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Bosco’s Corner: New coach might have the answers

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Maybe this is it. Maybe, finally, at long last, the search is over, the deed is done. I can only hope so, for if this move turns out like the rest, the gods must be against them.

St. John’s University ended its search for a women’s head basketball coach this past week, plucking Adelphi’s Kim Barnes-Arico from the short list of prospective applicants that included current Christ the King High School coach Bob Mackey.

The selection of Barnes-Arico puts to rest months of speculation as to who would replace the deposed Darcel Estep, who was relieved of her duties on Jan. 18. The SJU women’s team finished last season under interim head coach Pechone Stepps, ending with a dismal 3-24 record.

The St. John’s women’s program was at its height in the 1970s and early 1980s, when the team was coached by Vicki Kresse (1974-1979) and Don Perrelli (1979-1984). The two combined for a 218-86 record in the program’s first 10 seasons.

But that also is deceiving. Women’s college basketball was not anywhere near as popular or competitive then as it is today. By 1985-86, when Joe Mullaney Jr. took over, the sport was changing dramatically and success was becoming harder and harder to come by for the SJU women’s team.

Mullaney coached until the 1995-96 season, amassing a record of 168-173. His replacement was Charlene Thomas-Swinson, who threatened, albeit briefly, to return the team to its winning ways. After two dismal seasons compiling a record of 11-43, Thomas-Swinson led the team to a 13-18 record in 1998-99 and then promptly left the Red Storm for an assistant’s position in the WNBA.

Estep followed in 1999-2000 with an 11-18 record. Last year the club went 8-20 and this year, well, it is a woeful 3-16 when she was given the heave-ho.

And now Barnes-Arico steps in, a coach who has had unquestionable success on the Division II level in the metropolitan area. But this is Division I; this is the Big East.

Barnes-Arico will be competing with the likes of Connecticut, Rutgers and Notre Dame for the top available recruits, something no St. John’s coach has had success at in decades. She has her hands full, no doubt.

In her four years with the Lady Panthers, the 31-year-old Barnes-Arico led the team to a 65-24 record, a winning percentage of .730. Last year the Lady Panthers made it to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Division II Tournament and finished the year ranked No. 12 in the country with a 28-3 record.

This past season Adelphi was 22-2, rolling off 21 consecutive wins to start the season and also won the New York Collegiate Athletic Conference title. She was named NYCAC Coach of the Year for a second time in three years.

“I am very excited for the opportunity to be a part of St. John’s and coach in the Big East Conference against the highest level of competition in women’s college basketball,” Barnes-Arico said. “It will be a great challenge, but I know the St. John’s community will provide a positive environment and the support necessary to succeed.”

Barnes-Arico brings more than just a winning mentality to St. John’s. She also brings experience in recruiting New York players, including some from Queens.

Melanie Mangone of Christ the King and Eliana Armijos of Francis Lewis both were members of the Lady Panthers this past season along with a roster of 15 players, only one of whom — Kylee Wilson of Omaha, Neb. — did not call the tri-state area home.

This is a key qualification for Barnes-Arico. The St. John’s women’s basketball team has had an extremely difficult time landing the quality local recruits and sometimes did not even seem remotely interested in pursuing local talent from a city renowned for its basketball.

Over the past few years the inadequate recruiting policies of the SJU women’s team have become more glaring than ever. Most notably was that the team never made a run at the only All-American playing ball in the borough a year ago, Christ the King alumna Clare Droesch, who landed, of all places, at Big East rival Boston College.

She didn’t go to Connecticut, Tennessee, Notre Dame or Rutgers. She went to Boston College, a team hardly considered a national powerhouse. St. John’s never even showed serious interest.

But Droesch is just the tip of the iceberg. Chamique Holdsclaw and Sue Bird, two other former Christ the King standouts who went on to Division I fame, were also never pursued by St. John’s — something I find absolutely unbelievable.

This past season St. John’s never even bothered to recruit Dawn Gorynski, who remained undecided as to her college of choice for most of the year while leading St. Francis Prep to the New York state Federation Class B title game. Gorynski eventually signed with Lehigh University.

Whether or not Barnes-Arico will be able to compete with the likes of UConn and Rutgers for the best local talent remains to be seen, but it has been my belief that there is no reason why the St. John’s women’s program is not right up there with the other elite teams in the nation, let alone the Big East.

I hope St. John’s has found the right woman for the job. If she lives up to her record, I think the future is bright for the Red Storm.

Reach Sports Editor Anthony Bosco by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 130.

Posted 7:03 pm, October 10, 2011
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