EMMITTSBURG — Practices for the Mount St. Mary’s women’s basketball team can get spirited, especially when sprints are at stake for those players who lose a drill or exercise. But when a group begins those “suicide” runs, the winning squad isn’t celebrating or drinking some water.
“That other team that just won is cheering everybody on or picking them up or telling them, ‘You’ve got the next one,’” redshirt junior guard/forward Jatarrikah Settle said. “I think our competitive spirit and our ability to go at each other is the essence of this team, to know that we can go at each other and be teammates at the end of the day.”
Settle, an Odenton resident and St. Frances graduate (first name pronounced Juh-TAIR-uh-kuh) affectionately nicknamed “JT,” said that mentality has set the foundation for a Mountaineers team that has accomplished a feat last enjoyed two decades ago. Mount St. Mary’s (10-9) has won five of its first seven games in the Northeast Conference, matching the 5-2 record forged by the 1999-2000 squad. The school owns sole possession of second place, trailing only league leader Robert Morris (12-6, 7-0).
The Mountaineers have a chance to take another step forward Saturday when they visit Fairleigh Dickinson (7-12, 4-4) for a 1 p.m. tipoff that will kick off a four-game road stretch in 10 days. It’s a challenge that the players embrace.
“I’ve really enjoyed the journey of getting to this point,” said junior center Rebecca Lee, who grew up in Severn and graduated from Old Mill. “I know a lot of people see where we are right now, but it’s been a long time coming.”
The program’s evolution began May 1, 2017, when Maria Marchesano, an associate head coach at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis, was announced to succeed Bryan Whitten. In her first season, that squad ranked second in the Northeast Conference in scoring and boasted four players in double digits in points, but finished 9-20 overall and 6-12 in the league.
In Marchesano’s second campaign, the team went 15-16 and 8-10, but upset No. 3 seed St. Francis Brooklyn to advance to its first conference tournament semifinal in five years.
Finishing one game shy of the school’s first conference title game appearance since 1996 has provided the proper motivation, Marchesano said.
“We’re hungry,” she said. “We got that taste of postseason success last year, making that run to the semifinals, and we know that we were one shot away from making it to the championship game. The kids this year had that, and they brought that confidence, but they also brought that hunger to get back there and prove that a semifinal loss isn’t who we are and that we can make it further.”
Settle said the players’ mindset has shifted accordingly.
“I think the main difference this year is we have bought into the fact that we want to win,” she said. “In other years, I think we liked winning, but this year, we hate losing. There’s a difference in that.”
Sophomore guard Michaela Harrison has built on a freshman campaign in which she was placed on the Northeast Conference’s All-Rookie team to lead Mount St. Mary’s in scoring (12.1 points), steals (2.1) and minutes (32.5) per game. Settle ranks second in scoring (11.4), rebounds (5.5), assists (2.8) and steals (1.9). Redshirt junior guard/forward Kendall Bresee leads in rebounds (6.9) and assists (3.6) and ranks third in scoring (10.6).
Bresee, a George Washington transfer, said the team has been able to rely on a variety of sources for scoring as evidenced by six players finishing games as the leading scorer.
“I think a lot of teams focus on one player to score 20 or 25 points per night, and when they have an off night, they struggle,” she said. “We have four or five players that can go off, and that’s so nice and helpful for us because we’re not looking for one person to constantly score. That’s take a lot of pressure off of everyone on this team. No one has to play like the hero.”
The Mountaineers lead the league in field-goal percentage (.400) and rank second in points (67.2) and 3-point field-goal percentage (.325), but Marchesano noted that the offense has been aided by a defense that ranks second in the conference in steals (9.8 per game).
“We’re getting a lot more buckets off of our defense this year,” she said. “We’ve been able to get some of those easy ones that we didn’t get in the past. We’ve scored 60 points, but if eight to 10 of them are off of turnovers where we’re just getting layups, we’re at 70 points, and that’s a huge burst for us offensively. That’s part of our game, getting out and playing fast, and it helps when our defense is creating those.”
Mount St. Mary’s has not captured a regular-season title since 2001 and a tournament crown since 1995. Both are within reach, and Lee, who leads the team in blocks (1.4) and ranks third in rebounds (5.1) and fifth in scoring (7.8), said that she has entertained the notion.
“It gives me goosebumps because I know we’re so close,” she said. “We can get it, and the time is now. But at the same time, if you look too far ahead, you can crash and burn. So it’s nice to look after games where we stand and who’s doing well. It’s very tempting, but after that, I know I’ve got to put the phone away and focus on the next day.”
The Mountaineers still have 11 games left on the schedule, including home-and-away sets against Robert Morris and third-place Saint Francis (8-12, 6-3). For those reasons, Marchesano smiled when asked to gauge her comfort level.
“I just don’t feel like we’ve done that much yet,” she said. “We’ve got a good start to conference play, but we haven’t played some of the tougher teams yet. So we just want that validation, that once we get through conference play, it wasn’t just the first seven games. We want to say that we had an awesome conference season, all 18 games and not just the first seven. But when you see things start to click and you start to pull out games with some of the things you’ve worked on, it’s a very gratifying feeling as a coach.”