The recent dismissal of Jim Crews as head coach of the men’s basketball team has become the focus of the SLU athletic community. Just a few years after making it to the second round of the NCAA tournament, the men’s team ended with a losing record of 11-21 overall and 5-13 for conference play.
There has been a great deal of focus in SLU and the surrounding community about how to account for the team’s recent failures. But amidst all this, another team has escaped virtually unnoticed, despite their resounding successes on the court. Under the helm of a dynamic new coach, the women’s basketball team has been steadily improving over the past few years and just experienced a historic Atlantic 10 victory. In light of this, we’d like to take the opportunity to reflect on what an incredible year the women’s basketball team has had.
After being predicted to finish fifth in the A-10 pre-season poll, the Billikens experienced their strongest season in more than 12 years and garnered the school’s first-ever conference regular-season title. With an overall record of 24-7, including 13 wins in conference play, they won their games by an average of 10.2 points. They also boasted a pair of upsets against two nationally ranked opponents, Duquesne and Dayton.
The Billikens owe much of their success to head coach Lisa Stone. The season before her arrival, 2010-2011, the Billikens finished with an overall record of 7-20 and just 1-11 in the A-10. But Stone, who arrived at SLU after eight seasons at Wisconsin, managed to turn the program around, virtually flipping those results.Over her past four years with the program, she has overseen a period of consistent improvement for the team. She was named A-10 Coach of the Year for this previous season — a first for SLU. In a career stretching 29 years, Stone has maintained an overall record of 544-290.
In another SLU first, sophomore guard Jackie Kemph was named A-10’s Co-Player of the Year. Kemph led the team in both assists (205) and total points (475). She was ranked third in the A-10 for assists and first for points, as well as fifth for points in the nation. She garnered five A-10 Player of the Week awards throughout the year and was the top scorer in 19 games.
As they look to the future, only two seniors will be graduating in the spring: guard Jamesia Price and forward Denisha Womack. While their presence will be missed (Price was the first player in SLU’s women’s basketball history to be named to the A-10 Conference All-Defensive team, and Womack was named to the A-10’s All-Tournament team), the Billikens maintain a relatively young team, including six sophomores, and can look forward to several more years of success.
Fueled in part by their continued success, the Billikens have been gaining momentum over the past few seasons. Last year, the team had the 10th-largest attendance increase in NCAA Division I women’s basketball, with an average attendance of 1,319. That number has risen to 1,828 for this season, and will likely continue to rise in the future.
Both professionally and at the collegiate level, women’s sports teams have a tendency to fly under the radar, even when accomplishing great things. And SLU has never had a particularly strong fan culture surrounding sports teams of either gender. But we owe to these women to acknowledge their hard work and congratulate their unprecedented success — and, more importantly, stay engaged to discover what new heights they might reach in the upcoming season.