LORETTO, Pa. — Coach Rob Krimmel was telling fans and boosters gathered in the Stokes Twyman Hall overlooking DeGol Arena for St. Francis University’s annual basketball preseason luncheon about how his team men’s Red Flash and the women’s team follow the same path, although with the Northeastern Conference schedule having one on the road while the other plays at home, they don’t follow each other as closely as in the past.
“It would be great to host two league games here this year,” Krimmel said, “so let’s aim for that.”
This is the ultimate goal. However, as their respective campaigns approach the opener on November 7 – the women at Robert Morris in the morning and the men at St. Bonaventure tonight – the teams find themselves in a pivotal season. The similar trails they’ve been on recently ended in similar destinations, and those latest stops haven’t been far into the playoffs.
They both come into the 2022-23 season trying to change that with plenty of new faces.
It might not seem that long, but Krimmel’s Red Flash men haven’t played for the NEC Championship and a place in the big dance — or even made it past the first round of the conference tournament — since 2020, when they lost to Robert Morris. just before COVID-19 ended the season.
The drought has been even longer for the women: their last tournament win was in 2019, before Keila Whittington came onto the scene. That’s not something that sits well with a program that has won 12 of 36 NEC championships, the most in conference history.
“We’re not even thinking about winning a single tournament game,” Whittington said. “We think about winning the tournament.”
Senior forward Myles Thompson is one of three returning starters for a St. Francis men’s team that went 9-21 overall and 5-13 in the conference, retiring from the conference tournament in 2022 in his opening match at Wagner. Thompson remembers another time. It also started in that 2020 Championship Game loss at Moon Township, when the Red Flash featured the backcourt of Keith Braxton and Isaiah Blackmon and looked destined to win after winning their first two tournaments by double digits.
“My first two years here, we won games. The last two years it’s been tough,” said Thompson, who is playing his fifth season for the Red Flash due to the NCAA’s COVID waiver. “These losses are like training. It means a lot.
“This is the year we have to win.”
“It created a hunger in these guys that we didn’t have to create, a humility that we didn’t have to create,” Krimmel said.
If Krimmel had just hosted the 2021-22 subclasses, this Red Flash team would be considered a dormant team in the Northeastern Conference. Along with Thompson, the Red Flash returns 6-foot-10 Josh Cohen, the NEC’s Most Improved Player award winner last year and an all-NEC preseason pick this season, and double-digit juniors Max Land and Ronell Giles, both perimeter players.
Swing six-seven player Marlon Hargis is also back in the fold after starting 10 games last season.
On top of that, however, Krimmel might have brought his best recruiting class on paper.
The Red Flash was picked third in the conference preseason poll behind Merrimack and Sacred Heart.
“I’m excited about this band,” Krimmel said. “We have a great mix of young and older guys.”
Returnees might be seasoned enough to take a big leap this winter.
“I feel like this team is a lot more together,” Land said. “I think as a collective we have a much better awareness of what the real goal is.”
Central Cambria graduate Daric Danchanko is a freshman forward on the men’s team.
The St. Francis women of Whittington have many more question marks. The Red Flash lost Jada Dapaa, one of the nation’s top rebounders last season, to Fordham, along with leading scorer Jenna Mastellone, one of the program’s top 10 all-time 3-point shooters to Lili Benzel. and starting goaltender Jordan. McLemore.
On top of that, shooting guard Kaitlyn Maxwell is a question mark with a preseason injury. That leaves senior position Sam Miller as Whittington’s only returning starter and forward Aaliyah Moore as the only other returnee to start games.
Eight newcomers will be in high demand as the Red Flash women attempt to turn the tide after going 8-10 in conference and 8-22 overall. Most likely to make an immediate impact is Filippa Gouda, a junior college transfer who has featured in the Greek national team.
Picked fourth in the conference in preseason, the St. Francis women have a bit more length this season than in previous years, as Whittington has now had time to build a roster almost entirely of its own rookies.
“You’ll see us playing a little bit differently than we’ve done in the past,” Whittington said, “but the goal is still the same. We want to win, we want to succeed and we want to improve and improve.”
Maria McConnell, a Blacklick Valley graduate, is a second-year guard on the team.