Junior guard Alyssa Fisher Credit: St. Francis Athletics

Despite having to accept two losses due to COVID-related forfeits, the players of St. Francis College women’s basketball are playing hard and keeping a winning attitude. Most other athletic conferences try to reschedule games not played due to players testing positive for COVID-19, but the Northeast Conference counts those games as losses.

With a 9–4 record in NEC action, the Terriers are ranked second in the conference. Head coach Linda Cimino said the team has paid its dues over the last couple of years building a strong foundation, and now the veterans and rookie talents are bringing the vision to fruition.

“There’s no quick fix; we’ve been trying to build the right way,” said Cimino, who is in her fourth season at St. Francis. “We’ve got a great group of young women. All 12 have bought in. We have a really good staff. Everyone is working hard and trusting the process. Good things are starting to happen for us.

“It’s not that everyone expects to win,” she added. “Obviously, everyone wants to win, but we have the pieces to win. Playing some really difficult non-conference games has helped prepare us for conference play. Obviously, that Michigan State win [just before Thanksgiving] put our confidence at a different level.”

All the St. Francis players are fully vaccinated, so accepting forfeit losses was particularly disappointing. Cimino said these are life lessons and the players and coaches look at the big picture. Many people have suffered during the pandemic, so a couple of basketball games can be kept in perspective.

“We have our health and we have the resources to get through this,” Cimino said. “It’s bigger than basketball. We try to teach life lessons. You’re going to have adversity your whole life. How do you respond and react to it? Where is the silver lining you can take out of it? That’s what we talk about. How to rally and get through it.”

Cimino has recruited quite a few international players for the St. Francis roster, finding top talent hoping to play college basketball in the U.S. “In this area, we’re all recruiting the same kids,” she said. “Standing out to a recruit in this area is a struggle, so I’ve found when you go overseas a lot of these kids are hidden gems.”

Cimino takes inspiration from St. Francis’ precedent-setting athletic director, Irma Garcia, the first Hispanic woman to be athletic director at a Division I institution. “She’s special; she makes you feel like family,” Cimino said. The Terriers take on Mount St. Mary’s tonight in Brooklyn.

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