by Tom Utescher
It normally takes more than one season for a new head coach to become imprinted upon a basketball program, and in his second year at Chestnut Hill College, Mike West has seen the CHC women’s team come into its own.
For the start of the 2015-16 academic year, West, a former Philadelphia University assistant, took command of a Chestnut Hill squad that had finished 10-16 overall and 8-11 within the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference. At the end of last month, the Griffins completed their 2016-17 campaign in the conference tournament, and came away with an 11-8 mark in the CACC and a record of 16-11 against all comers.
It was the highest number of victories the program has produced – both in-conference and overall, since Chestnut Hill moved up into NCAA Division II in 2007. The squad established a number of other team records, as well, including the highest regular-season scoring average (78.7 ppg) and the highest overall point total. Going over 100 points twice, the 2016-17 Griffins set a new standard for field goals (759) and shot 37.5 percent from the three-point arc (also a program record).
Mary Trossi, a 5’2″ sophomore point guard, employed her tremendous speed to log not one, but two triple-doubles, and was named to the All-CACC third team along with senior guard Caity Kuhnen. Shannon Glenn, a 5’10” freshman guard out of Archbishop Ryan who is well known to players at area schools through AAU competition, was selected CACC Rookie of the Year.
Trossi’s classmate and teammate in high school and now in college is 5’9″ forward Jaeda Wildgoose who, like Trossi, makes a bigger impact than her actual size suggests. Glenn’s freshman classmate, guard Cailey Gibson, saw a lot of action this winter, as did a junior transfer at shooting guard, Vicky Tumasz. Another junior, 6’1″ forward Nicole Parriski, was in her third season with the Griffins, but the team’s most experienced player was red-shirt senior guard Brittany McDonough.
Unfortunately, McDonough would once again run into injury problems, and spent the last part of the season on the sideline.
“With her experience, we could look to Brittany on the court,” Coach West said, “and when she got hurt she very quickly turned into an assistant coach on the bench. We told her, you might be done playing, but you’re not done contributing to this team.”
Chestnut Hill didn’t graduate any players after the 2015-16 season, and that would be an asset going forward.
“Having everyone back helped us continue forward and build on the momentum we had at the end of last season,” West explained. “Everybody already knew the basics in our system, the plays and the drills. That allowed us to dig down a little deeper and refine things rather than spend a lot of time going over the basics.
“They knew me and I knew them,” he went on, “and the main thing in the preseason was assimilating Vicky and Shannon and Cailey into the mix. The new players actually gelled with the returning players more quickly than we’d expected, and that helped us get out to a strong start.”
The team began the season with a 5-1 spurt, with one of its two CACC wins during that stretch coming against Holy Family University, a team Chestnut Hill hadn’t beaten since joining the NCAA decades earlier.
“I think our team speed was a big asset,” West related. “We had offensive weapons from last year, and then the new additions made us deeper. With that, we wanted to increase the pace of the game, push the ball on offense and play full-court defense.”
Many of the Griffins already shared a common trait when they arrived on campus.
“We have a lot of individuals who come from winning high school programs,” West noted. “Mary and Jaeda come from that strong Franklin Township (N.J.) team, Vicky’s from North Penn, Shannon played in the Catholic League at Ryan, and Cailey comes from a big South Jersey school, Cherokee. They’re used to winning games against tough competition on a regular basis.”
West remarked, “We had some vocal leaders, and others who led by example. People didn’t care who stepped up at any given time to help rally us; I just think there was a collective desire to win.”
New faces began to appear in the stands for women’s games at CHC’s Sorgenti Arena, not just the expected complement of parents, friends, and fans who drifted in early prior to the men’s contests that wrapped up home doubleheaders.
“I think part of the reason for that is the up-tempo style we play,” West opined. “People would see our scores or would hear that Chestnut Hill scored 80 points, 85 points in a game, and they figured there must be a lot of action for them to watch.
“Another thing,” he went on, “is that we do a lot of outreach projects and community service. Our girls have good personalities, and people who meet the team outside of Chestnut Hill College become interested to see what they do on the court.”
Five Chestnut Hill players finished with scoring averages in double digits; Kuhnen (14.3 ppg), Tumasz (13.6), Wildgoose (12.6), Trossi (10.8) and Glenn (10.4). Kuhnen shot almost as well from the three-point line (45.4 percent) as she did from the floor overall (46.7), and Tumasz led the squad at the free throw line (86.2 percent) and in steals (50 total).
Wildgoose grabbed a team-high 7.2 rebounds per game, and the diminutive Trossi was not far behind, with 6.3. In total blocks, Wildgoose (16) was followed by Parriski (15) and Glenn (13). Trossi was far-and-away the assist leader, with 149.
Speaking of the progress of his freshman standout, Glenn, West observed, “At the beginning of the year she was up and down because she was still figuring out the college game. After Christmas, I think the game slowed down in her brain and she really got rolling. She can make the “three,” and we can also throw her down on the block and post her up. She can create a mismatch with a guard who’s guarding her and also with a forward who’s guarding her.”
Just as West grew into the position of head coach, assistants Lindsay Alexander (a 1000-point scorer for CHC who graduated in 2013), Steph Zewe (an accomplished forward at Kutztown University), and Nick Ruggieri (who played for West at North Penn High School) developed in their roles.
“When a player came out of the game, I didn’t always have time to stop and talk with them about what was going on out on the floor, so the assistants took on a lot of that responsibility,” West said. “Steph and Lindsay worked with the post players, because that was the position they played in college, and Nick went over the skill work with the guards. They also handled some of the scouting duties for us.”
In keeping with West’s feeling about the habitual nature of success, the Griffins have already brought on board for next year three players from winning high school programs. Cassie Sebold comes from always formidable Archbishop Wood of the Philadelphia Catholic League, Katie Dougherty will move up from Catholic Academies champ St. Basil, and Rachel Millan will be graduating from Lindsay Alexander’s alma mater, Lower Moreland High School.
This season’s success for CHC has raised the profile of the program and is moving the team toward one of the goals outlined by West, who stated, “We want to be a school where Philadelphia players want to play.”