After 17 years at the helm in Hartford, Jennifer Rizzotti will take the lead as the new head coach of the GW women’s basketball program, athletic director Patrick Nero announced at a press conference Friday.
Rizzotti brings a winning history to the already successful Colonials program. As the head coach of the Hawks, she won more than 300 games and transformed the team from relative obscurity in the American East into a constant threat as conference champion.
Her resume of victories, which has continued to the international level as the U.S. under-19 head coach, was important to Nero during his search for a new head coach, he said. After Jonathan Tsipis announced he was leaving the position in March, Nero said he did not want the Colonials to skip a beat. He said hiring Rizzotti makes him comfortable that the team will be able to continue its dominant streak in the Atlantic 10.
“Our women’s basketball program has such a great championship history,” Nero said. “They are by far the most decorated program in our department, so it was really important that we go out and hire a champion. [Rizzotti] is a champion.”
Rizzotti’s experience extends beyond coaching and goes back to her time as a player for UConn. She was the starting point guard for the Huskies when head coach Geno Auriemma won his first national championship in 1995. She appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated that year and won national player of the year before being drafted into the WNBA for a seven-year professional career.
Rizzotti said that her time at UConn was valuable because it shaped her into a good leader at a young age.
“As a point guard, there’s some responsibilities that are constantly put on our shoulders that force you to be a leader and I’ve learned from the best,” Rizzotti said. “I’ll never be shy about saying that [Auriemma] is the best, and he put a leadership role on me at a very, very young age at the University of Connecticut. I’ve been preparing for this since 1992.”
Auriemma, who is widely regarded as one of the top NCAA coaches of all time, echoed the unique leadership ability that Rizzotti has in a statement he made to GW Athletics.
“Jen was born to lead people, to set an example for others and to raise young people from who they are to who they want to be,” Auriemma said. “She did that as a player here at UConn, she has done it as a coach at the University of Hartford, she has done it at every level of USA Basketball and she will do it at George Washington University. Jen Rizzotti doesn’t know how to do anything else but lead.”
The first time Rizzotti met with the GW team she let them know that they were going to be a hard-nosed and high-energy team where every player on the court is giving their utmost effort. She said she knows that with the loss of senior forward Jonquel Jones and graduate student guard Lauren Chase, opposing schools might consider the Colonials to be underdogs again. Rizzotti wants that to motivate the entire roster to create an environment where no one wants to play them once the postseason comes around.
“You want the other team’s coaches like, ‘Ugh, I don’t want to see them on my side of the bracket,’ because we play with a toughness, intelligence and with a passion that allows us to win on any given night,” Rizzotti said. “That’s what I want our team to be defined by.”
Returning starter junior forward Hannah Schaible, who can be seen during any given matchup diving for a loose ball or fighting for a rebound with a much taller player, has built her game on giving it her all on every play. She said she is excited that her new coach shares the same attitude and expects it to translate into wins.
“We did a little bit of our own investigating of her and the first thing I noticed was that she wore kneepads, so I love the effort that she has, and obviously I think it will transfer to her coaching,” Schaible said. “It is super exciting to have somebody with that kind of different flair at the head of this program.”
When it comes time to play, Rizzotti said she will let the offense flow. She said she has noticed that the Colonials like to play up-tempo and in transition, so she plans to let them play like that. But on defense, she is seizing control. Rizzotti wants to rotate through a lot of players so they can always stay active on their own side of the court. She is planning on the defense being the strongest element of their game that they can build upon.
“We will be known as tough defenders,” Rizzotti said. “We will be known as guys that give constantly high effort at all times. Everything else, we’ll figure out.”
Rizzotti said her choice to come to GW was about more than just basketball. She said she is excited to join a university that athletes want to come to because it is good for their future. She likes that as the Colonials head coach, she can offer a platform to recruits where they can both pursue their basketball passion at the same time as becoming better professionals and better women.
“I want to be able to get on the phone, talk to coaches and talk to kids about how many great things you have to offer outside of basketball,” Rizzotti said. “I want basketball to be the cherry on the top. This is a university where the kids want to go, and the parents want their kids to go.”
Rizzotti and the rest of the women’s basketball team now have more than six months to gear up and prepare to defend their title as back-to-back A-10 champions.