LI Potential is high for Molloy

By: Tony Bellissimo

Head coach Kate Lynch believes Molloy College's women's basketball team has made a lot of progress since last season's defeat to NYIT in the opening round of the East Coast Conference Tournament. Potential is high for MolloyThe Lady Lions, picked to finish in the middle of the ECC pack, won three of their first five out of the gate but fell short in the conference opener against St. Thomas Aquinas. "We're still a young team," Lynch said. "The ladies are focused and have really come together so far. We're looking to make the playoffs and make a run once we get there.

"Rankings are rankings," she added. "It all comes down to what we have to do on the court."

Last season, which court was a big factor in Molloy's results. The Lady Lions (14-14 overall) went 8-3 at home and a combined 6-11 in road and neutral site games. "We played a lot better at home, but playing well elsewhere is an important piece of what we're trying to accomplish," Lynch said. "We have great fans. They always pack the house and help get us going."

In the early going, Lynch has used a starting lineup consisting of three seniors, a junior, and a sophomore.

The youngest starter, Aliyah McDonald, out of Uniondale, is running the offense from the point guard position. The sophomore is averaging 8.4 points through five games and pulling down 6.0 rebounds per game.

"We needed Aliyah to step up into a position she's not entirely used to, and she's doing a really solid job," Lynch said. "She's aggressive and passionate. She's fast with the ball and is a big reason why we're good in transition. She also crashes the boards like a forward."

McDonald's starting backcourt mate, junior Alexia O'Connor, who ranked third on the team in scoring last season, is off to a tremendous start. O'Connor has been lights-out from behind the arc, shooting 48 percent (12 of 25) while averaging 11.4 points per game. "Alexia is showing the ability to be a knockdown three-point shooter," Lynch said of O'Connor, who opened the campaign with a 16-point performance in a victory over Southern Connecticut State. "She's a selective shooter with a nice release. She can also get to the rim and hit a pull-up jumper."

In the frontcourt, senior Nicole Arnone brings tenacious defense and toughness on the boards. Lynch said Arnone is capable of posting a double-double on any given night. "She's a real tough competitor and focused on having a big senior year," noted Lynch. "She's a very strong defender and our leading rebounder." In the loss to Aquinas, the 5-foot-9 Arnone ripped down 12 rebounds to up her average to 7.8 per game.

Lynch said things have clicked for senior Ally Leftridge, who brings a different dynamic to the frontcourt with her ability to run the floor. "She put in a lot of work during the summer," Lynch said. "Her shooting has been good and consistent." Leftridge scored in double figures in each of the first five games, including a season-high 19 in a win over Felician College.

Lynch said senior center Megan Lonergan, a former standout at South Side, has improved defensively and igniting the transition game with strong outlet passes. Lonergan is also leading the way from the foul line, going 10-for-13.

Molloy's leading scorer is its first player off the bench. Junior forward Kimani Jackson is making the most of her opportunity after playing sparingly last season. She averaged 15.2 points over the first five games while shooting a sizzling 33-for-56 (59 percent) from the floor. "She gets to the rim and finishes really well," Lynch said. "That's her bread and butter. She's had a tremendous impact."

Guards Alex Hampton, a junior, and Maggie Salomone, a sophomore, also saw action in each of the first five games off the bench.

"It's important we stay focused and continue to work hard," Lynch said. "I think the sky is the limit for this team."