Misericordia’s head women’s basketball coach Jason Rhine had a tall task ahead of him when he became the team’s new coach ahead of the 2016-17 season.
Taking over a program that had just won seven games in 2015-16 and only one game in 2014-15, Rhine had to swiftly establish a new team identity among his players. His team bought in and was awarded with a 12 win increase from the year before, as well as MAC Championship and ECAC Championship Tournament appearances.
The 2017-18 season brought more of that success, going 18-11 with MAC playoff and ECAC Championship appearances once again. In 2018-19, the team had its best season in school history. The team went 23-6 and lost in the MAC Championship game to DeSales University and made another run in the ECAC Championship Tournament.
Rhine believes the success was fueled on the experience the squad possessed.
“I think [our success was because of] our veteran core that we had,” he said. “We only had two freshmen last year so we really didn’t have a chance for them to mess up. They just went with the flow of what was within the program.”
While having an experienced team last year was certainly critical, those players graduated or, in the case of a few, left the team for personal reasons.
“Outside of those five [seniors who left for graduation], we also lost two other great players that stepped away from the program this year, as well, that weren’t seniors. While I don’t have an official answer [as to how the team will replicate the leaving players’ production], but we’re going to look for that in our youth that we have and our five returners that we have,” said Rhine.
One of those returners is guard/forward Tessa Zamolyi, a junior speech language pathology major. Zamolyi finished fifth in the MAC Freedom Conference in field goal percentage, as well as third on the team in scoring and steals. The 2019-20 team figures to lean heavily on the 6-foot junior, as well as a mixture of finding the right combination and the team’s openness to doing whatever it takes to be successful.
“It’s going to be a lot of experimenting, in my opinion, just because we have so many new people. I still think that we will still have that strong bond. We have a lot of good listeners and a lot of kids who want to learn and want to make a difference on the team,” said Zamolyi when asked how this year’s team will compare to last years.
Coming into the season, while the team has a lot of new faces, it has uickly bonded both on and off the court. According to Rhine, that is the strength of the 2019-2020 team.
“Even though we had a veteran group here last year and even the year prior to that in my second year on campus, I haven’t come across a group that’s so close, and we already have that with this group. As long as our chemistry stays strong and we can get the right mixture with that, I think that’s going to translate to success on the court,” said Rhine.
Zamolyi echoed Coach Rhine’s statement, but furthered it by especially highlighting the team on the less glamorous side of the ball.
“Our defense [is our team’s strength]. I think we are going to be a fast team as well and just overall, we are always going to be there for one another,” said Zamolyi.
With such a major change in players for Coach Rhine, the season figures to be a lot of mixing and matching until he can find the ideal lineup to highlight the team’s best qualities. The team will need to replicate a ton of production, including replacing the team’s leading 3-point shooter in Japriya Carroll, top two scorers in Carroll and Rachel Carmody, assister in Leanne Forsyth and top two rebounders in Carmody and Paige Wampole.
Losing so much production is going to be highly difficult, which leads to Coach Rhine needing to take time and seeing what the team can achieve realistically.
“We typically talk about [season goals] as coaches,” Rhine said. “What we want to do is take these first two weeks and see what’s realistic for us. I’ve always been a realistic type of coach. I don’t preach the sunshine and rainbows. It’s either raining or it’s sunny. I would say, though, that the main goal is to win games and win games early so you can get that momentum early. Last year, we started the season 17-0, which was our best start ever. We just rode the momentum of 4-0, 5-0, 6-0, and it kept going. If we can get some wins early, it will translate into that same thing for us as far as leading into other goals.”
Zamolyi, on the other hand, has a clear goal in mind, but also stresses Rhine’s game-by-game approach.
“We really want to win an MAC Championships this season. That is going to be a big goal but also taking games one at a time and winning them one at a time,” she said.
The ladies will open their season at Valley Forge University on Nov. 8.