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  • Writer's pictureAllison Kaspar

With Coach Giacchi, Winning is Coming to St. Joesph's (Brooklyn)

St. Joseph’s University (Brooklyn) could not even field a women’s basketball team when Head Coach Joe Giacchi took over in April 2023.

The Division III Bears had a decent 2022-23 season under long-time coach Tom Flahive, finishing 11-13 overall and 8-10 in the Skyline Conference. But Flahive retired and the team lost multiple players to graduation and transfer.

When Giacchi was hired, SJU was down to four players. With no scholarships to offer and the recruiting season having just ended, Giacchi was forced to rebuild the Bears in unconventional ways.

“There was a huge opportunity for (new) players to come in and make an impact right away, just because of the numbers,” Giacchi said. 

Giacchi felt his only options were to reach out to his own contacts and try to attract athletes already at the college.

“I probably sent out about 2,000 emails the day I got the job, and once I found out the roster was so thin, I just reached out to every single contact I had, and I got lucky with who we got,” Giacchi said. 

One of the email recipients was Domenika Sanchez, a freshman from Guayaquil, Ecuador who ended up committing to SJU without ever visiting. 

“After graduating high school, friends of my parents introduced us to an agency and I sent in highlights, then I got a text from Coach (Giacchi),” Sanchez said. 

After learning more about the school and speaking with Giacchi, Sanchez felt that SJU Brooklyn was the best fit for her. 

“New York was always the plan, because my sister lives here,” Sanchez said. “Now that I am here and with the team, I know I made the right decision to leave home.” 

After signing Sanchez, Giacchi pieced together a team of seven players by the start of the season, critically small for a college basketball team. 

Due to the shortage of players, Giacchi and his two assistant coaches, Brittany McDonough and Lauren Quesada, physically participate in team practices as well. 

While unconventional, Giacchi sees a silver lining in coaching players he also scrimmages with every day.

“We practice every day, we are going at each other every single day, and we play 5-on-5 with the kids, so there is a level of comfortability there,” Giacchi said.

By building the team chemistry and creating a united team, the coaching staff was excited to see the team grow.

“Working with Joe (Giacchi) has been really fun,” Quesada, a former SJU athlete herself, said. “He knows the game well, cares about his players and fellow coaches, and takes extreme pride in the effort he puts into the program.” 

The Bears started the 2023-24 campaign with a win over Pratt and finished with two wins in the final week of the season. Unfortunately, despite being competitive with almost everyone on their schedule, the lack of depth would catch up with the Bears in the second half of most games. The Bears finished the season 5-20 overall and 4-15 in the Skyline Conference.

Despite the losing record, Giacchi is proud of his young team and looks forward to seeing how they can grow in the coming years.

“They’re working hard, they want to win, their spirits are high, they are competitive, and believe that they can go into every game and beat anybody,” Giacchi said. 

“I think they have proven that to themselves,” Giacchi said. “We’ve played against some really tough teams, and we’ve hung in there, we just fall a little short at the end.”

SJU’s leaders on the court were a combination of the returning players and the few players Giacchi was able to find before school started in August. Senior Destiny Hurt led the team in both scoring (19.0 ppg) and rebounding (7.9 rpg) and was named to the All-Skyline second team. Sophomore Kristen Donovan (15.6 ppg; 5.5 rpg) and Junior Grace Kennedy (6.5 ppg; 5.2rpg) were also returning players who were important contributors.

Along with Sanchez (6.8 ppg; 3.0 rpg), the biggest newcomer for Giacchi was Mercedes Perez (14.9 ppg; 6.3 rpg) from San Antonio, Texas. Sanchez and Perez were the only non-native New Yorkers on the roster.

They probably won’t be the last.

Instilling a winning work ethic is part of the equation, but Giacchi hopes to elevate the level of play and build his program with new players he is recruiting for the 2024-25 season. 

“For this next coming year, I’m looking to bring in at least eight or nine players,” Giacchi said. “I recruit from all over and I like to look internationally.” 

International recruiting is nothing new for Giacchi. In fact, this is a recruiting style that he first learned while an assistant coach at Caldwell University. 

“I know a lot of people, specifically in Europe, but now I’m starting to gain a lot more traction in Australia,” Giacchi said. “It’s funny… whenever you take a kid from a country like that, then they all contact you immediately.” 

Giacchi says there is a high demand of international players wanting to come to college in the United States and promoting a school in New York helps sell the program.

“When they hear New York City their eyes light up,” Giacchi said. “I mean, I was promoting NYC when I was at Caldwell and we were in North Jersey. Now that we are actually in the city, it’s much easier.” 

During Giacchi’s six seasons at Caldwell, the Cougar teams were comprised mostly of international players, and Giacchi discovered that the styles of international and U.S. players complement each other. 

“I just think the game is taught a little differently there, and I think it complements the American style very well,” Giacchi said. “I think the way that they play, and the way Americans play, is a very beautiful mix.” 

Currently there are only a handful of international players in the Skyline Conference, and Giacchi hopes his connections will set the Bears apart from the other teams in the conference.

“I have two Australian girls verbally committed for next year, and we are looking to grow the team to about fifteen girls,” Giacchi said. 

It is the direction Giacchi wants to take SJU Brooklyn to be competitive, but the foundation for the future was laid less than a year ago when he arrived on campus to find he only had four basketball players on his team. 

Sanchez, Giacchi’s first international recruit at SJU, wants to continue to be a part of building that new culture and direction for the Bears.

“I just know that everything is going to be worth it, this season, the work we have put in, everything, it’s going to mean something,” Sanchez said.

Continuity in the coaching ranks can also be important to future success and Quesada and McDonough plan to return next season as Giacchi’s assistants.

“Brooklyn has always been the house of something special, and I can’t wait to see the future of this program,” Quesada said.

“I’m very confident in the players that I can recruit, we are going to change up the style a little bit, and I don’t see any reason why we won’t be in the top portion of the league within the next couple of years,” Giacchi said.


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