In Erik Johnson’s sixth, and ultimately final, season as the head coach of Boston College women’s basketball, there was never a point where his shaky tenure got to him, instead staying upbeat throughout it all.
Despite watching his team limp to a 7-23 record, managing just two wins in conference play, Johnson spoke frequently of effort and toughness, pushing his team to fight games out—but the effect was slim. A thin lineup after injuries, defensive struggles, and countless turnovers doomed the Eagles from the start, chasing Johnson from the program after an unremarkable 68-115 record over his tenure.
So, why is there such a buzz around the team moving forward? Director of Athletics Martin Jarmond scooped up a proven winner in new head coach Joanna Bernabei-McNamee, an Albany transplant who boasts back-to-back 20-win seasons and has piled up various accolades. It’s a refreshing addition for the Eagles, whose fans haven’t particularly had much reason for enthusiasm in recent years. Thirteen years ago, BC joined the ACC, and the results have been nothing short of dismal—just two .500 seasons and a cumulative 55-143 mark. With the men’s program on the rise, having made a run in the conference tournament and produced high-profile players, Bernabei-McNamee enters at an important point in the program’s history—a time in which bringing the Eagles back to relevance is crucial.
The players to help her do that starred at times this past season. Nobody impressed more down the stretch than guard Taylor Ortlepp, a hard-nosed sophomore from Australia who closed out her season on a tear. Ortlepp averaged seven points per game as a freshman, but saw that total rise to 12.3 points per game with plenty more in store. She took on the scoring burden for her team late, desperately trying to extend the season, and finished with 20-plus points in three of her final four contests. The guard saw her 3-point percentage climb five points from a year ago and has the potential to step in as a go-to option for the Eagles, day in and day out.
The rest of the regular contributors featured a trigger-happy freshman in Milan Bolden-Morris, a reliable post presence in Georgia Pineau, a floor general in former hockey star Andie Anastos, and flashes of potential from Sydney Lowery. Altogether, the depth to compete at the ACC level simply wasn’t there—the Eagles turned the ball over at an extremely high clip and didn’t have the defensive fortitude to make up for it. This was clear from the get-go, as winnable games seemingly slipped away. Early-season losses to Dartmouth (120th in RPI), Boston University (233rd), and Columbia (215th) spelled doom for when the going got tough.
And tough it got. The ACC, top to bottom, is easily the deepest conference in women’s college basketball (if not men’s). This year’s national champion, Notre Dame, and four other teams in the top 20 of the final RPI rankings call it home. The difference between the Eagles and the rest of the conference couldn’t be more stark. In the first conference game of the season, a road matchup with Virginia Tech, BC lost by 31, committing 20 turnovers in the process. The Hokies would go on to finish just 6-10 in conference play.
The Eagles managed ACC wins against North Carolina—a team they’d eventually lose to in the conference tournament—and Pittsburgh, but the rest of the schedule was brutal. They had losses by 29, 22, 25, and 24 points during a nine-game skid, then wrapped up the year with three-straight blowouts. Florida State, Louisville, and Notre Dame, three of the nation’s best teams, combined to streamroll BC by a final score of 243-146, a difference of 97 points in 120 minutes.
Still, amid all the losses—four in a row to end the season—flashes of talent were visible. Ortlepp impressed, and Bolden-Morris, who shouldered a large load as a freshman, stepped up at times. The sharpshooter finished with a 35.6 percent mark, good for 11th in the ACC, even more impressive considering she hoisted up the sixth-most attempts in the conference. Pineau, standing 6-foot-1, was a consistent rebounder for the Eagles in her second season—she pulled down a team-high 7.2 rebounds per game to go along with almost 12 points. Pineau was a steady double-double threat, logging four during the course of the season and coming up just shy with frequency.
With Bernabei-McNamee at the helm now, the Eagles will likely look back on the season as one of potential growth, tossing the results aside. Almost 70 percent of the team’s minutes went to underclassmen, so finishing 16 games under .500 wasn’t a huge surprise. It also means that, in the wake of a coaching change, another meager season may follow while Bernabei-McNamee’s new system is still being implemented—but with a core of talent and a proven recruiter (and winner), one could argue that hope has returned to the Heights.
Featured Image by Celine Lim / Heights Staff