How fitting for this season’s LIU Brooklyn team to seal their ticket into next week’s NEC Tournament by getting a spot on Senior Day.
The LIU Brooklyn women’s basketball team (8-20, 6-11 in the NEC) clinched their spot right before halftime of their game against Bryant on Saturday when Mount St. Mary’s defeated St. Francis Brooklyn thus eliminating the Terriers and putting the Blackbirds into the field of eight.
“Being down numbers with the injuries, new coaching staff, everything that we went through. I’m really proud that we made it.” said LIU Brooklyn women’s basketball head coach Stephanie Oliver.
LIU Brooklyn came back from a slow start in which they started the game 1 for 11 from the field and saw them down by as much as ten points in the first quarter to briefly tie the game at 27 in the third quarter. After that, the bigger and deeper Bryant team took over. The Bulldogs outscored LIU in the third quarter 19-9 to pull away and defeated the Blackbirds on their senior day, 62-53.
Before the game, the LIU Brooklyn coaching staff recognized their four seniors on the team in Angelia Allen, Shanice Vaughan, Jolanna Ford and Ashley Brown. It has been a roller coaster of a season for this group of seniors who are all transferred to LIU Brooklyn after playing two years in junior college.
Back in October, at NEC Media Day, LIU Brooklyn were picked to finish last in the conference by the league’s coaches. Yet, after a season which saw them several times only be able to suit up just six players and have just eight players available due to either player defections before the season, injuries, transfers having to sit out the season, the Blackbirds were able to dig deep and make into the NEC tournament in Oliver’s first season at the helm.
The second half of the conference season hasn’t gone as well as the first went. LIU has now lost four in a row and five out of their last six to go from certain NEC tournament berth to having to sweat it out in the team’s final weekend.
Yet, this season’s team behind the help of this senior class, persevered and battle through to make it to their second straight NEC tournament.
“I think they have learned a lot this year and as a staff we learned a lot too.” said Oliver. “(Our seniors) bought in and for them to buy in first and the rest of the team to follow is huge and they see what we are trying to do program-wise and culture-wise. They have had a huge part in building what we want for the future.”
Brooklyn native Shanice Vaughan has had an outstanding season for LIU. The senior point guard has more than doubled her scoring average of a season ago to lead the Blackbirds at 11.9 points per game. In 18 of her 28 games played, she has played at least 36 minutes and played the full 40 minutes seven times due to the lack of depth on the roster this season.
Senior forward Jolanna Ford led the team in rebounding this season while averaging nearly seven points a game.
Ashley Brown battled injuries this season. She had missed ten games due to injuries. Allen, another injury casualty, never played in a game for the Blackbirds in her two seasons.
In an offseason that saw two would-be seniors leave the LIU Brooklyn program including their leading scorer from last season. Stephanie Oliver appreciate the work and effort and leadership this season’s senior group brought into her first season as head coach.
“They are great leaders.” said Oliver. “They have been able to pull us together when we needed them to.”
After this season, the rebuilding process and the Stephanie Oliver transformation of her roster will truly commence. Oliver will have just two scholarship seniors next season and an influx of newcomer transfers and freshmen entering in.
Although the record may not say it, this was a good starting point season for Oliver and her team. With all the challenges and shortcomings they had to face and in a season in which many felt they would get trampled due to both lack of depth and height on the roster, they proved their toughness and willingness to be competitive and do the things necessary to grind out wins and stay close in games.
It is a credit to this group of seniors for not giving up on their season and now they are being rewarded with one more opportunity at the Northeast Conference tournament.
“As far as making it to the playoffs, it is a whole new season.” said Oliver. “It’s zero-to-zero come playoffs and I know it is something that the seniors are really happy about and it is something I’m really proud of everybody for.”
Even though, they have one more game to play on Monday against Wagner which will decided if they play 1-seed Sacred Heart or once again play the 2-seeded Bryant Bulldogs on Saturday, this senior class and this team have already many victories this season, even if their record doesn’t exactly show it.