Milligan, Rider women won't look ahead as they go for third straight win
|MyNeshia McKenzie earned MAAC Player of the Week for the second time this season/ Photo by GREGG SLABODA|
LAWRENCEVILLE — Lynn Milligan has a superstition.
The head coach of the Rider women even knows it is an old cliché, but she won’t look ahead on the schedule.
After all, it’s not like this program — only once have the Broncs finished with a winning record in league play since joining the MAAC in 1997 — has the luxury to peek into the future.
“Carpe Diem,” Milligan said. “That’s all we talk about — seizing the day. This group does a good job of staying in the moment.”
At present, Rider is in its best league position in a long time. The Broncs (9-10, 4-4) are tied for fifth, coming off a crucial road win at Fairfield and have three straight at home, starting Thursday night against Manhattan (5-14, 2-6).
And that’s where it gets tricky.
This is exactly the kind of game Rider has made a habit of losing.
Milligan avoids even going there.
“We don’t talk about the past a lot,” said the sixth-year coach, who is two wins away from equaling her high-water mark of 11 in 2011-12. “They’ve been through it; they don’t need to be reminded of it. They know. It’s more of what we’re doing today to win tomorrow.”
To win Thursday and complete the season sweep of the Jaspers, Milligan needs MyNeshia McKenzie to continue playing at an all-conference level.
The junior forward picked up MAAC Player of the Week honors for the second time this season after leading the Broncs to a pair of victories over St. Peter’s and Fairfield.
“It was a good week,” said McKenzie, who averaged 14.5 points and 10.5 rebounds in those two victories. “I found flow early and basically went from there. I kept high energy all week, and in that game, what I did in practice paid off.”
McKenzie is averaging 14.5 points and 9.5 rebounds per game.
Even on a bad night, she’s almost an automatic double-double. McKenzie has eight this season and 20 for her career.
“Her maturity is allowing her to become a more consistent player,” Milligan said. She’s always had talent. She’s obviously a lot more confident. She knows what we need from her. She knows what her teammates need from her.”
The difference of late, Milligan said, is McKenzie understands that she has to be a central figure every night.
McKenzie credited senior teammates Caitlin Bopp and Carleigh Brown for guiding the Broncs through some of the rough spots early in the season.
Now that they’ve won two straight in the league for the first time since 2008-09, McKenzie feels like momentum is at their back.
“We’re definitely building confidence,” she said. “We’re seeing things start to stick. We’re starting to trust our coaches. That’s what it’s coming down to. Being an upperclassman and seeing this program grow a little; it’s nice to see all this happening.”
McKenzie’s not the only talented player on the roster. Bopp has 23 career double-doubles to her name, Sironda Chambers averages 13.4 points per game and Emily Fazzini, an excellent all-around guard, continues to work her way back into form following offseason ankle surgery.
“Can we put it together every day?,” Milligan asked. “It’s the consistency factor.”
That means turning one win into two, and two into three.
“If we get one win, we want to keep building,” McKenzie said. “It’s not like we’re going to take a break here. We’re going to push harder and work harder every day.”
Just take it one day at a time.