The St. John’s women’s basketball team returns to the court this season from a summer of disappointment.
Coach Joe Tartamella’s first six seasons at the Red Storm helm produced three trips to the NCAA Tournament and three more to the Women’s NIT. Then came last year’s 15-16 campaign and the hard reality of missing the postseason.
“For the returners that was a crucial time for us: sitting at home watching people we know from the Big East and other conferences playing postseason games,” junior Tiana England said. “It was definitely tough for us, but we instill this into our new girls: that we don't want the same outcome from last year. So we're all coming back determined and, you know, ready for hopefully another postseason to get back to what we know.”
England is a big reason to feel determined. The 5-7 junior averaged 10.7 points, 5.7 assists and 3.5 rebounds last season is on the watch list for the Nancy Lieberman Award, given annually to college basketball’s top female point guard.
She called it “both a surprise and an honor,” but added “I’d rather have a ring for a team accomplishment than any individual accolade.”
“People are amazed by her athleticism and her speed. She's able to control her speed, as well as anyone I've coached,” Tartamella said. “So, from end to end, she's as fast as anybody, I think, in the country with the ball in her hands. She is pretty electric in transition.”
If Red Storm fans need more reason to feel its determination, they need only look at the quality players returning from last season. Qadashah Hoppie, a 5-7 junior guard, is back after leading the team with an 11.6-point average and vows “to be more efficient with my scoring and take fewer shots to get more points.” And so is 5-10 senior forward Alisha Kebbe, who averaged 10.7 points and 5.1 rebounds.
Looking to move from sixth-person to starter this season is 6-foot sophomore swingman Kadaja Bailey, the Newsday All-Long Island selection out of St. Mary’s High, who averaged 5.7 points in 20.6 minutes off the bench. England said “she was a little timid last season but in the lead-up to this year she’s got a motor. I could see her playing a big role on the wing for us.”
“I was a freshman and working to fit in, but I see I belong here and what I am capable of doing,” Bailey said.
DePaul finished atop a preseason poll of Big East coaches and received nine of 10 first-place votes, but St. John’s was far and away picked to place second. It suggests the Storm could reach the Top 25 rankings and is clearly an NCAA Tournament contender if it meets its potential.
“We approach this season with a chip on our shoulder basically. We haven't missed the postseason in a long time so it was kind of something hard to swallow,” England said. “So we are attacking this year . . . with a new focus and a mindset that what happened last year should never happen.”