Welcome back to A10 Talk’s Atlantic 10 Women’s Basketball season preview series! Today we feature La Salle! Stay tuned for Zach’s Rhode Island preview tomorrow!
You’d be hard pressed to find a program with more likeable people than La Salle Women’s Basketball. Head Coach Mountain MacGillivray’s enthusiasm for the game of basketball, especially Big Five basketball, is a breath of fresh air that has given new life to a program that prior to his arrival had struggled greatly to find their footing in the A-10. Heading now into the fourth year of the Mountain MacGillivray era, the Explorers are poised to continue to take that next step forward in their building process. In 2019, the Explorers went 6-25 (3-13) followed by a 13-17 (7-9) campaign in 2020 and a 12-14 (7-10) record in 2021. The people around the program are just one part of what has allowed the transformation of La Salle from a bottom feeder A-10 program, to a team on the rise, poised to compete for a spot in the top-half of the conference this year.
Coach MacGillivray knows that Rome wasn’t built in a day, and similarly, neither will La Salle basketball. But he has laid out a road map that sets this team and this program up for long-term growth and success. It all starts with the team’s mission: to be great on purpose on a daily basis. Sure, it may sound like just another coach’s slogan, but it means something to this team- and there’s the stats to back it up.
“[We’re] working toward increasing our efficiency in every area of our game: last year was the first year that the things that we’re trying to build the program around came into fruition,” said MacGillivray. “We were one of the [teams with the] best turnover margins in our conference, and we played at the fastest pace. Those are two of things we’re trying to do, and I believe we shot the most threes as well, probably by a wide margin.”
When asked about what it’s going to take for La Salle to continue to take that next step towards contending for an A-10 title and ultimately a NCAA Tournament bid, MacGillivray, in his warm and friendly tone was also very direct and to the point: La Salle needs to get better at rebounding.
“We finish in the middle of the pack being the worst rebounding team in the league, maybe by not being the worst we can move up in the standings.”
He was joking, but only kind of. A year ago, the Explorers finished dead last in the A-10 in rebounding, averaging just 33.9 per game as a team while allowing 43.8, for an average rebounding margin of -9.9. Nationally, La Salle ranked 287 out of 336 Division I teams competing last year in rebounds per game, and ranked 328 out of 336 in average rebounding margin.
Yet despite this, the Explorers still posted 12 wins, which gives MacGillivray a lot of optimism that if that aspect of La Salle’s game is fixed, or even just improved, the ceiling for this team can skyrocket. And La Salle is also built to be battle tested by the time that conference play comes around, with contests against Kentucky, St. John’s and Villanova on the docket for the Explorers.
“It’s all part of that building process,” said MacGillivray. “When we were just starting, looking at the elite level competition on our schedule was kinda like ‘oh no’, but now as we’re moving through this each year, we’re excited about this opportunity to go play Kentucky, we’re looking forward to going up and playing at St. John’s and proving ourselves up there. We’re looking forward to, as we do every year, looking forward to the opportunity to play Villanova and maybe this time knocking them off.”
Claire Jacobs, the team’s leading scorer a year ago, echoed a similar sentiment, especially about the road trip to Kentucky.
“To be able to like go to such a big school and play against a good team in like such a different environment because that stadium is obviously huge,” said Jacobs. “I know where we’re very fortunate and grateful to be able to get an opportunity to play against these bigger schools and I know all of us are excited to put our best foot forward and like compete hard to win those games.”
For Claire, one of the best parts of her journey at La Salle so far has been getting to play alongside her sister, Amy Jacobs.
“We’ve played together since the start, so we know how each other plays so well,” said Claire. “Being able to watch her succeed and she’s able to watch me succeed and being able to do it together like so far away from home is definitely like one of the highlights of being here. I wouldn’t change [anything], I love playing with her, and I love the way she plays. She makes me better I make her better on a daily basis, we keep each other in check.
But it’s not just the Jacobs sisters that are key pieces to this team: the underclassmen, including the freshman class are all going to have to step up to fill some pretty big gaps in the lineup, especially with Emilee Tahata being out for the season and with incoming transfer Gabby Crawford not being eligible this year due to second-time transfer rules.
Among the freshman highlighted by Mountain MacGillivray, Kenya Côté-Lysius really seems poised to make an immediate impact on the lineup.
“I think our biggest need right now is at that point guard position: we graduated the conference leader is assist to turnover ratio and her backup last year,” said MacGillivray. “And so, Kenya has shown flashes of being really, really good at that position. [Senior] Molly Masciantonio is sliding over and playing the point for us, Kenya can really greatly impact this team if she’s good enough to play major minutes as Molly’s backup and also if she’s good enough to get Molly onto the wing again and her playing the point.”
Mountain also mentioned freshman Julie Jekot has been the team’s third-leading rebounder in practice on a daily basis, so if La Salle is going to really make strides to improve their team rebounding, she is definitely one to keep an eye on.
Time will tell what this year has in store for La Salle, but one thing is certain: everyone is excited to have fans back in the stands once again.
“We haven’t have a crowd to come in to watch us play, watch us compete, but like, very excited to play with the team we have now to be able to see the growth from last year, said Claire Jacobs. “That’s super exciting to me super interesting to see like the jumps that we can make and the jumps that other teams have made, and see how we have progressed.”
Special thanks to Mountain MacGillivray, Claire Jacobs and Amanda Graham for making this article possible!