Albright continues uphill battle

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Albright had a perfectly fine weekend in Upper Montclair, N.J.
Photo by Jeffrey Melnik,

By Sarah Sommer

Albright knocked off Montclair State, a 2015 Final Four team, 69-66 in overtime on March 5. The Lions’ reward? A meeting with Tufts, a 2014 and 2015 Final Four team, on Friday in the Sweet 16.

“It’s definitely an uphill battle for us,” Albright coach Janice Luck said. “But I think our team is up for it.”

Albright has never been to the Final Four. In fact, this is just the second time that Albright has been in the NCAA Tournament at all, with the previous trip in 2008.

But the Lions have shown that they belong on the national stage. Albright is 27-2 (15-1 MAC Commonwealth). The Lions’ only two losses came against Amherst, the NESCAC champion, and Messiah, a conference foe that Albright then beat twice, including in the league title game.

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Against Montclair State, Albright allowed a buzzer-beating 3-pointer at the end of regulation. That tied the game at 58-58. But the Lions eventually won, and they did it on Montclair’s home court.

Albright went 21-8, 13-3 last year and lost the conference championship game to Stevenson, 54-50. That loss motivated Albright this season, senior center Kelecia Harris said. “We definitely worked harder this year.”

The Lions did not have balanced scoring last year, Luck said, and as a result, some of their victories “were closer than they should have been.”

Harris, a preseason All-American, averaged a team-high 16.6 points per game last year. She is still the team’s leading scorer (14.6 points per game), but she is far from Albright’s only option.

“Last year, she had to score 15 points a game for us to win,” Luck said. “And this year, she doesn’t have to.”

Alysha Lofton played sparingly at Division II West Chester last season but has found a home as a sophomore at Albright.
Albright athletics photo

Albright returned three starters, including Harris, and added two transfers to the starting five. Sophomore guard Nina Mazzarelli, one of the transfers, averages 12.8 points per game. She had 30 points against Lebanon Valley on Feb. 24, going 5-for-5 from 3-point range. Sophomore guard Alysha Lofton, the other transfer in the starting lineup, had 12 points against Montclair.

Freshman MiKayla Lea has come up big off the bench in the NCAA Tournament. She played 14 minutes in Albright’s first-round game against Husson, scoring 13 points. She saw 18 minutes against Montclair and made crucial free throws in the fourth quarter as well as an important block in overtime.

“She’s just playing much harder, going to the basket harder, and looking for chances to score, which is what we need,” Luck said.

Luck also noted that sophomore point guard Jane Joyce had improved in her second season. “The ups and downs of a freshman point guard can be pretty erratic,” Luck said.

Despite the challenge that Tufts – the NESCAC regular-season champion – presents, Albright is looking forward to the game.

“It feels exciting just to continue playing basketball,” Harris said. “I don’t want it to end any time soon.”