Drexel’s Women’s Basketball program has always been a shining star within Drexel Athletics. Year after year, the program wins games, finishes near the top of the conference in the standings and competes hard in the conference tournament.
The 2022-23 season has been no different thus far; although it has been a year of significant transition and change for Coach Amy Mallon’s squad. The women currently sit atop the CAA conference in the standings. Keishana Washington is having one of the best collegiate basketball seasons any player could ever have. There is a lot to love about the Drexel Women’s Basketball team with three games remaining before the conference tournament. The Triangle sat down with Coach Mallon to have her grade her squad’s performance in typical Drexel fashion, with a midterm significantly after the halfway point of the term.
“I’d give the season around a B, B+ so far. We’re doing a solid job of taking care of things we need to take care of, and the biggest thing is that we are getting better everyday. We have two freshmen starting for us, and we have two fifth year seniors in Maura Hendrixson and Keishana Washington, in addition to Hetta Saatman in the mix, a senior,” Mallon said. “We have a mix of experience with youth. I think it helps when you have one of the nation’s top scorers in Kei and top assist leader in Maura Hendrixson, but you also have two freshmen still learning exactly what we do here.”
A common theme across Drexel basketball this season has been massive roster turnover. Both the men’s and women’s lost a significant amount of experience and scoring. Unlike the men, however, the women were projected to finish first in the conference in preseason polling.
“I think having that number one preseason ranking puts a target on our back, and a lot of that comes from respect for our program and our culture and our players. Washington being preseason player of the year, she is capable of doing so much for us, she’s a big reason we were picked number one,” said Mallon.
Coach Mallon understands better than maybe anybody how talented Keishana Washington is. Washington certainly has the ability to carry the Dragons to a successful season. However, Mallon emphasized that, in order to be champions, the team would have to see development across the roster.
“We started two freshmen, and I was really hoping that we could get through the non-conference and learn lessons from the wins and the losses. And we definitely did that, we were able to grow. When Kylie Lavelle got hurt, she was our second leading scorer, averaging over 20 points per game. When she got hurt and missed four weeks, Jasmine Valentine was able to fill in and got really good experience in that time, and a player like Chloe Hodges has been able to get a lot of experience lately too. You see each player growing around your core of Washington. Everyone around her is starting to really understand their roles and how when other teams double team her, we are able to make them pay,” said Mallon.
Nobody can tell the story of Drexel basketball right now without highlighting in the boldest way possible what Keishana Washington has done this season. Coach Mallon certainly understands her importance, not just this season, but for the program as a whole.
“To have a player like Keishana is a gift for the program and also myself as a coach. We have seen her do outstanding things before. She won Most Outstanding Player in the conference in 2021, and she was the key behind us winning the CAA Championship that year. Last year, she was one of the top players in the conference and was so important for us to win a regular season title,” said Mallon. “She has won two regular season titles and one conference championship in her time, I think that just goes to show how she can make those around her better. The best thing about seeing her recognized as a top three scorer in the nation is that it doesn’t even matter to her unless we are winning. That’s what she has to do for us to win, but no matter what, she just does what she has to do for us to win the game.”
Keishana and fellow fifth year senior Maura Hendrixson have shown the entire country their class this year, so much so that they are both being recognized as contenders for national awards. Washington is on the list of ten finalists for the Becky Hammon award, which goes to the best Mid-Major basketball player in the nation, and Hendrixson is on the list of five finalists for the Nancy Lieberman Award, which is given to the best point guard in the nation.
While Hendrixson and Washington have established themselves as top players in the nation as well as key members of the Drexel program, teams that have championship aspirations need more support than just two outstanding players.
Kylie Lavelle, the freshman forward, burst onto the scene at the beginning of the season. Through her first five games, Lavelle averaged 19 points per game. Unfortunately, she suffered a lower body injury, sidelining her for about a month. Since returning, Lavelle has been serviceable, but not the dominating force she showed she could be early on. According to Coach Mallon, Lavelle is trending in the right direction to be back to the kind of player that the Dragons need.
“Being a freshman is tough, no matter what. It’s a hard year, there’s so many things that are changing and that you’re learning. I thought she had the potential to do some really special things on the court and she did. She got hurt and missed time, through no doing of her own. What she missed that is so valuable to a freshman was the reps. I think that has been frustrating for her, but now that she has been back almost as long as she was out, you see her gaining some momentum and getting more and more comfortable every game,” Mallon said. “That’s really exciting because we have seen what she can do, and the goal really is by March that she is a key person on the floor that everybody has to respect and that she is confident in what she has to do to help us win the game.”
Outside of Lavelle, Mallon has been impressed with the minutes that Hetta Saatman, Chloe Hodges, Jasmine Valentine and Grace O’Neil have contributed.
“Hetta is doing a lot of work that stats don’t show. She is leading the way vocally on the floor on defense making sure we are all on the same page. Chloe has gotten in and scored some points, grabbed some rebounds, made some nice defensive plays. And Jasmine has given us great defense and rebounds and putbacks for us,” Mallon said. “They both have been great at providing a spark for us off of the bench. And Grace O’Neill has been putting together an All CAA rookie season. She’s our leading rebounder as a point guard! She’s the toughest player on the court and the heart of our defense.”
The importance of having a well-rounded team cannot be understated. Being a member of the Drexel Basketball program since 2004, Coach Mallon understands how the Dragons are always going to draw the best out of opponents. Drexel has established itself as the class of the CAA, which means that every other team would love nothing more than to knock the Dragons down. To stay at the top takes an all-hands-on-deck approach and unwavering confidence.
This season for the Dragons has been magical in a treat in many ways. The roster is full of generationally talented seniors, blossoming freshman stars, and familiar faces hitting their stride as players to give Drexel important contributions when their number is called. The depth of the team is what stands out most to Coach Mallon, and it is why she chose one specific moment as her favorite memory of the season.
“I really loved our home game against Penn State. The fun part about that game was everybody came off the bench and contributed. Keishana fouled out in overtime, and we still found a way to win that game. That was such a momentum boost for our group. I don’t think people thought we could beat Penn State,” Mallon said.
With just three games left on the schedule, the Dragons are rapidly approaching the all-important conference tournament. One of the realities of being a Mid-Major school is that, unless you win your conference tournament, it is incredibly difficult to make it to the NCAA Tournament.
Speaking on where she hopes to see her squad as they head to Towson on March 8th, Mallon explained, “I want them to reflect on what we started with day one and realize that we have done the work and now, when we start the tournament, you have to just take each moment and do what we have done all season long.”
“We have to just have confidence in everything that we do and who we are as a team. Have the confidence to be the best that we can be,” Mallon said. “You can’t go to the tournament and be like, ‘Let’s see what happens.’ You have to go out there and take it. Hopefully at that point we can get an A+ on the final.”