Fordham Revival Claims La Salle
By Mel Greenberg
PHILADELPHIA -- Rome may not have been built in a day but Fordham coach Stephanie V. Gaitley, the former Villanova star, is doing quite a job rapidly bringing the Bronx contingent in New York City back to respectability.
On Wednesday night Gaitley’s Rams battered La Salle here 69-49 at the Explorers’ Tom Gola Arena in an Atlantic Ten game that gave the program the most conference victories since becoming a member.
On Sunday Fordham plowed through A-10 newcomer Virginia
Commonwealth, a battle of Rams featuring the former Colonial Athletic Association contender, enabling the Metro Rams to clinch the team’s first winning record since 1994-95, which if you want to understand how long ago that was, you will find that was the same season Connecticut won the first of seven NCAA titles.
Some other milestones that have occurred this year in conference competition was a win last month over Charlotte for the first time, a win over Richmond for only the second time, and a win against Xavier for the first time in 18 tries on the road in Cincinnati.
The Rams’ 10-5 nonconference record marks the first time in that category Fordham has had double digit wins since 1983-84.
Fordham was picked 11th in the A-10 preseason poll by the conference coaches.
“The kids I got last year, I thought we maximized everything out of them, this year a couple of players obviously make a difference and La Salle losing (Brittany) Wilson was obviously a big hit to them but our bench is a little thin just as well so everybody’s just trying to get through,” Gaitley said.
“I’m really fortunate to have a group of kids who work hard every single day.”
Gaitley’s two winning seasons in nonconference competition are the first in Fordham’s history. The Rams first became a conference team joining the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference as a rival of La Salle (1981-82) and went on to later play in the Patriot League (1990-95) before joining the Atlantic 10 for the 1995-96 season.
Her first head coaching stint was at Richmond, which won a CAA title before Old Dominion arrived to monopolize the conference until Drexel broke up the domination in 2009. Gaitley, who was born in Ocean City, N.J., then succeeded Jim Foster at Saint Joseph’s and coached the Hawks in the 1990s and later had stints at Long Island and Monmouth before taking the Rams job last season.
Gaitley is now eight wins from reaching 500 in her career that spans 27 seasons.
While it’s true La Salle (7-15, 3-4 Atlantic 10) could currently give the local NFL Eagles’ offensive line here a run for the money in terms of being decimated – senior Brittany Wilson, the leading scorer and rebounder is sidelined with an undetermined knee injury – but Fordham (16-6, 6-1) did not come to town in total health either, as Gaitley alluded.
Just a few years ago, prior to Gaitley’s arrival last season, Fordham set an NCAA women’s record losing its entire slate of games before beginning a turnaround of sorts that saw the Rams edge the Explorers for the last spot in the A-10 tournament on a coin flip.
But one can go back to Digger Phelps coaching the men’s hoops squad or a guy named Vince Lombardi, the legendary NFL Green Bay Packers coach, playing football with six other blocks of granite on the campus grounds that house Rose Hill Gym to see a Fordham squad doing this well.
Oops, before the Guru hears about it from several places, there was that women’s team in the late 1970s coached by Kathy Mosolino, which played in the AIAW tournament and had a player named Anne Gregory. She was recently named one of the first class of Atlantic 10 legends who will be honored at the conference championship in Brooklyn at the new Barclays Center on the morning of the tripleheader that includes the A-10 men’s semifinals.
As the world turns, by the way, Gregory later became Mrs. Jim O’Connell, wife of the famed Associated Press writer Jim O’Connell, and their son Andrew is now the women’s media contact for Gaitley’s program.
In Wednesday’s game, Fordham had answers every time La Salle attempted to get back into the game.
Four players scored in double figures led by Abigail Corning, who had 17 points, followed by Erin Rooney with 15 and eight assists, Arielle Collins with 14, and Marah Strickland with 12 while Samantha Clark grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds.
Strickland is a transfer from South Carolina, originally recruited by Dawn Staley, a longtime friend of Gaitley’s, while Rooney from Christchurch, New Zealand, is a transfer who followed Gaitley from Monmouth, located near the northern New Jersey coastline.
“We have an opportunity Sunday to see where we are as a program,” Gaitley said of the visit from Dayton, one of two remaining unbeaten A-10 teams along with Saint Joseph’s, which rallied at VCU on Wednesday night to extend the Hawks’ win streak to eight straight and 11 of 12 overall.
“I thought we played one our poorer games against Duquesne, we didn’t respond well, but Dayton gives us a chance to see how we are against the best of the conference.”
Shanel Harrison scored 13 for La Salle, which had gone over 60 minutes of play with perfection on the foul line before she missed all three of her free throw attempts.
Ebonee Jones scored 11.
Fordham was no slouch either at the stripe and connected on 19-of-21 free throw attempts while the Explorers were 7-for-10.
“Brittany hurt her knee and we’re waiting on her MRI to know how long she’ll be out but we should know something by (Thursday),” said La Salle coach Jeff Williams, who is in his third season with the Explorers.
“I don’t see her playing for a couple of games and that hurts us a lot. Michea Bryant was hurt – she didn’t play three straight games and she just started practicing with the knee and she can’t really move – that definitely hurt us against (George Washington).
“We have Jordan Mosley trying to play the point guard position, so we need somebody to step up and take the load,” Williams explained.
As for Fordham, Williams observed, “She’s done a great job and they got the two transfers. Marah Strickland was a Top 50 kid coming out of high school and Rooney is a tremendous leader on the floor, a skilled kid, and those two kids make a difference with the kids coming back.
“They have a good team, they play together, they share the basketball, so Stephanie does a great job.”
La Salle next travels Sunday to Xavier, the former A-10 power that has been having its share of woes since Kevin McGuff left two seasons ago to turn Washington’s fortunes around in the Northwest and Pac-12 conference.