New faces bring fresh energy to the Seton Hall Pirates Credit: Lois Elfman photo

After a year of delays, quarantines, cancelled games and lots of COVID tests, the players of Seton Hall University and St. John’s University are ready to once again be playing in front of fans, friends and family and scoring exciting wins.

Seton Hall, which is third in the Preseason Coaches’ Poll, is expecting strong performances from two transfer students, Andra Espinoza-Hunter and Sidney Cooks, who were teammates at Mississippi State. At 6-foot-4, Cooks brings height in the post not seen at Seton Hall in a while.

“I hear I’m probably one of the biggest now in the league, which is different because in the SEC [Southeastern Conference] I was the smallest post player on Mississippi State,” said Cooks. “It’s a lot of responsibility.”

Seton Hall guard Lauren Park-Lane said the Pirates will compete at a different level, especially when it comes to rebounds. “Now, having these bigger presences in the post, we’re at a different level. We had the guard play, but now we have a post presence,” said Park-Lane, who was named to the Preseason All-Big East Team along with Espinoza-Hunter.

As players focus on playing great basketball, there are also discussions about name, image and likeness (NIL). “I’m definitely the girlie girl and I love to have my hair long, lashes and all that,” said Cooks. “But I want to have a really good year under my belt. Let me perform first.”

Espinoza-Hunter, who is from Ossining, said she has spoken with some brands about collaborations. A graduate student, her main focus is a great final year of college basketball and she is excited to have her family nearby. “Home cooked meals are super essential when you’re in college,” said Espinoza-Hunter. “The whole family is now able to come watch. It’s really going to mean a lot to me.”

St. John’s is seventh on the Preseason Coaches’ Poll and junior guard Leilani Correa is named to the Preseason All-Big East team. She has apparel coming out with her name on it and has signed with an agency, but her primary focus is helping the Red Storm come back from a rough season last year.

“I have to keep working and stay focused,” said Correa, who aims to be the second St. John’s player to play in the WNBA. “Our big thing this year is toughness, being tough on the court—whether it’s offensively or defensively—and being tough off the court as well.”

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