By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
The Montclair State University women’s basketball team is rolling along, posting a record of 19-2. The Red Hawks are currently ranked 11th among NCAA Division III programs in the entire nation.
The Red Hawks have two local players on their roster, namely Kearny’s Janitza Aquino and Harrison’s Rayven Lucas.
Aquino is a junior guard who has been on fire of late as the team’s starting shooting guard. Lucas is just a freshman, vying for playing time, while learning the ropes watching her friend and neighbor perform.
Together, they give the Red Hawks a strong local flavor, as they continue to move their way toward a possible national championship.
Head coach Karin Harvey is pleased with the performance of both players, especially Aquino, the former Observer Female Athlete of the Year.
Aquino nailed eight 3-point field goals en route to tying a career-high 26 points in the Red Hawks’ 81-60 victory over William Paterson recently. The eight 3-point field goals set a new school record. Aquino was named the New Jersey Athletic Conference Player of the Week for her efforts.
Harvey was happy to move Aquino back to the shooting guard slot, after she played primarily as a point guard last season.
“Janitza became the point guard because of an injury to our starter,” Harvey said. “But she moved back to the off-guard and has done a fabulous job. She is able to take the ball to the basket, but she’s also worked on her perimeter game and can now regularly make the 3-pointers.”
Aquino is averaging 16.2 points per game this season, improving from 10.2 points per game last year.
Lucas has seen limited time, scoring 11 points in six games played, but Harvey likes her potential.
“Rayven is a hard worker who wants to learn,” Harvey said. “She has embraced her role and has really come a long way. She definitely has a bright future with us and I’m looking forward to her improvement.”
Lucas has enjoyed herself with the Red Hawks.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” said Lucas, the daughter of Harrison athletic legend Ray, the former New York Jets quarterback who is currently an analyst on the SNY network and does color commentary for Rutgers football radio broadcasts.
“It’s a great experience to be a part of something so big and exciting,” Lucas said. “I’ve been able to overcome bigger challenges as a basketball player. I’m learning to work with new people and it’s changed my entire mindset as a player.”
Lucas said that she has had to deal with one major change from high school to college basketball.
“The speed of everything is so different,” Lucas said. “Everything is so fast. We had a scrimmage game and everything was flying by me. It was going way too fast for me. But I eventually got used to it.”
Lucas said that she also had to adapt from being the main scorer in high school to a bench player in college.
“For me, that has been the biggest transition,” Lucas said. “I’m just trying to get better. It’s weird, going from playing all the time and scoring to now being on the bench. But I realize that I have a lot of work to do.”
Lucas said that she has leaned on Aquino in getting accustomed to college life.
“We have a good relationship,” Lucas said. “Janitza has always been there for me. She helps me when I need it.”
And as for Aquino’s play?
“She is absolutely amazing,” Lucas said. “I always ask her to help me with my shooting, because she is such a good shooter. When she is going like she did the other day, it’s absolutely crazy.”
Harvey likes the relationship between Aquino and Lucas.
“Janitza is really good with the younger players, especially Rayven,” Harvey said. “The two of them get along so well. Janitza takes the time to be with Rayven and shows her what she’s doing right and wrong. I really like the way the two interact. They get along very well.”
Aquino was unavailable for comment for this article.
Lucas can’t believe how much she loves living at Montclair State.
“I love the college life,” Lucas said. “I’m away from home, but I’m close enough to have my mother do my laundry. But it’s so much easier for me to be here.”
And it’s great to see two local standouts doing so well on the next level.