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Better days ahead for Heather Vulin’s up-and-coming Jaspers

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For a team as young as the Manhattan College women’s basketball squad, there were three particular losses that helped shape the Jaspers’ season this year. While none of those losses came on the court, how the Jaspers responded to that adversity is what head coach Heather Vulin was most proud of this season.

“We had a lot of adversity this year when we lost three starters to ACL injuries,” Vulin said. “But the great thing about this young group is that they wanted to play. Sometimes teams will lose focus and they’re like, ‘This just wasn’t our year.’ This group could have easily done that. They had every excuse to use.”

Those excuses were named Gabby Cajou, Candela Abejon and D’Yona Davis. Three talented and pivotal cogs in Manhattan’s plan this year that all saw their seasons ended prematurely by a spate of knee injuries.

Still, the Jaspers carried on — and persevered.

“We lost our preseason All-MAAC player, our point guard and our only senior, but they just kept on playing,” Vulin said about the rest of the team. “People just kept stepping up for us, so I was really proud of them.”

Without their injured trio, the Jaspers still finished tied for fourth in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, defeated both second-place Rider and third-place Marist on the road, and split the season series with Canisius, a team that was the other fourth-place finisher in the MAAC.

And when the Jaspers MAAC tournament experience ended in a quarterfinal round 65-51 loss to Marist, Vulin chose to look at all the positives from this season and not dwell on the negatives.

“I just felt like when we got Marist again, their experience really showed,” Vulin said. “They’re usually playing Monday night (in the MAAC title game). Even though I think we have enough talent to beat them again, we just weren’t able to match that experience. But I think this tournament was a good experience to get two games in.”

The loss of Cajou, Abejon and Davis was offset somewhat by the continued emergence of stellar sophomore Courtney Warley. The 6-foot-3 Warley, a MAAC All-Rookie team selection last season, followed that up this year by not only earning All-MAAC Third Team status, but by being named the conference’s defensive player of the year.

“She’s just amazing,” Vulin said. “She’s one of those kids that I may only get once in a lifetime. But besides being an incredible player, she’s an incredible teammate, and she’s one of our captains as a sophomore. She’s also a double major with a high GPA. She’s just really special.

“We’re really excited for the next two years with her. I just don’t know who is going to guard her.”

Warley had 16 points and nine rebounds in the 62-41 first-round win over St. Peter’s, and closed out her season with a double-double against Marist, posting 10 points and 11 boards.

Further good news for Vulin and Manhattan is they lose only Abejon to graduation and will add a very talented guard from a different borough to the roster next season.

“We have a really great player coming from Staten Island Academy named Emily LaPointe,” Vulin said. “If you look at our roster, we have a lot of little guards who are really quick and athletic. Emily is quick and athletic, but she’s also 5-(foot)-9. She’s one of those kids who will run through a wall for you.”

Despite leaving the MAAC tournament earlier than she had hoped, Vulin calls this season among her best — Multiple injuries to key players and all.

“I’ve been doing this for 18 years and I’m hoping to do this for another 20,” said Vulin, who just completed her third season at Manhattan. “But this year will go down as one of my all-time favorite years. The way this team responded, this is why you want to coach. To be around kids that want to get better and want to believe in being part of something bigger than themselves.”

So with her young talent a year older and wiser next season, where does Vulin see the Jaspers headed?

“I think it’s realistic to be in the top four next year,” Vulin said. “We were in the top four this year with a lot of injuries. So I’d like to maintain fourth and go higher from there next year.”

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