By Laura Amato
The St. John’s women’s basketball team is looking for a little bit of respect—and they’re willing to work for it.
Just a few months after winning the program’s first Big East title in 28 years, the team was selected sixth in the conference’s preseason poll. But while the spot is a far cry from the team’s champinoship run last season, the Red Storm are willing to work their way back up the ladder, bolstered by a trio of returning players who are determined to earn their own shot at the spotlight.
“It’s a prediction. It’s preseason,” said senior point guard Aaliyah Lewis. “We just have to continue to work hard and peform well and then everything will fall into place.”
Of course, a championship defense is never easy and this year’s Red Storm squad will have its work cut out for it—even before league play starts. St. John’s boasts a jam-packed non-conference schedule and, with six new faces on the roster this year, they will need to hit their stride early.
“This is probably the toughest one that I’ve had in my five years as head coach,” said Joe Tartamella. “And so we’re going to have our work cut out for us. I think being able to test ourselves early—those first six games are probably the toughest stretch we’ve played as a program—it’ll give us a good barometer of where we are and what we need to do.”
Lewis will serve as the de facto leader on the court this season—an extension of Tartamella once the game gets underway—but the Red Storm also boast some solid depth at every position.
In fact, that depth is what has the Red Storm feeling particularly confident heading into this season. The key, however, is finding a way to make it all gel.
“We have more players this year—13 girls and a lot of these girls can do multiple things,” said Lewis, who racked up a team-high 129 assists last season. “We’ve got some defensive stoppers and slashers, shooters. We have a lot more to give this year.”
Despite half a dozen fresh faces on this season’s team, the Red Storm’s leaders have already stepped up to the metaphorical plate, directing the squad in practice and setting a very specific tone from the get-go—this team is going to hold itself accountable.
“If you let that trickle down and go with that every day in practice, it’ll work,” said senior forward Jade Walker. “I think we’re all ready to step into those leadership roles and seize that opportunity.”
The preseason polls and expectations may not exactly set the Red Storm up for another run at a conference championship, but this year’s St. John’s squad doesn’t doubt itself for a moment.
They’re a mix of experience, determination and desire and the Red Storm know, if they can put it all together, the preseason predictions won’t matter at all.
“When you’ve got players who have played in NCAA Tournament games, have played in the Big East championship game, have won a championship, those things are invaluable,” Tartamella said. “They can give those experiences to the younger players. You always want to be able to have players who have been in the fire.”