It would be difficult to find someone more optimistic for the upcoming college basketball season than Heather Vulin.
The second year of the Vulin Era tips off after a struggling start last season that saw the Jaspers finish 8-22, and 4-16 in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. But that’s all in the rearview mirror now as Vulin is ready to go to battle with a revamped roster.
“I’m really excited about the group of athletes we have on the team this year,” Vulin said. “I have a big roster. I maxed out all of my scholarships, so I have 15 scholarship kids and I have two walk-ons, and they are just a really special group. Everybody that is on the team I want here, whether I recruited them or I inherited them. I just feel like everybody is on the same page.”
Last season was all about laying the foundation for her vision of the program and instilling a winning mindset in her players. Vulin thinks her foundation is now a solid one on which to build.
“I’ve been blessed that every place I’ve been at I’ve been a part of a winning program, and I really feel to have a winning program you have to start by having winners on your team,” Vulin said.
“Not just on the court, but off the court as well. What we’ve been trying to instill in them is what we’re about, and I feel like they have really embraced it. I really feel like they are trying to live our mentality, which is basically everything we do we do at a championship level.”
The Jaspers were not what you’d call an offensive juggernaut last season, but Vulin thinks the addition of a couple of newcomers coupled with a change in roles for some holdovers will translate into a lot more offensive exploits this season.
“Scoring was an issue for us last year,” Vulin said. “What I thought about last year was that we have talent, but we just didn’t have enough, and I felt like the kids that we did have, they had to do more than they were capable of.
“But now I think my staff and I did a great job in identifying what we need and what our style is. We have five true freshmen who have made an immediate impact in practice, and we’re hoping they are going to have the same immediate impact on the court. They are all able to score, defend and run the floor, so our upperclassmen can focus on what their strengths are instead of doing more of what they are capable of.”
The Jaspers return seniors Kayla Grimme, who led the team in scoring and rebounding last season with 14.6 points per game and 7.7 rebounds, as well as guard Amani Tatum, who led the MAAC in both assists (4.9) and steals (3.0). While it always warms a coach’s heart to have quality seniors on board, Vulin is perhaps more excited about some of her newcomers.
“One of the kids I like is a player who transferred in last year in Alex Smith,” Vulin said. “She’s a 6-(foot)-4 wide-body presence in the post. I think she’s really going to be a tough matchup for any opponent that we face this year. She’s a joy to coach, a joy to work with, and she was my first recruit (after) I got the job here last year.”
Another standout for Vulin is Lynette Taitt, who went to Bishop Loughlin High School and has an ability to score.
“But her defensive presence is going to be a difference maker for us this year,” Vulin said. “I’m excited for our fans to see her athleticism. She’s really dynamic to watch. ”
Vulin also is high on a European import who she is wants to see buckets of points from this year. Her name is Sini Makela, a 5-foot-9 player from Finland.
“She’s just an incredible shooter,” Vulin said. “There are days in practice that I feel like she just doesn’t miss. “
Manhattan was picked to finish 10th out of 11 teams in the MAAC preseason poll. But Vulin doesn’t put much stock in those projections.
“Look at last year’s poll, they picked Rider 10th and Rider finished second,” Vulin said. “The conference, they don’t know my freshmen. If my freshmen do what I think they can do, we’ll be in the top half of the conference. That’s a realistic goal.”