PLATTSBURGH — Every game is a big one from here on out as the Plattsburgh State women’s basketball team returns to Memorial Hall this weekend to take on conference rivals New Paltz and Oneonta.

The Cardinals will square off against conference-leading and unbeaten Hawks tonight at 6 p.m., followed by a 2 p.m. matchup against the Red Dragons on Saturday.

“In our conference, it’s really tough to win on the road, making it that much more important that you are able to defend your own floor and win at home,” said Plattsburgh coach Cheryl Cole, whose team currently sits alone in third place in the SUNY Athletic Conference standings. “Needless to say, with where we are in the standings, this is a very big weekend for us.”

The Cardinals (8-5, 4-2 SUNYAC) are off to one of their best starts in program history and will be looking to hold serve at home this weekend against two very different, very dangerous conference opponents.

“New Paltz is unbeaten, and that alone should tell you something,” Cole said. “They are a very good, experienced team with a good mix that plays well together and shoots a lot of threes. This will be a huge game for us, playing the top team in our conference at home right now. If you can’t get up for a game like this, I don’t know when you can.”

New Paltz (12-0, 6-0 SUNYAC), led by seniors Alex McCullough (9.9 points per game 4.1 rebounds per game) and Kahsyah Bryant (10.6 ppg, 5.1 rpg) as well as freshman standouts Michelle Valle ( 8.5 ppg, 7.9 rpg) and Shannon Walker (8.3 ppg), is one of the deepest and most talented teams in the conference. The Hawks are also one of the premiere teams in the conference with regards to shooting the three-ball. Jennifer Sixsmith leads the team with 20 3-pointers, followed closely by Walker, who has drained a total of 19 from beyond the arc thus far. How well Plattsburgh can defend the three will be one of several keys in tonight’s showdown.

This weekend’s second opponent is a young Oneonta team that has been among the conference elites over recent seasons but appears to be in a bit of a rebuilding mode.

“They are a young team that doesn’t score a lot but always seems to keep their games tight and low scoring,” Cole said. “Oneonta is a little down this year, but you really can never take anything for granted in our conference. They are a team that historically has known how to win games, and it would be a mistake to take them lightly. Oneonta is a disciplined, well-coached team, and I expect a tough, very physical, low-scoring game from them on Saturday.”

The Red Dragons (4-9, 1-5 SUNYAC), who finished atop the conference at 19-9 overall a year ago, have been led by juniors Kristen Pappalardo (12.0 ppg) and Grace Schilling (8.6 ppg) as well as freshman Lyteshia Price (8.8 ppg). The primary strength for a very young Oneonta squad has been its defensive play. The Red Dragons, who do not have a single senior on this year’s roster, have been one of the best in conference in scoring defense, limiting the opposition to an average of just 52 points a game.

The Cardinals will enter the weekend healthy and eager to rebound from a second-half collapse that resulted in a 59-44 nonconference loss to NESCAC power Williams Tuesday at Memorial Hall. Plattsburgh continues to be led by junior Kathleen Payne (15 ppg), sophomore Brittany Marshall (11.8 ppg, 4.5 apg) and first-year player Tequilla Lloyd (8.0 ppg).

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