It was day one of the women’s basketball season when new head coach, Mike West, set what seemed to be a lofty goal at the time — given it had never been accomplished: making the DII playoffs.
The past few seasons had seen the team win only a handful of games. As a result, making the playoffs was not something that seemed attainable. However, West, the former assistant women’s basketball coach at rival Philadelphia University, was confident that all the pieces were in place for the team to “sneak in.”
“Having coached in the conference before and having reached the playoffs before, I knew what would be needed to get there and with this roster, I thought we had enough,” West says. “As the season progressed however, I went from thinking it to knowing it, so at that point the playoffs were more than just an unattainable goal, they were a reality.”
The women’s team opened its season with a statement road win against Dowling College, crushing the Golden Lions by 33 points. This was the first time since the 2010-11 season that the Griffins opened with a victory, setting the tone for what they would accomplish throughout the year.
“We were pushing these girls, making them do things they hadn’t done before and to a higher intensity than they were used to,” says West. “But it wasn’t until that first game, until being able to see the bigger picture, something that tends to happen when you beat a team by that much, that the girls really started to buy-in, that it really made sense to them that the added work was only going to continue to pay off.”
And pay off it did, as the team won 12 of 27 games, including 10 of 19 in Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference (CACC) play, which helped them earn a trip to the DII playoffs for the first time in the program’s history.
“The game that they found out they were making the playoffs, they were jumping up and down, so ecstatic, like they had just won a championship,” says West. “For them, it meant everything — being able to go from winning just six or eight games a season to being able to say they were the first team to make the DII playoffs, making it that much more special.”
Before reaching the playoffs however, the Griffins did have to endure a tough period. Starting with the fourth game of the season, the team dropped seven in a row, including five that came by 14 points or more.
According to West, the team’s resilience and chemistry, which improved with each game, raised everyone’s spirits despite the losing streak.
“They just knew, and they stressed this more than I did, that they were close and if they just got that one, got back into the winning column, that they would be okay,” says West.
After break, well rested and energized, the team beat Post University by 39 points and followed that up with two more wins before dropping a close game to Philadelphia University. However, the nature of being competitive in that game showed the team that they were in fact a good team, capable of beating anyone.
“That definitely propelled us,” says West. “They knew if they played in the way they were capable of playing, that they could just keep winning.”
The Griffins finished the season by winning six of their last 10 games, with only two of those four losses coming by double digits and one of them, the season finale against Philly U, coming in a hard-fought and closely contested game that required overtime to decide a winner.
This further reinforced the new confidence and mindset for the Griffins, one they carried into the CACC Championship tournament as they faced the top seeded team in the conference, Bloomfield College. And while the team did end up losing that game, there were no shortage of successes and accomplishments to build on for next year.
“I’m getting all 12 back next season,” says West, referring to the fact that this year’s team has no graduating seniors. “Not to mention, these younger girls, like Jaeda Wildgoose ’19, (who won the CACC Rookie of the Year award), are only going to get better.”
“They’ve officially bought in to the culture and there is no learning curve for next year,” he adds. “We’re going to be a bit deeper as well with a few new players coming in. There are definitely high expectations.”
— Marilee Gallagher ’14