham to have been the Vikings’ strongest freshman asset, and will be remembered for her buzzer beater three-point shot in a victory against Morris on Feb. 3. Gurdon also stepped up, starting at guard and playing many minutes. “She made great strides and became a much better player,” Tenaglia said.
Both Bingham and Okoro were named to the All-Garden State Athletic Conference Second Team.
“It was a nice opportunity for these women. I’m proud of their accomplishments – and for my assistants Jane Berlinger and Samantha Cobbs, who kept them motivated,” Tenaglia said. “The kids hung together. They had fun with it.”
He notes the other benefits of team sports. “You learn to make a schedule and manage your time. You learn to control your emotions to be effective on the court. You learn it’s not just about you, that you are part of a group working together toward a common goal.”
Mercer will lose only two players this year — sophomores Okoro and Hahn. With six players expected to return to the roster in the fall, Coach Tenaglia expects significant improvement over this season’s outcome.
He adds that turnover is a fact of life at a community college. Recruitment can also take some unexpected twists and turns. “It’s all part of the game.”
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