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College Basketball

After switching conferences, Mount St. Mary’s women’s basketball eager to prove itself once again

Antoine White forgives, but he can’t forget.

White wasn’t too offended when his Mount St. Mary’s women’s basketball team was voted to finish eighth in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference’s preseason poll released last month. It’s the residual flak that has irked the second-year head coach.

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“I keep my receipts,” he said. “I keep up with what everybody’s saying. I listen to interviews, podcasts, what [athletic directors] have said to me at our head coaches’ meeting. I’ve got receipts. I’ve got it all, and I use it. It’s good.”

To be fair, White isn’t upset with the eighth-place prediction as voted by the MAAC’s 11 coaches. In fact, the voting is reminiscent of the Mountaineers’ first two seasons under former coach Maria Marchesano when the 2017-18 and 2018-19 squads were picked to finish eighth and fifth, respectively, by their peers in the Northeast Conference.

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“It reminds me of what we were three years ago under Maria when we were kind of on the rise and we were kind of making a name for ourselves in the NEC when we were chasing Robert Morris and Saint Francis [Pa.],” he said. “That year, we didn’t have the target on our back. We were going out and doing all of the hunting, and that’s where we’re at again, and I absolutely love being in that position. It’s a different feel when you’re the one at the top, but now we’re back to going out and proving ourselves. So I like that position a lot.”

That outlook got a bit brighter after the team defeated visiting Navy, 68-59, on Saturday afternoon at Knott Arena in Emmitsburg. With the win, the program avoided its first 0-4 start since the 2017-18 squad went 0-6 before collecting its first victory.

When Mount St. Mary’s made the move in April to leave for the MAAC, the women’s team brought a pedigree that included capturing the last two Northeast Conference regular-season and tournament championships. But graduate student guard Michaela Harrison said she and her teammates expected that history to have little impact on their new competition.

“Obviously, we were picked eighth because not a lot of teams know us,” she said. “So you can’t expect to be put No. 1 in a new conference. Nobody was angry, but it can be used as a motivational thing.”

Despite winning the past two Northeast Conference regular-season and tournament championships, Mount St. Mary’s women's basketball, led by coach Antoine White, was voted to finish eighth in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference’s preseason poll.

There’s also the matter of some significant turnover within the roster, including the departures of starting shooting guards Kendall Bresee and Kayla Agentowicz. Bresee, the 2020-21 Northeast Conference Player and Defensive Player of the Year, averaged 14.9 points, 7.3 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.2 steals last season and reached the 1,000-point milestone in three years. Agentowicz averaged 9.3 points, 4.0 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.1 steals before joining Shepherd’s program as an assistant coach.

The team also bade farewell to center Tess Borgosz, a Towson transfer who came off the bench to contribute 3.6 points and 2.7 rebounds. Redshirt senior shooting guard Aryna Taylor is still recovering from a left knee injury suffered in March, and junior point guard Jada Lee is out until after Thanksgiving after suffering a high ankle sprain in a 101-45 loss at No. 14 Virginia Tech on Nov. 7.

Junior forward Isabella Hunt conceded the voids created by their absences.

“Losing Kendall, [Agentowicz] and Tess, that’s a huge part of our team, and we have three freshmen and two transfers who have to come in and link up with the team,” she said. “They’re learning us, and we’re learning them. But that’s what out-of-conference is for, and that’s what we’ve been doing for months. Once everything falls into place, I think we have a team that is going to be scary to play against because the talent we have on this team is insane.”

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White isn’t shy about voicing the team’s reliance on Harrison. The 5-foot-7 guard is the school’s all-time leader in 3-pointers and ranks 10th in scoring at 1,446 points.

“We’ve been on Mick about expanding her role,” he said. “We want Mick to be super aggressive on the offensive end. We want her to shoot the ball about 12 to 15 times per game. That’s kind of her role anyway, to go out and be really aggressive for us.”

Mount St. Mary's guard Michaela Harrison (10) handles the ball during an NCAA Tournament game against Longwood in Raleigh, N.C., on March 17. The Mountaineers will lean heavily on Harrison, who is the school’s all-time leader in 3-pointers and ranks 10th in scoring at 1,446 points.

Harrison acknowledged she is still getting adjusted to taking more shots. But she dismissed the notion that being the offensive leader is a burden.

“I don’t ever think of it as pressure because I can only control what I can control,” she said. “There’s going to be good games, and there’s going to be bad games, and that’s just part of the game. So I don’t ever put pressure on myself to do that. I just try to play the way I’ve been playing. I have good teammates around me. They trust me, and I trust them.”

As troubling as the team’s start may be, White and the players pointed out that the first three games were road trips to Virginia Tech, Richmond and No. 10 North Carolina State. Hunt said she and her teammates weren’t frustrated by the setbacks.

“You have to have the right mindset,” she said. “It’s all a mental game. As long as you have leaders that we do on our team that keep reminding the freshmen and the transfers that games like that can’t affect your mental game, I think we’ll be OK.”

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White said he appreciates the players’ approach, which involves little talk of the past two years of success in the Northeast Conference and a focus on the challenges of navigating a new league. But he said no one is lowering the bar.

“The standard for the last two years in the NEC is to go out and get that title, and we still want that,” he said. “But for us right now, with so many new faces in the program, it’s all about us getting on the same page. I have a group that works hard and they’re responding well to me and my tough coaching. They’re not folding.”

Mount St. Mary’s at Cornell

Monday, 7 p.m.

Stream: ESPN+


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