High hopes and new beginnings

Published by Tyler Howe, Date: November 12, 2021
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The last time The Rock women’s basketball took the court they fell short of making the PSAC tournament. Now, nearly two years removed from the loss to Mercyhurst University that closed their season out, they’ll finally be making their return to the court.

Like every other team at Slippery Rock, they didn’t play for a whole year due to COVID-19. The court in Morrow Fieldhouse sat empty for months. In 2021 things have slowly made their way back into a sense of normalcy, but that stagnant period sent a reminder of how much the small things are taken for granted on a daily basis.

“[Not playing last year] made me miss setting up meals and going to buy Gatorade, stuff that might have gotten mundane in the past, I couldn’t wait to do that again because it meant we were playing and we were getting on the floor,” Coach Bobby McGraw said.

With time comes changes, and there were a lot of them for the women’s basketball team. The team essentially had a complete turnover. After boasting a veteran team in 2019, the majority of the team this year hasn’t played in a game for The Rock yet.

“This team has the best chemistry since I’ve been in this office, this team has the most discipline and togetherness I’ve ever seen,” McGraw said. “I told them in the marines you learn how to accept the violence and embrace it, and so against Ohio State University the majority of our team accepted the adversity and they embraced it.”

The team had their first opportunity to play together in a game situation this season against Ohio State, the No. 17 ranked team in Div. I. In the first game they’ve played since Feb. 29, 2020, they dropped the contest 96-48.

In that exhibition game, The Rock had three players put up double digits in points. Those players were Deleah Gibson, Isabellah Middleton and Jamiyah Johnson. With 12 rebounds and 11 points, Johnson posted a double-double. To McGraw, if you can do that against the No. 17 team in Div. I, you can do that against anyone.

“Even when we were down 30 or 35 points, we would hit a big shot and the bench would erupt, stuff like that was exciting to see,” McGraw said. “Jamiyah Johnson is an absolute monster, but when she was at Davis & Elkins College, they never took on Ohio State, in the past here we’ve played against University of Pittsburgh Johnstown, University of Cincinnati, and Indiana University of Pennsylvania and she was never able to do that there.”

Only four players returned from the 2019-2020 year. One of those players is captain Daeja Quick, who was one of the best options The Rock had in 2019 and according to Coach Bobby McGraw.

In the Rock’s final preseason game, Quick dropped 20 points against the University of Akron. In 33 minutes of action, Quick showed a Div. I school what she was about, but over the past two years she’s learned a lot according to McGraw. One of those things was how to become a better leader.

“Daeja will tell you she’s not always been the most coachable player, and I don’t mean consistently but at certain points, but we’ve stuck with her and she’s stuck with us,” McGraw said. “She could have transferred anywhere she wanted, but she chose to come back here and that means a lot.”

The team has a lot of young players including five freshmen. After a long layoff, there are essentially two classes of players who haven’t taken the court for The Rock. This season they’ll be welcomed to one of the toughest conferences in the country.

Since they have such a new team, The Rock was picked to finish eighth in the conference this season. McGraw thinks that having such a new team is an advantage that other teams don’t have. While a lot of teams are returning veterans, The Rock feels that they have some new players that can compete right off the bat.

“Three of the top four teams have everyone back, but our players kind of laughed off the thing where we were chosen to finish eighth,” McGraw said. “Daeja’s quote was, ‘Well, they haven’t met our newcomers yet,’ and they haven’t, but they’re going to feel them, and we didn’t take it as disrespect because we have a new team.”

The first team’s first official game takes place this Saturday against Notre Dame College. It’ll be the first in season competition that the team has faced since Leap Day in 2020. It’ll start the 28-game schedule for The Rock that runs all the way until the end of February.

Only 11 days after they open the season, they’ll be faced with their first PSAC test, but it’ll be a PSAC East team, East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania. McGraw has made it clear that the team is here to compete this season.

“If you don’t come ready to compete, you’re going to get left off the bus and I don’t mean that literally, but what I mean is you won’t see the floor,” McGraw said. “You can either adjust and be ready, and all of our new kids have responded to that.”

The Rock has been waiting to be able to get out on the court again, and after nearly two years of waiting, the season is finally approaching. It’s coming quick, and with it comes expectations and goals. The biggest of which being clear: win the PSAC.

“I’ve had people literally laugh in my face when I give this answer, but our goal is to win the PSAC this year,” McGraw said. “We have the personal, and you might say, ‘Oh, well, you got picked eighth,’ well that’s because like Daeja said, they haven’t met our newcomers.”

Tyler is a junior communication major with a concentration in converged journalism. He’s in his third year with Rocket and it’s his second semester as assistant sports editor. Through his first two years, he wrote nearly 70 articles. The majority of which have been for the sports section, but he has also written for campus life.

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