By: Brent Raines ~Sports Editor~
When Brian Neal became the seventh head coach of Xavier’s women’s basketball team prior to the 2013-14 season, he inherited a program seemingly at rock bottom. Named the interim coach in October 2013 and the head coach a month later, the Musketeers were two years removed from their successes during the first decade of the 21st century. Winning only 21 games over the two seasons when Neal’s predecessor and former Xavier stand-out Amy Waugh led the program, it appeared that Xavier’s days as a powerhouse were gone.
Just three years earlier, in March of 2009, Xavier lost to rival Dayton in the quarterfinals of the A-10 Tournament. Xavier did not lose another conference game over the next two seasons. Kevin McGuff, the winningest coach in program history, led the team to an Elite Eight appearance in the 2009-10 season and a two-seed in the NCAA Tournament the year after that. The program was on the way up.
But McGuff left for Washington after the 2011-12 season, and four of the Musketeer’s starters graduated. Waugh, who assisted McGuff, struggled to replace that talent. That left Neal in a difficult position when he inherited the program; however, he’s gotten it back on the right track. Neal, who racked up 171 wins while coaching Thomas More from 2004-11, improved from eight wins his first season to 18 last year.
This year, the Musketeers return all but one player, including both double-digit scorers from the prior season along with their top six rebounders. Their leading scorer, senior forward Briana Glover, was recently named preseason All- Big East at Big East Media Day. While the preseason award was acknowledged by her coach, he expressed confidence that bigger things will come.
“It is certainly an honor for Bri and our program, but to be quite honest I think both of us will be more impressed when it comes at the conclusion of the regularseason,” Coach Neal said. While the program was picked to finish sixth in the conference at Big East Media Day, it is clear that Coach Neal is returning this program to the height of its glory, one step at a time.