The 2017-18 season ended for the Plattsburgh State women’s basketball team (8-17, 6-12) after a tight loss against the Oneonta Red Dragons (18-7, 13-5) and a deflating defeat against the New Paltz Hawks. (16-9, 12-6)
Entering a pivotal game against Oneonta, a game that determined PSUC’s season, there was more than just a game on players’ minds.
Last Friday, the streets of Plattsburgh were teeming with disgruntled students. Dissatisfied with the the school administration’s response to a racist Snapchat posted by PSUC freshman Maria Gates, students organized and marched in protest from Rugar to Margaret Street.
Among the protesters were PSUC forwards Taylor Clare, Frannie Merkel, guard Theresa Quinn, assistant coach Yasmin Lewis and team manager Zionna Bronson.
The protest spilled into last Friday’s game as all players of the PSUC women’s team wore black shirts in unison with other protesters.
Clare followed up her protest in the New Paltz game the following day by wearing a black t-shirt with a raised golden fist reading, “We cannot be broken. #blacklivesmatter”
“I just wanted to let everybody know that even though we had a protest [Friday], we’re still going to continue to work toward what we are trying to achieve,” Clare said.
Clare feels Gate’s behavior shouldn’t be tolerated whatsoever, saying, “She shouldn’t be able to stay here, seeing how we are trying to work for a more diverse Plattsburgh community.”
Before tipoff, head coach Cheryl Cole communicated to her team to block out the noise from the ongoing protests and instead focus all their attention to the must-win game.
Facing only a 7-point deficit entering the second half, the Cards let the game slip away by turning the ball over 27 times. Every player who checked in for PSUC contributed toward the colossal turnover rate by committing at least one turnover, except freshman guard Hanna Whitney, who only saw six minutes of action.
“If we kept our turnovers around our average, which is 16, we win this game,” Cole said. “Unfortunately it seems it’s always one piece of the game missing each time we play.”
Cole attributes this to the team’s youth, a prevailing obstacle the team faced throughout the season.
The Cards would go on to lose to the Red Dragons 65-59 and as a result were eliminated from playoff contention.
PSUC then struggled to find motivation going into its next game against New Paltz.
“We definitely looked weary,” Cole said, “but emotionally, when you lose a tight game the night before, it’s hard to rebound back, but we lost a tight game and lost our opportunity to get into the tournament so it was like a double whammy for us and we just couldn’t respond.”
The Cards lost in a 85-52 blow out against the Hawks where they shot an abysmal 2-22 from three and 18-55 from the field.
Despite a disappointing ending to the season for PSUC, players and coaches alike are optimistic about the team’s future.
“I would’ve loved to continue on to the playoffs but we’re such a young team — composed of mostly freshmen and sophomores,” Clare said. “This year was a learning year. We will be back and better next year.”
The Cards started the season like any other: Hopeful for a SUNYAC title. But this team required a little more work than others.
Entering the season, PSUC had eight freshmen and six sophomores of what was then a 16-player roster.
“We knew we had a lot to learn, both on the floor and with our leadership development.” Cole said. “Our goal was to get into the tournament and get that experience.”
As the season progressed however, the Cards would lose Merkel to injury as well.
Merkel finished the season as the team’s leading rebounder with 7.1 rebounds per game and fourth-leading scorer with 8.6 points per game.
She would end up missing the last seven games of the season after she was pulled from a game at Oneonta in which she played only 10 minutes on Jan. 27. due to medical issues stemming from a back injury she sustained last season
“I felt awful,” Merkel said. “I just couldn’t perform and I couldn’t even put the ball in the hoop. I couldn’t jump, I wasn’t me.”
Merkel’s loss introduced many new problems for the team to overcome.
“[Merkel’s injury] took away a consistent inside-scoring threat,” Cole said. “What I think people underestimate is that even if she doesn’t score a point, the attention she demands from other team’s defenses give everybody a better look.”
However, Cole is confident Merkel will come back strong.
“I know she’ll work. There’s no doubt about it,” Cole said. “She has one of the greatest work ethics of anybody I had the privilege to coach.”
Being such a youthful team, Cole hopes her team will continue to learn and improve.
“Don’t let the lessons we learned this season go to waste,” she said. “Everyday you walk in that gym, think about one of those losses. This is their time now, the ball is in their court. This is when the gains are made.”
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