By Robert Janish
Senior Sports Writer
After a weekend split of the Manhattan Jaspers and Iona Gaels, the Griffs currently sit in seventh place in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) standings. Up next is an annual anticipated battle against their arch rival, the Niagara Purple Eagles, on Friday at the Koessler Athletic Center in the first game of a Canisius basketball doubleheader.
This pivotal matchup comes almost a month after their first contest at Niagara’s Gallagher Center, where Canisius earned a 65-57 win. As a result, it helped set up the possibility of a Niagara sweep, which has become commonplace for Canisius over the last few years. The team, however, is not taking Niagara lightly as they look for a winning streak to carry them into the 2017 MAAC Tournament.
Niagara, on the other hand, has been struggling throughout the season. Currently at a 3-11 record in the MAAC and 6-17 overall, the Purple Eagles place in a tie for ninth in the MAAC.
Despite solid performances from forwards Victoria Rampado and Kaylee Stroemple in the first meeting between bitter Western New York rivals, the Purple Eagles are looking for redemption on the road. The Purple Eagles hope to move up in the MAAC standings and tie the Griffs in the wins department for the season.
However, the Griffs do not seem nervous for facing Niagara, and they are motivated to sweep Niagara this season and earn bragging rights in the long-standing rivalry between the two basketball programs.
Senior guard Lauren D’Hont said that she believes having extra days off in between games will be beneficial for the team to regain its energy in time for their game with Niagara.
“We played Saturday, so we have almost a full week before our next game,” she said. “It’s giving us time for our bodies to recover a little bit.”
D’Hont added that their recent matchups against Manhattan and Iona helped them greatly from a defensive perspective. “As far as knowing scout and taking away what they wanted to run,” she added.
D’Hont also acknowledged the team needs to work on its offensive game, including being able to hit shots that tend to result in baskets. As of late, they have been working on that before each and every game.
Sophomore forward Sara Hinriksdottir said that the team’s defense has been good the last couple games, but that Niagara plays a zone defense, which is important to make the right shots in order to earn the victory. She added that the key to beating Niagara comes with playing hard.
She and D’Hont have been able to lead the Griffs in offensive rebounds throughout the season and hope to continue to work together in leading the team.
“We have that mentality of playing hard and playing it together,” Hinriksdottir said. “I think that’s what you have to do.”
D’Hont added that her and Hinriksdottir are good at reading zone defenses, knowing where to find open spots, and making good passes out of the zone.
However, D’Hont said an issue for her when facing Iona was getting in early foul trouble.
“I’m looking for a little bit of redemption there, but I just want the team to win overall.”
Since four of their next six games are against teams currently in the top five spots of the standings in the MAAC, it is a crucial stretch of their season.
“It is really good for us because we get the chance to up the standings a little bit and actually, possibly get into that top five seed so we get the bye,” said D’Hont.
Hinriksdottir spoke about these matchups in a similar fashion to D’Hont, stating that it would be awesome to win those upcoming games.
“It’s is a different game,” Hinriksdottir said about playing Niagara. She also added that it would be a nice win for the team.
“I take it one game at a time and just think about beating Niagara,” added Hinriksdottir, stating that even though the team will have some stiff competition in the coming weeks. It’s important to think about a team at a time and not to get too overwhelmed with looking far enough ahead.
D’Hont, however, took a different approach to this Niagara, stating it’s important to perform well and earn a win because of playing the doubleheader with the men.
“It’s a cool opportunity to have a doubleheader too,” stated D’Hont. “Hopefully we will draw a little bit of a larger crowd than we normally do, get some fan support behind us going into this huge rivalry.”
Heading into a tough stretch of top-five caliber opponents in the MAAC, a win over the Purple Eagles is important for their season and their chances at having a chance at a high seed in the MAAC tournament next month in Albany, N.Y.