HARRISONBURG, Va.–The first year of the Dawn Staley-era at Temple has come to an end. Temple lost to James Madison 59-57 in the first round of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament on March 15.
The team finished the season with a 19-11 record-a drastic improvement over last year’s 10-18 mark.
Staley brought new attitude to North Broad this year. No more was this team just going to win a few weak non-conference games and fall short in the Atlantic-10 schedule. The new coaching staff promised a team that would fight for every game.
They did just that under Staley.
Of the Owls’ 11 losses, only four were against teams that didn’t make the 2001 NCAA Tournament. The loss to James Madison was in the WNIT, a place no one thought Temple could be after a 10-18 season.
If it was up to Staley, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and three-time All-American, the team would have been in the NCAA tournament. The WNIT was a plan B for her, but B is better than the Plan C, or worse, that the team competed for in the past.
Some of this year’s success has to be given to former coach Kristen Foley. Foley resigned after last season but the team, minus standout Athena Christoforakis, was composed of her recruits.
Christena Hamilton and Chrissy Cruz were both highly recruited but persuaded by Foley to come to Temple. Cruz only averaged 6.5 points a game and has plenty of room for improvement.
But Cruz did have to deal with a nagging foot injury that kept her out for the second half of the season, as well as the loss of her mother before the season began.
Temple was led by sophomore point guard Stacey Smalls. Smalls averaged 32 minutes a game and led the team in scoring with 11.2 ppg.
Third-year senior Natalia Isaac carried the team at the end of the year with 20-plus point efforts, including a 38-point performance in an overtime win over Umass.
Christoforakis was second on the team in scoring with 10.8 points per game and led the team in rebounding with 256 boards on the season.
Junior center Lisa Jakubowicz was third on the team in scoring and second in rebounding behind Christoforakis.
But it was Staley that brought in the attitude for this team.
At the beginning of the season, ESPN columnist Nancy Lieberman-Kline named Staley the Entrepeneur of the Year for her work with a group of good-but-not-great basketball players.
This Temple women’s basketball team that went all the way to the WNIT wasn’t composed of All-Americans but they hung with the best of them.
With the exception of a home loss to Dayton, a Big 5 loss to St. Joe’s and a shattering loss at Rhode Island- a loss that may have kept Temple out of the NCAA tournament- the Owls only lost to the cream of the crop.
Villanova beat Temple by only five and made the NCAA Tournament. Temple lost to NCAA regular George Washington twice, including the semifinals of the A-10 tournament.
In January alone, Temple put up a fight with three nationally ranked teams. Temple lost to Vanderbilt 70-51, N.C. State 71-64 and A-10 champion Xavier 73-63.
The seven-point loss to N.C. State really established Temple as a team on the rise.
It was, as Staley put it, a “great season, disappointing ending.”
But it was just the beginning of women’s basketball on North Broad.
The presence of Staley promises to improve Temple into a national program, as opposed to a merely regional one. And that starts with recruiting.
Recently, Staley was in Los Angeles recruiting. That’s Los Angeles, California, not New Jersey or Pennsylvania.
Foley’s furthest recruit on this team was Rhode Island native Melissa Eagles. Christoforakis, a Florida native, was brought in by Staley and associate head coach Shawn Campbell.
Staley and her winning attitude is building this program into a national contender. Connecticut, arguably the biggest and best women’s hoops program in the country, wasn’t built in a day. It took years for the Huskies to build themselves up to a point where they could sell out an arena the size of the Liacouras Center for a game, twice.
The first year has just concluded at Temple.