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Manhattan guns for long-awaited winning season

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Ordinarily, one might not get all that stoked about an early-season 3-5 record. But Manhattan College coach Katie McConnell sees progress where others might see stagnation.

When you consider the Jaspers won five games all of last season in McConnell’s first year at the helm, you can see why she’s eager to begin the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference beginning Saturday. She thinks the Jaspers are poised to make a run at the MAAC this season.

“I think we’re in a really good spot,” McConnell said. “I think we are fine-tuning a lot more than we did last year, and I think we’re implementing (the game plan) a lot better. We’re learning from our mistakes and we’re really growing.”

The Jaspers (3-5) played a rather challenging non-conference schedule in preparing for the MAAC regular season. 

Along the way, Manhattan picked up wins over Presbyterian, Vermont and Wofford, with losses coming against Mount Saint Mary’s, Arizona State, Lafayette, LaSalle and Wagner. 

But with three of those losses coming by five goals or fewer, McConnell sees reason for optimism.

“Really the biggest difference from last year to this year is we’re trusting each other a lot more,” McConnell said. “We understand how each other plays a lot more, and they’re just connecting more things better than last year.”

Last season when McConnell took over, her first priority was to change the culture around a program that had not had a winning season since 2009 and had not logged more than four wins in any season since then.

“I want the culture here to be extremely positive because I think everybody benefits in an environment like that,” McConnell said. “We talk about effort, positivity and communication every day, and those are the three biggest things we want to make sure we’re contributing on and off the field. And if we can do that then I think we’ll always be in a good place. And that, as a team, is something they have all bought in to.”

In Year Two of her tenure, McConnell likes the changes in attitudes and in dedication that might not have been there prior to her arrival. 

“I love how hard we are working. I think it’s awesome,” McConnell said. “We’re playing 60 minutes, and the effort is always there. I think we’re learning a lot from our tough out-of-conference schedule. We’re learning how to win and how to play together and that was the most important thing we learned in the non-conference portion of our season.”

McConnell hopes her team’s challenging non-conference slate will have the Jaspers battle-tested for a upcoming MAAC season that sees Manhattan face three of the top four teams in the conference in their first four games, with the first three of those contests coming on the road.

The Jaspers will open with road games at three-time defending champion Canisius College on March 24, followed by road games at Quinnipiac on March 31 and at Marist on April 4. Marist was picked third in the MAAC preseason poll. 

The Jaspers finally return home April 7 when they host Niagara, the fourth pick in the poll. 

Talk about baptism by fire.

“I think we’re in a really good spot going into conference play because the out-of-conference schedule really prepared us for that,” McConnell said. “Overall we’re just a lot more prepared.”

McConnell looks toward her core of Sarah Lang, Kara Hodapp, Molly Fitzpatrick, Nikki Prestiano and Emma Kaishian to lead the Jaspers this season. 

And she points to freshman Carmella Liscio as another rising player to watch this season, a season which McConnell hopes finally leads a long lost program back to some winning ways.

“We expect more this year,” McConnell said. “I think last year was more, ‘Let’s see what we can do,’ and this year we know what we can do and we believe in what we’re doing. So I think there is a high expectation for what we can accomplish in the conference because we see their potential every day.” 

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