Richmond, VA — The Saint Louis women’s basketball team has earned respect from its Atlantic 10 peers, but coach Lisa Stone is not satisfied. She is hungry for more.
Last season the Billikens defeated Missouri for the first time and also bested Washington State but that was off-set by losses to Indiana State and Tulsa. Then in conference play, Saint Louis lost three times to Dayton.
“We’ve won 51 games in two years and I think that respect has been along the lines of Saint Louis wasn’t anything and now at least we are in people’s conversation,” Stone said. “On a national level it’s taking on the schedule we are this year. We have seven BCS schools on our non-conference schedule, six for sure and seven if we get DePaul. Making some noise in non-conference should help in terms of getting non-conference respect. We would like to be in the situation that we have a very good RPI going into non-conference play and then at the end of the year that hard work with all of that could take care of itself.”
As is the case with many teams in the Atlantic 10, Saint Louis has scheduled aggressively in non-conference play to prepare for teams, how they play and Stone appreciates her staff’s ability to accept this schedule.
This Saint Louis team has six seniors which have been tasked by Stone to leave an even bigger legacy than the ones that already have been left.
These seniors are led by Jackie Kemph. Kemph scored 14.9 points and also recorded 7.3 assists a game. Stone was quick to call her a “gem”.
Kemph was named by coaches to the Atlantic 10 Preseason All-Conference First Team for her efforts and averaged a career-high 248 assists last season.
“She wants win, wants to keep score on everything,” said Stone. “It might be cards, racquetball, scavenger hunt, a layup drill or a pick-up five-on-five game. She wants to win everything she does and you can tell. She has her degree already, she’s going to get a Master’s Degree, she’s going to write the CPA in January. She is all-in, both feet, both hands, both shoulders. Her whole body is embraced in this program and she’ll have the ball, we’ll get her the ball.”
Stone does intend on challenging Kemph to a game of tennis, but that may have to wait until the season is complete.
“We have this on-going deal that at some point the two of us will play tennis against each other,” Stone said. “I’ve got a pretty wicked serve, but she is fast, so we’ll see. I’ll pick my spots.”
Jenny Vliet (8.6 ppg/4.7 rpg) is another senior returning and is third among returning players in her points per game figure and is the leading rebounder, one of two roles she is taking from Sadie Stipanovich.
“Jenny is by far our best leader,” said Stone. “She’s had a great summer, she’s stronger, physical. She is kind of the mother hen of the team. She stepped in the shoes of Sadie Stipanovich in that role. Jenny is the glue to our team.”
With Stipanovich lost to graduation, Saint Louis has plenty of post depth and may go post-by-committee. Another senior in Maddison Gits (6.6 ppg/4.3 rpg) is leaning towards that starting spot. She has the most post experience of any returner and led the team with an 84.4% free throw percentage.
An additional option for post play will be senior Aaliyah Covington who had a consistent sophomore season which has been sandwiched by two years of nagging injuries.
“Aaliyah is a seasoned veteran for us,” Stone said. “She’s been hampered by injuries her freshman and junior years. Her sophomore year was a great year and she finished strong. We were super excited for her junior year but she was injured. Aaliyah is healthy and we would like to keep it that way. She’s had a great preseason and she can do some things for us that others can’t. I want her to be our best rebounder. When you tell kids that they say ‘okay’. She’s a great kid and I excited about her senior year.”
Other potential post options for Saint Louis are junior Tara Dushaem (1.5 ppg/1.8 rpg) and redshirt senior Paige Rakers (1.4 ppg/0.6 rpg).
Junior Jordyn Frantz is the third returning starter from last year. She averaged 11.5 points a game and was third in 3-point field goal percentage at 38.7%, making 70 3-point shots on the season. Though Frantz appeared in 33 games in 2015-16, she started all 34 games last season and improved her points per game average by 7.3.
These efforts earned her a spot on the Atlantic 10 Preseason All-Conference Third Team.
“Jordyn Frantz had a very good sophomore year,” said Stone. “She’s been hampered by tendinitis in her knees her whole career but she too is stronger than last year. She shoots the lights out, was our best defender but she’ll get help with Kerri McMahan as well.”
What also helps Stone is the support of her athletic director Chris May. In the Atlantic 10, women’s basketball joins men’s basketball as the pillars of the conference and at Saint Louis, this certainly holds true.
It allows for Stone to get a chance to reflect on where Saint Louis was when she was first hired in 2012 and how that progress, while great, has not been completed.
“I love where I work,” she said. “There is great administrative leadership. Chris May, my athletic director is someone I am in contact with every day, he cares about women’s basketball. He has provided me the resources, facilities and we have a brand new locker room. I couldn’t be in a better place and to look back from where I first started to where we are now, it has taken a lot of people to get to where we are. We’re still not satisfied. There is still a lot more we need to get done.”