Welcome to A10 Talk’s Women’s Basketball season preview series! Today’s installment takes us to Philadelphia, where Cindy Griffin will look to build on last season. Thanks as always for following along!
If you are looking for a team that might put up a real fight this year, cast your eyes to St. Joe’s. The Hawks return almost every key player, and could be poised to surprise come conference play this year.
What happened last year? After Covid pauses and rescheduled games, the Hawks could not find their rhythm, and when they did it was often against the best teams the A10 had to offer. “We were a team that needed a lot of games under our belt to get more experienced, and the games we did end up getting in were against the top of our league,” notes 21st year head coach Cindy Griffin. Despite the stop-and-start nature of their season, the message in the locker room is one of excitement and improvement.
As far as their non-conference schedule this year, Griffin is quick to emphasize the importance of the regional nature of their opponents including Villanova, Drexel, Temple, and Penn, meaning that combined with their conference opponents they will end up facing all of the Big 5. “There’s really nothing like it,” Griffin says, “and they’re usually low-scoring games, they’re possession games, but they’re great because they really prepare you for the league.”
Roster-wise, the Hawks return almost everyone from last year’s side. “It makes things a lot smoother from a coaching standpoint and a player standpoint” to have those players back, especially in the early portion of the schedule, says Griffin. She highlights Katie Jekot and Kaliah Henderson as potential standouts, along with the Talya Brugler as a first-year who will be in line for some big minutes.
Speaking with Katie Jekot, she notes that she has a sister playing at La Salle, one of their Big 5 opponents. “When I was a senior in high school, she was only in eighth grade, so it will be the first time we’re able to play against each other like this,” says the graduate student Jekot. I ask about her famous shot – a 40 footer at the buzzer against UMass to force overtime. “I wasn’t expecting it to go in, to be honest, but it felt amazing,” she says. Kaliah Henderson notes that she hasn’t faced a Big 5 team since her freshman year, and that the rivalries generally bring out the team’s best compete levels.
Jekot (9.6 ppg) and Henderson (11.4) were the Hawks’ two leading scorers in 2020-21, and if they both take big leaps they could find themselves in contention for all-conference slots. Alayna Gribble, a volume three point shooter who dealt with injuries last year, can also make a big scoring impact off the bench.
Griffin is in her 21st year coaching St. Joe’s, but this year will see a first for her: she’ll be able to coach her own daughter, Kaylie. “I was almost pushing her to go somewhere else,” she says, “but she was set on St. Joe’s. It’s so nice to be able to watch her grow. She’s catching up physically, but she knows the game.”
St. Joe’s was picked 11th in the preseason poll, and Griffin says the team knew that was where they would likely end up. Between the gritty, hard-fought non-conference schedule, the experienced backcourt, and the 21st year head coach, this is a team that could very well exceed those expectations and be a very tough out by the time the A10 Tournament rolls around in Wilmington.