The Bonnies got the stop and defensive rebound they needed. Trailing by a point with 22 seconds left in the game, they brought the ball up the court. Jim Crowley passed on calling a timeout, letting the game unfold for his players. With 5.2 seconds left, Jordan McGee got the ball. She had been just 1 for 2 in her 29 minutes of action, but stepped in and confidently nailed a 15-foot jump shot.
The other team called a timeout but a scrambling defense prevented them from getting a good shot, securing an exhibition win.
Welcome to St. Bonaventure women’s basketball, where success is built on talent, teamwork and a flair for the dramatic.
And while McGee’s shot was the game-winner, there isn’t a member of the program, including McGee herself, who would single out one person in a win. It doesn’t even take one person to get a rebound in the Bona system of basketball because in all likelihood, the woman who gets credited with the stat was the beneficiary of another player having her back.
For four years, the St. Bonaventure women have been a success story. It started with Dana Mitchell, who had her number retired after guiding the Bonnies to their first ever postseason event - the WNIT. Next up was a senior class anchored by guard Jessica Jenkins and forward Megan Van Tatenhove. That group led the Bonnies to their first national ranking and to the Sweet 16.
Who’s got next for the Bonnies?
This year, the leadership comes from senior guard Alaina Walker, junior guard CeCe Dixon and junior forward Doris Ortega.
OK you three. Whatcha got?
While they don’t have all the answers they have a thorough understanding of what it took to win in the past and what they need to instill in this group to continue the legacy.
“Last year we knew who could produce,” Ortega said. “This year, everybody’s learning what they can do. It’s more intense and locking in. It’s a challenge, but I’m ready for it.”
“It’s new roles but we just learn to embrace it,” Dixon said. “Communication is key and going hard all the time. You’ve got to be prepared to take shots and go hard.”
“It’s a learning process,” Walker said. “We have to teach the younger girls what we have learned. It’s a slow process, but they’re understanding.”
That process got a bit more difficult early in preseason when senior Chelsea Bowker suffered a broken ankle. She will redshirt this season and return for her final year of eligibility next year. Bowker wasn’t just ready to step into a more prominent role of the floor but also in vocal leadership on a team that graduated some very strong personalities.
Just when the group left behind had started to feel comfortable in their new roles, down goes Bowker and the roles changed again.
“We had the returning group ready to take on new roles and they did an amazing job over the summer,” Crowley said. “Chelsea had kind of established that. She was going to be the on-the-floor leader. She was primed for a really good year. So now all of a sudden it changes ... and we’re still figuring that out. It’s all kind of coming together but it’s going to take time. We’re going to take some lumps. We know that. Our kids know that. It’s the reality. I think our kids have always been pretty good at understanding who we are, who we could be and what we need to do to get there. I think we can be OK as the year goes on.”
Don’t expect another NCAA tournament run from the Bonnies this season. The program’s success is built largely around effort and defense and that effort and defense are built on trust. With six freshmen on the roster, trust doesn’t develop overnight. Crowley is also aware that his freshmen may suffer a bit from “deer in the headlights” syndrome that’s understandable when joining a program that went to the Sweet 16 last season.
But through these years of 20-plus wins and postseason tournament appearances, the Bonnies have never really talked much about their triumphs. They just focus on what they can control and let everything else fall into place.
“We never talked about our success last year,” Crowley said. “In all these years we never talked about needing to get this win or that win. When we retooled things, I made a decision there were only a couple of things that mattered to me. Then it was really what did the kids expect. What could the kids realistically expect and then what would they invest to get there. That’s how we tried to handle it. ... All that matters at the end of the day is did we play hard? Did we play for one another? If those things stay consistent, the other stuff takes care of itself.”