Heather Vulin spent a few hours this past Sunday morning reflecting on her second season as head coach at Manhattan College, after the Jaspers’ season-ending loss the night before to Maris in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference quarterfinals.
But Vulin was upbeat. There were far more positives than negatives surrounding the Jaspers, who rebounded from a 4-16 MAAC record last season to a 9-9 mark this year. They also earned a victory over Iona in the conference tournament opener and saw the emergence of two players who will help serve as the building blocks for the Manhattan program in the coming seasons.
“I was really proud of the group this year,” Vulin said.
Her Jaspers were picked 10th in the preseason poll because of the likes of seniors Kayla Grimme and Amani Tatum. But those pollsters didn’t know what hit them when it came to underclassmen like Courtney Warley, who emerged as one of the top freshmen in the conference. Warley finished second on the team in both rebounds (4.6 per game) and blocks (29) to earn a spot on the MAAC All-Rookie Team.
“Courtney was named to the MAAC All-Rookie Team, and that was the first one we’ve had at Manhattan since 2013,” Vulin said. “Courtney was a major impact player for us this year, and I think she is going to be a defensive player of the year in the MAAC before all is said and done.”
Another player who opened eyes this season was sophomore guard Gabby Cajou, who despite starting just one game this season, finished third on the team in scoring at 8.1 points per game while logging 110 assists and 66 steals — both good for second on the team. Cajou was named the MAAC Sixth Man of the Year at the Albany tournament — the first time in Manhattan women’s basketball history.
“To have a freshman and a sophomore recognized by our conference is an impressive accomplishment,” Vulin said.
Manhattan suffered three overtime losses in its final seven games, costing them a shot at finishing in third in the conference behind MAAC heavyweights Quinnipiac and Marist. But Vulin points to those close contests as further evidence the Jaspers are a program on the rise.
“Last year we had 11 double-digit losses in conference play, and this year we had six losses of five points or less,” Vulin said. “I’m very encouraged by our improvements in many areas.”
Manhattan will miss seniors Grimme and Tatum, however.
“Kayla finished in the top five in scoring and top three in rebounding overall,” Vulin said. “Amani was able to get her 1,000th point in the very last game, so they just were tremendous. But as a team, we were able to get a lot of young kids experience this year and a taste of being good.”
Vulin is very high on her incoming freshman class as she sees a healthy influx of talent she thinks will be the next step in lifting Manhattan to the top of the MAAC.
“Kania Pollock plays for the Mary Louis Academy, she’s of the best in New York City,” Vulin said. “It came down to her choosing between us and Rutgers, and she chose us. She has a chance to make an immediate impact next season. We also have Dyone Davis out of Truman High School here in the Bronx. She scored over 1,700 points in her high school career, but she missed her entire junior year with an ACL injury. She’s just a prolific scorer.”
And then there’s Diamond Shavis from Brooklyn’s South Shore as well as who Vulin describes as “one of the best shooters in New Jersey” in Cindy Watkins, known for her three-point shot.
While the Jaspers have called it a season after being bounced from the MAAC tournament, Vulin already is looking forward to next year.
“I’m just so proud of them,” Vulin said. “Winning that playoff game versus Iona was huge for us, and I know they are hungry for more.”