By Joseph Staszewski

The Red Storm’s women’s basketball team has gotten used to being at the top of the Big East in the preseason poll. Being there in March, however, would mean a whole lot more.

St. John’s, which was picked second by the conference’s coaches behind two-time defending champion DePaul, lost in the Big East title game two years ago and in the conference semifinals last season. This season, their goal is to bring the program its first title since 1988 and return to the NCAA tournament after its string of five straight appearances was snapped last year.

“It’s something that our players have been used to and our program has become accustomed to,” St. John’s coach Joe Tartamella said. “At the same time, though, you want to be there at the end and you want to win the league.”

His club will attempt to do that armed with one of the nation’s best backcourts, made up of seniors Aliyyah Handford and Danaejah Grant. Handford was selected as the preseason conference player of the year and Grant was a member of the preseason first team. Handford averaged 19.3 points per game, 6.5 rebounds and was second on the team in assists.

“It means a lot to me,” Handford said of being picked as player of the year. “I feel like my teammates have gotten me to this point. They helped me out last year to get here.”

One teammate the Red Storm is happy to have back is senior forward Sandra Udobi, who missed her entire junior year because of an injury. Tartamella said Udobi is shooting the ball better than ever before. She, along with Jade Walker, has big shoes to fill with the graduation of Amber Thompson, the team’s all-time leading rebounder.

“She is going to play a big part on our team,” Handford said of Udobi. “I feel like she is going to be the icing on the cake.”

St. John’s, which also returns guard Aaliyah Lewis, hopes to celebrate a Big East title, but knows that teams like DePaul, Villanova, Creighton and Seton Hall will stand in its way.

“Everyone is trying to unseat DePaul,” Tartmella said. “They are the ones who have won it. We are happy to be there, but we want to make sure we jump up a spot and win the league.”

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