In each of his first two seasons at the helm, St. John’s women’s basketball coach Joe Tartamella has guided his team to two straight NCAA Tournament appearances. Last year under his leadership, the Red Storm made the finals of the Big East Tournament and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
But Tartamella isn’t anywhere near satisfied with what he and his team have accomplished over the past two years, and he knows that his players this season feel the same way.
“Being in the Big East championship game for the first time since 1988, I think that hunger in the offseason was probably the most dominant thing that I saw,” Tartamella said in a press conference at the team’s media day this past week. “And I think that’s driving our players because we were right there, and so we know we have to do better.”
Tartamella will likely look to junior guards Aliyyah Handford and Danaejah Grant, along with senior forward Amber Thompson to be the main forces behind that drive this year, especially after last season’s captain Briana Brown graduated.
“Amber Thompson has taken that [leadership] role over from Briana, but she has a lot of help too, just like Briana did,” Tartamella said. “I think Danaejah Grant has been so good over the last few months and in her growth and her maturity level that she’s right there with Amber.”
Tartamella would continue to say, “We’re challenging Aliyyah Handford to be one of those players as well. And Aliyyah has started to do that, and I’m pretty happy with where she is in that progress.”
On the other side of things are the freshmen, and this year’s team will feature plenty of them. Forwards Imani Littleton and Tonoia Wade will join the program this season, along with guards Tamesha Alexander and Crystal Simmons. Coach Tartamella has already expressed high expectations for his freshmen this season.
“Sox [Tamesha Alexander] gives us depth at the point guard position,” Tartamella said. “And then we have Imani Littleton and Tonoia Wade who are versatile players, both can play multiple positions.” He continued to speak about Crystal Simmons, saying that she “has been a great surprise for us, for what she’s been able to do in this short period of time.”
Their first game will come on the road against the Yale Bulldogs Nov. 15. Tartamella wouldn’t give away his projected starting lineup for that game but did mention that the veterans of the team would definitely get the first look.