Saint Joseph’s (Predicted A-10 Finish: 5th)
It took a late surge, but the 2017-18 Hawks ultimately lived up to their lofty conference expectations.
Saddled with a 10-12 record in early February, the team picked to finish third in the A-10 -- with three first-place votes -- won five of six to close the regular season. Then, as the sixth seed, the Hawks ripped off three more victories before falling to George Washington in the A-10 title game.
The program's 11th WNIT bid followed, and the Hawks continued their resurgence in the WNIT by winning by 18 at Seton Hall. The run finally ended in the second round at eventual WNIT semifinalist West Virginia.
But while that team was marked by experience -- the 2017-18 Hawks started two graduate students and one senior -- this is a young bunch featuring six freshmen and sophomores. Fortunately for St. Joe's fans, the learning curve will be helped by having experienced point guard Alyssa Monaghan running the show.
“She calms the storm,” Coach Cindy Griffin said. “We’re unproven and having a senior point guard really helps. I’m excited to see what this team does. I know we’re competitors and gym rats.”
Coach: Cindy Griffin, 18th season at Saint Joseph’s 309-228; 21st season overall 357-261.
Last year: 19-15, 10-6 Atlantic 10 (advanced to the second round of the WNIT, falling to West Virginia).
They’ll miss: Chelsea Woods 15.4 ppg, A-10 All-Conference Third Team
Impact returners: 5-5 senior guard Alyssa Monaghan 10.1 ppg, 57 3-pointers
Newbies of note: 5-7 graduate guard Rachel Gartner, who appeared in 25 games for Boston College last year; 6-5 graduate forward Ashlyn Wert, part of a Chattanooga team that advanced to the NCAA Tournament three times.
Reasons to be optimistic: While much of the core of last year’s team that advanced to the championship game has graduated, the Hawks return a key piece in point guard Monaghan, who led the Atlantic 10 and ranked eighth nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio. The senior from Drexel Hill, Pa., also led the Hawks in steals, 3-pointers and minutes played.
Redshirt freshman Katie Jekot, out with an ACL tear last season, is expected to be a primary player this season, and her ceiling is high. She’ll be helped by working alongside Monaghan and Gartner, whose addition gives the Hawks some experience on the perimeter.
Griffin is perhaps the biggest reason to be optimistic. She’s the all-time leader in victories at Saint Joseph’s and the eighth coach in Division I history to lead her alma mater to the NCAA Tournament as a player and coach.
X-factor: The Hawks might lack the physicality they’ve had the last few years, but if they can shoot the 3 with success and limit transition baskets, they could factor into the conference mix.
Circle the date(s): Right off the bat, the Hawks have dates with Philly rivals Temple (Nov. 9) and Penn (Nov. 15). But how fun for Griffin that in their own Hawk Classic, now in its 25thseason, her team will meet Rider on Nov. 24 (coached by her former assistant Lynn Milligan) and on Nov. 25, either Loyola Maryland, coach by another former Griffin assistant in Joe Logan) or Boston College, Gartner’s former team.
Bottom line: If the Hawks shoot as well from the perimeter as Griffin hopes, they’ll be a daunting if not unpredictable opponent given all the newcomers expected to make an impact.