by Tom Utescher

CHC freshman Lila Jones penetrates for a leaping lay-up. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

With a new head coach and with rookie players putting in a lot of minutes, this was one of those “building” years for Chestnut Hill College women’s basketball.

What’s encouraging is that there actually was measurable building going on. In their season finale last Tuesday evening, the Griffins came from seven points down early in the second half to a one-point deficit at the four-minute mark before the visiting Goldey Beacom College Lighting pulled away to win, 50-43. The Wilmington, Del. ballclub was the second-seeded team in the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference South Division, and at 14-5, had the second-best record in the conference overall.

Chestnut Hill finished up 5-14 in the CACC and 6-20 against all opponents, but just before their holiday break the Griffins were only 1-9 overall. The concluding setback against Goldey Beacom was the seventh single-digit conference loss for CHC, proving that – at their best – they could hang with the league leaders.

First-year head coach Laura Pruitt recalled, “When I talked to the girls before the season began, one of the main things they were concerned with was the lack of respect for the program within the conference. They felt that teams would come in here with the attitude that they just sort of had to show up and it was a ‘W’ for them. I think we went a long way towards earning respect in the conference, and respect for ourselves.”

Before Tuesday’s final contest, the Griffins honored their four departing seniors, guard Aiesha Smith and forwards Jenn Delahanty, Ashlen Stayrook, and Ebony Washington.

When the game got underway, the locals stayed right with Goldey Beacom through much of the first half, with three-point buckets by freshman guards Tenisha Townsend-Mobley and Lila Jones helping to give the Griffins a 15-14 edge with four minutes to go. A finishing burst by Beacom put the visitors up 20-15 at halftime, and the Griffins were fortunate that their guests only shot two-for-six at the foul line down the stretch.

The margin remained roughly the same up to a 32-26 tally with a dozen minutes left in the game, then the Griffins closed in as Smith hooped three of four foul shots. The Lightning got two points back, but then lay-ups by Stayrook and junior Asha Jones and a free throw by Stayrook tied the bout at 34-all with 8:24 on the clock.

Points from Washington and junior Latoya Laing helped keep it close for CHC, which was just one point back with four minutes to go, 41-40. A transition lay-up by guard Akilah Sewell started a 6-0 run that bumped Beacom up to a 48-41 lead with a little over a minute remaining, and the gap was still seven points at the final horn.

Laing and fellow junior Lindsay Alexander led Chestnut Hill with 10 and 11 points, respectively, while Washington grabbed six rebounds and scored three points. Goldey got double-digit scoring from Ashley Rosario (15 points), Devonne Richardson (13), and Bri Richmond-Peters (10).

Reflecting upon the season as a whole, Coach Pruitt said, “It was a great first-year experience as a head coach, and kind of humbling to see young ladies respond to what you’re trying to teach. In the locker room I thanked them for giving me their absolute best, because I felt like they did.”

An accomplished recruiter, Pruitt already has two players from Brooklyn and one from a top Baltimore team committed to Chestnut Hill, and she is working on a Philadelphia Public League standout right from Mt. Airy.

“All the players we’re bringing in come from winning programs, and I think that mentality is important,” she said.

As for the returning Griffins, she revealed, “We’re still going to continue to practice as long as we’re allowed to. In the off-season we’ll make sure we get in our weight lifting and conditioning, and we’re going to play together in a summer league. We’ll be ready to go next fall.”

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