After a crushing defeat in the Elite 8 in a season that saw them finish 27-5, the Queens College Knights look to start a new era of basketball this upcoming season. With former star players Mackenzie and Madison Rowland no longer on campus, the team hopes to form a new identity heading into the 2017-2018 season, while also maintaining its defense first strategy that has become a staple of Knights basketball.
The Knights have brought on four new players for this upcoming season. Freshman Lucy Tougas was a lethal scorer at Glens Falls High School, amassing over 1,000 points, and looks to bring her game up to the college level. Also joining Lucy from the high school ranks is Achol Ajang, from Thomas R. Proctor High School, who’s looking to develop into a nightly double threat after averaging one during her senior season.
Sophomore Taylor Sparks-Faulkner comes over from Delaware State, and hopes to control the rebounds on a nightly basis. The final addition to the roster is junior Taliyah Hopkins, who last played in Niagara County Community College where she averaged 12.4 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game. She’s looking to become an instant contributor for the Knights.
The Knights main focus has always been defense. Last season they ranked 56th in the nation in opponents field goal percentage at 37.2%, while also ranking 6th in the nation in steals with 11.5 per game.
“Defense has been our bread and butter for the seven years I’ve been here,” Coach Elizabeth Naumovski said. “We always hang our hat on that.”
What Naumovski has instilled in her players since her arrival at this program is a commitment to the less glamorous side of the ball, the discipline that is needed on every possession, and the willingness to do whatever it takes to win the game. Expect the Knights to use their stifling defense not only to stop their opponents, but as a catapult for their offense.
When a team loses its best player– or in the Knights’ case–its two best players, it’s natural to scan the roster for the replacement. Mackenzie and Madison Rowland played their final game for the Knights last season, and with it, a hole has emerged within the roster. Yet according to Naumovski, less can mean more.
“They probably gave our success last year too much credit to two people and not enough credit to the team,” she explained. “I think we’re gonna show we’re talented all the way around.”
While most fans are both nervous and anxious to see who’s going to step up, this team doesn’t seem to care. They don’t want to fill the void left by the Rowland sisters. That’s the equivalent of putting a round block in a square peg. It won’t fit.
What the coaches want to do, and what will ultimately make or break this team, is to rebuild the system around the players they have. That means everyone understanding their roles, but it’s also on the coaches to put the players in the best positions in order for them to succeed.
Not only will the Knights look different on the court, but this squad seems more motivated than ever. While nobody seems to think they can compete for a championship due to the roster changes, the players seem to think otherwise.
“A lot of people this year think that that we’re kind of gonna fall off because we lost some of our best players,” Junior Emer Moloney said. “But we kind of want to prove to everyone that that didn’t happen.”
With low expectations placed on this team, it shouldn’t surprise anyone to see them come out the gates firing on all cylinders with the intention of proving the doubters wrong.
The Knights know that a basketball season is a marathon not a sprint. While everyone on the roster is motivated to bring a championship to Queens College, they understand the process that it takes. Coach Naumovski said it best: “One step at a time, we want to give ourselves a chance, so as long as we get to the playoffs we put ourselves in the fold for another Conference Championship.”
But after all the talk this past summer about how this team isn’t as good as it once was, don’t be surprised to see them make a serious run for the championship this upcoming season.