The high school basketball season is now underway, but one of the best girls teams in the state will not be competing this year. Instead, those players will be on the sidelines, whistles around their necks and clipboards in their hands.
A look at the five Catholic high schools in New Castle County that have girls basketball – Archmere, Padua, Ursuline, St. Elizabeth and St. Mark’s – reveals a who’s who of recent hoops talent that is now passing along their experience and knowledge as coaches. Those staffs include all-staters, 1,000-point scorers, state champions and big-time college talent who now want to guide the next generation.
These young women, all in their early to mid-20s, are poised to become the faces of high school coaching in Delaware for years to come.
At two of the schools, Padua and St. Mark’s, former players have become head coaches. Padua hired Emily Grugan, 26 and an assistant for the past three seasons, to help rebuild its program, while St. Mark’s turned to former Ursuline and University of Delaware standout Kayla Miller, 24. Miller spent last season as an assistant at Archmere and has been an AAU coach. They are excited to begin this new era of coaching.
“I think it’s great for the sport, especially with the former female athletes coaching younger women because they have that relatable factor and also because it just gets the women out there in our sport more,” said Miller, who played three seasons at Ursuline when the Raiders were nationally ranked. Miller, who graduated in 2008, was a three-time all-state selection and a crowd favorite at the University of Delaware, where she was part of the 2012-13 team that went 32-4 and reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.
“We’ve all had that experience at the collegiate level, so we have a lot of experience under our belts and a lot of things that we’ve gone through, and we can hopefully help out the younger athletes,” she added. “Being able to have that opportunity to help out these young ladies, not even just help them grow in the game of basketball but grow in life and help them with those life experiences as well, is very important to me.”
Grugan spent two years playing at Ursuline before moving to Padua. A member of the Class of 2006, she was an all-Catholic Conference performer in basketball and a state champion in tennis. She attended Mount St. Mary’s University on a tennis scholarship and played one season of basketball as a walk-on.
At Padua, she has added basketball to her duties as the tennis coach. She is also a substitute teacher at the school, and in the spring she will be taking the bar exam. In addition, she is the tennis professional at Bellevue Tennis Club.
“A lot of people ask me, ‘How can you do that?’ And I just say because I want to show the girls that it can be done,” she said.
She said as the Pandas’ point guard, she always felt like the leader on the court, and she wanted to remain around the game. She loves that so many of her friends are now in coaching and want to pass on their knowledge.
“We’re all such good role models for the girls and that’s what’s important,” she said. “We had our own success and now we want them to have theirs. And that was fun. That was one of the most fun parts of high school. I want that for them.”
Grugan remembers the excitement that came with Catholic Conference games and playing against some of the best talent Delaware has produced. “It’s great because you remember playing against Khadijah (Rushdan), Kayla. It was all in that same time period. All our games were sellout games. You couldn’t buy a ticket.”
Familiar names, new roles
The assistant coaching ranks are filled with names familiar to anyone who remotely followed girls high school basketball in the last 10 years. At Archmere, former St. Mark’s all-stater Annie Rivituso joined the staff this season. Grugan has brought her Pandas classmate and teammate Shannon Elliot and 2007 Padua graduate Kieran Young to the staff. Jaquetta May, a Delcastle High School graduate and Miller’s teammate at Delaware, is an assistant at Ursuline, as is former Raiders player Meghan Carter. St. Elizabeth has two alumnae as new assistant coaches this season – Rushdan and Alexis Swarter, classes of 2007 and 2010, respectively.
Swarter and Rushdan were members of the 2007 state champion Vikings, and Rushdan, 25, had a highly successful career at Rutgers University before playing professionally for a year in Israel. She said she came back to St. Elizabeth because she wanted to give to today’s players what her coaches gave her.
“We all have playing experience, and I think it helps when you can gain that knowledge, especially from younger coaches. We have the ability to relate, in a sense, to the players. It gives a different look. We’re excited about it. We want to give back all the information and all the knowledge that we gained over the years,” she said.
Rushdan is the second-leading scorer in state history and a five-time first-team all-state pick. Her Vikings teams were nationally ranked. At Rutgers, she played against Padua’s Elliot, who attended Villanova when both schools were members of the Big East.
May, 23, in her second season as an assistant at Ursuline, made first-team all-state as a senior in 2008-09, when she led Delcastle to the state championship. She did not plan on going into coaching so soon after graduating from college but enjoys learning from coach John Noonan and teaching the players.
“I believe it’s great having someone around that has been where you want to be,” she said. “I feel like the younger players really take what we say seriously because they’ve come to our games and seen us play or seen us on a poster and really idolize that.”
She enjoys the chances to get out and play with the high schoolers. “Sometimes, we ‘retired’ players have to let them know we still have it,” May joked.
Outside the Catholic Conference, Archmere also has dipped into the young alumni pool. The Auks have tapped Rivituso, 23, to be one of their assistants. The 2010 St. Mark’s graduate was a three-time all-Catholic selection and made first-team all-state as a senior. She went on to Cabrini College, starting 21 games as a freshman and being named the Most Valuable Player of the Colonial States Athletic Conference championship game in 2013. Rivituso said her father coached her all her life and has been her biggest basketball influence. She wants to give to other players what her father and other coaches have given her.
“The game of basketball has given me so many opportunities and given me so much to be proud and thankful for,” she said. “I want young girls to feel the same.”
Having so many recent former players now coaching tells Rivituso that there are some great programs in Delaware “that really help young girls find a love of the game and help take them to greater places.”
The camaraderie among the coaches has helped, as they have grown together. Miller said it is nice to have others in the same position who can offer advice when something is not working.
“Being able to be friendly with these people is just really great because they’re able to help you out,” she said.
Miller wants to return St. Mark’s to the state’s upper echelon, where it spent so many years. Grugan would like to bring stability to the Padua program, which has had several coaches over the last few years, and help raise its profile to that of its rivals.
“I plan to be here as long as possible,” she said. “Everyone says that they want to build a program, but you can’t build a program overnight. That takes time. And I don’t want to go anywhere else.”
They might be friends, but make no mistake, all of them want to win. Rushdan said the young coaches still have the memories of their battles together in the back of their minds.
“We all played against each other, and it was very competitive at that time, and I think we can bring that intensity. We can definitely display to the young girls that we’re coaching what the intensity is like, what basketball is like, how we can have fun, but it’s still good to compete.”