Coach Stone has SLU women’s basketball on the rise

Coach Lisa Stone has the St. Louis University women's basketball program thriving.

The 2015-16 Billikens enjoyed the most successful season in program history: a school-record 26 victories; a share of its first conference title; and reaching the third round of the WNIT.

SLU promises to be equally good or even better this year, with the team off to a 5-0 start.

After two road victories on the opening weekend, the Billikens used a 24-2 first-quarter run to coast to a 90-49 victory over Southern Illinois University Edwardsville Nov. 17 in the home opener at Chaifetz Arena. Back on the road, Jackie Kemph had game highs of 21 points and six assists and Olivia Jakubicek registered her first career double-double as SLU defeated Bradley 68-58 on Nov. 20.The team won again Nov. 23, defeating Morgan State 71-43 on 60 percent shooting from the floor.

A coach's role

A coach is judged by wins and losses, but there's a lot more to the role, as Stone will attest.

Growing up in Oregon, Wis., Stone was the point guard in basketball, ran track and played tennis. As a freshman, she was captain of the University of Iowa basketball team. After earning a bachelor's degree in physical education and a master's degree in athletic administration, Stone was named head coach at Division III Cornell College at age 22 in 1985. She also coached the softball team and taught anatomy, physiology and biomechanics.

Stone excelled at Cornell, then at Wisconsin-Eau Claire, Drake and Wisconsin. A wife, mother and coach, she found herself applying traits of all three roles daily with her players.

"The passion continues to boil and burn inside me because my job is to foster female leadership, be a loving, caring human being to my players as I am with my own children and get these young women to believe in themselves, their coaches and their teammates," said the 31-year veteran of coaching.

Stone wants to transfer her enthusiasm and energy to her players."It's really why I walk onto the court every day," she said. "The result — the wins, the losses, the score at the end of the game — is what we are evaluated on, but there's so much more that goes into it. I love being around the players, the bus rides, the travel, the meals, having the players over to the house, just being around and getting to know them for being more than just being a basketball player. That's the joy I find, and then to help them through tough times. Everybody gets homesick. People need a hug every now and then, and sometimes they need to be fired up."

According to Stone, this group of players is the closest, most talented team she's coached. They put the team first and are hungry for success.

"They understand roles and find ways to contribute to the team," she said. "Every single player is valuable. There is a genuine care and love for each other. They're able to accomplish great things, and it's not just on the basketball court."

Stone follows through on the Jesuit goal of developing students who lead, learn and serve. A Lutheran, she stops in at St. Francis Xavier Church on campus frequently to say a prayer. Faith is part of the program. Service to the community is especially important. Why? Because "the good Lord has blessed us with abilities to make the most of every day and be the best we can every day," she said.

A player's perspective

Erin Nelson, a graduate of St. Joseph's Academy, is a senior on the Billikens. Injury limited her to two games last season, but she led or tied for the team lead in scoring a team-high 14 times as a freshman and made a significant impact her sophomore year. She's been in a reserve role so far this season, playing three of the first four games and tallying 11 points and four rebounds.

Nelson called the coaches "great ... super-positive."

"That was the reason I decided to come to SLU," she said, adding that the players are united to achieve bigger goals and work hard in practice. "All of us together. It's not like a few of us are slacking off."

A human resources management and business administration major, Nelson was named to the A-10 Commissioner's Honor Roll for academics. She finds a balance as a student-athlete, though it is challenging at times. Teammates also are successful in the classroom because they value their education, work hard at it and hold each other accountable.

St. Joseph's Academy helped her with time management and to have other interests outside basketball. Her experience there and at Holy Infant School in Ballwin helps her to "live for the next day," knowing that a tough day is temporary.

She played several sports in grade school before focusing on basketball, setting a goal to play on a Division 1 team. Nelson played year-round, but avoided burnout with other interests, including running track at St. Joseph's. At SLU she's a writing consultant and tutor. 

>> SLU women's basketball

• Fifth-year head coach Lisa Stone, the 2015-16 A-10 Coach of the Year, owns a 570-298 record in her 31st year as a collegiate head coach. Stone is 67-61 at St. Louis.

• Last season, Stone was selected High Major Coach of the Year by College Sports Madness.

• Before arriving at SLU, Stone was 128-119 in eight seasons at Wisconsin, 64-27 in three years at Drake, 277-59 in 12 campaigns at Wisconsin-Eau Claire and 34-32 in three seasons at Cornell (Iowa).

• The team next plays at home at Chaifetz Arena at 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 3, against Eastern Kentucky and 7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 6, vs. Indiana State. After an away game, the team plays at home at 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 18, against Washington State and at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 21, vs. the University of Missouri-Columbia. The first home game of the new year is at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 4, against George Mason.

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>> Comparison

Playing at St. Louis University with elite athletes from around the country has convinced Erin Nelson that girls basketball in St. Louis shouldn't rest on its laurels.

"I have a teammate from Indiana, teammates from Chicago. My (high school) team went all the way to state two of my four years and some of these girls didn't even make it to state. It wasn't that their team wasn't good enough, but the competition level is that much higher in other states. I would like to see St. Louis basketball step up, become more competitive," the St. Joseph's Academy graduate said. 

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