Opportunity knocks for new WBB coach

New women’s basketball head coach Lucia Robinson-Griggs’ impressive resumé includes recruiting director and assistant coach at MIT, accomplished player at Division II Bentley University and ninth grade algebra teacher. Courtesy of vcwbb via Instagram

No one can figure out who said “When opportunity knocks, you’d better answer the door.” It’s unclear if anybody notable actually said those exact words, but most everyone gets the gist. For first-year Vassar women’s basketball head coach Lucia Robinson-Griggs, the knock was more of a clap of thunder, or an airplane taking off. Basically a really loud sound.

When longtime Brewers’ head women’s basketball coach Candice Signor-Brown announced her sudden departure for Swarthmore College, she left behind a team that went 21-7, made the NCAA Tournament and returned its top seven scorers for this season. The knocking was deafening, and someone was going to open the door and welcome the chance to achieve immediate success. To find out more about that someone, I sat down with Coach Robinson-Griggs and talked about her career, her team and algebra.

Robinson-Griggs knows what she’s working with. She put it as
simply as possible, saying, “I’m not in a rebuilding situation.” Robinson-Griggs hails from Chelsea, MA, a town with an area of, depending on which map you use, 1.8 or 2.2 square miles. After a brief stint at Quinnipiac University, she played two years at Division II Bentley University, reaching the Sweet 16 in her senior year. Her first head coaching job was at Lesley University, where she spent two years in charge after a year as an assistant. She then coached at MIT for eight years, wearing a panoply of hats under the title of assistant coach.

While coaching at MIT, Robinson-Griggs taught ninth grade algebra at Revere High School. After a full day of classes, she would hustle over to practices and games, often staying late with her players to work out and watch film. She also ran the MIT team’s social media page, and helped supercharge the program’s recruiting network. Though she stopped teaching, she hasn’t left math behind. Robinson-Griggs said that some of her players are math majors, just like she was at Bentley; players and coach spend bus rides together “geeking out” over their favorite classes.

After the birth of her second son, Robinson-Griggs took an extra year of maternity leave to mull over her options. Getting home late after pulling double duty as a coach and teacher was taking time away from her family. Tired of sacrificing time with her kids in the name of being a human Swiss army knife, Robinson-Griggs decided to “go all-in on coaching.” Because Coach Signor-Brown left so late in the offseason, Robinson-Griggs wasn’t able to accept the offer until Labor Day weekend. The short notice wasn’t a problem, though; she said matter-of-factly, “I was essentially ready to go the next day.” The claim of being all-in is more than just talk for Robinson-Griggs; her entire family, even the dog, moved from Massachusetts to be closer to Vassar.

What, then, has been her experience taking over an established team, loaded with talent and shocked to lose their longtime head coach? Robinson-Griggs put it simply: “It’s been pretty incredible.” She pointed out that the Brewers, whom she described as “very receptive to change,” know what winning demands and have eyes only for building on last season’s success. More specifically, they want to win the Liberty League and games in the NCAAs, Robinson-Griggs said. Their goals get even more meticulous, though. The Brewers aim to get as many as three “kills,” or three consecutive stops on defense, in a quarter against certain opponents.

The Brewers are led by a trio of senior All-Liberty League selections: Sophie Nick, Jackie Cenan and Isa Peczuh. Nick, named to a host of all-regional All American teams, led the nation in free throw percentage and notched her 1,000th career point as a junior. Cenan, a versatile and hard-nosed scorer, is available after a remarkably speedy recovery from a torn ACL that derailed her junior season. Peczuh, for her part, led the Liberty League in three-pointers made in 2018-19, with 81.

Their squad runs deeper than the three seniors, though. Junior Ryan DeOrio brings experience, grit and scoring ability at the point guard position. She averaged nearly 10 points per game, shooting a clean 38 percent on three-pointers. Sophomores Dani Douglas and Sarah Gillooly were major contributors off the bench in 2018-19; the two were sixth and seventh in minutes per game, respectively, and Douglas was second on the team in three-pointers made, with 31. The Brewers may also have a fouryear stud in first-year Emily Tincher, who trails only Nick, Cenan, Peczuh and DeOrio in scoring, leads the Brewers in blocks and shoots a blistering 47 percent from three-point land.

The Brewers’ greatest asset, however, is their work ethic. Walking into the AFC and finding it devoid of a single Brewer in the lab is an extreme rarity. Robinson-Griggs appreciates the fact that her players are gym rats, saying, “The dedication is always there. I don’t have to worry about them showing up to strength and conditioning, I just know. They’re not gonna cut corners.” When asked what made Vassar different from all the teams she’s coached, Robinson-Griggs said, “Between the want to win and the depth we have, it’s unique.”

Robinson-Griggs is still figuring out what rotation works best for her Brewers, who are 3-2 after suffering close losses to New Paltz, who made the NCAA Sweet 16 last season and Williams, a tournament regular. Robinson-Griggs said that her priority early in the season is to smooth out the kinks of late-game execution, and ensure that all her players are confident in what they bring to the table. She offered, “A team is only as strong as its weakest link.”

What’s next for Robinson-Griggs and the Brewers? Vassar opens Liberty League play on Friday at home against RIT, a fellow NCAA tournament team last season. Their next game is against Ithaca, last season’s Liberty League champions and the only team to sweep Vassar in 2018-19. The Bombers have been tabbed to win the Liberty League again this year. Opening conference play against the top two teams from last season would be daunting for many programs. But not the Brewers.

Where last season’s team rallied around the omnipresent WoHa (short for Work Hard) slogan, Robinson-Griggs said the team has an equally simple motto this season: “If you know, you know.” She said, “It’s a lot about taking care of us, and what we do. Each day it doesn’t matter what defense another team throws at us, what junk is thrown at us. If we know we’re doing the little things every day, we’ll be fine.”

The lion’s share of the 2019-20 season has yet to be played. For Robinson-Griggs, this year represents an enormous opportunity to start her Vassar career with a historically successful season. She has a lineup most coaches would kill for, and an assistant coach in Olivia Gaines, whose experience as a player (she helped lead Division I South Carolina to the Final Four in 2015) is simply unparalleled at the Division III level. All that’s left to do is win.

As Robinson-Griggs navigates being the shot-caller in end-of-game situations, configuring effective lineups and scouting Vassar’s competition, she understands that expectations are high. Is she worried, or hedging her bets? The short answer is no. Robinson-Griggs has, in the words of the late Nipsey Hussle, All Money In. Her “whole squad” moved camp to be closer to her. That attitude is best captured by her immediate response to receiving the job at Vassar on remarkably short notice: “All right, I’m ready to go.”

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