Finding a Way to Win
When Dana Harrold became head coach for Grinnell women’s basketball in 2013, she told her players she wanted to go from being a basketball team to a basketball program. The difference, she said, is a year-round commitment.
The payoff became apparent this season as the Pioneers earned a trip to the Midwest Conference Tournament for the first time since 2004.
Harrold knows that citing her team’s “never-quit mentality” sounds like a sports cliché. But it does take a certain something to go from only three wins in her first season to 10 wins in 2014–15, to a 15-9 record and legitimate respect this year.
“They were working just as hard on the last day of practice as they were on the first,” Harrold says.
Four-year starters Anne Boldt ’16 and Alissa Hirsh ’16 were this year’s captains and floor leaders. “They were the building blocks,” Harrold says. “Anne was our vocal, positive leader, and Alissa our gritty, hard-nosed competitor.”
Point guard Hirsh earned first team all-Midwest Conference honors for the second year in a row. She had a field goal percentage of .491 and led the team in minutes played, points, scoring average, assists, and steals. Hirsch ends her career third in all-time Pioneer scoring, first in assists, and fifth in steals.
“She’ll go down as one of the best players in program history,” Harrold says. “She has been a lot of fun to coach. The tough part of my job is finding another Alissa Hirsh.”
Harrold bids farewell to three seniors – Boldt, Hirsh, and guard Jordan Matosky ’16. Always on the lookout for high-academic basketball prospects, the coach can now add Grinnell’s winning trajectory to her recruiting pitch.
“My biggest goal for kids who play in our program,” Harrold adds, “is that they graduate and have a plan after four years.”
An economics major, Hirsh played most of this season secure in the knowledge that she had a job after graduation — she’ll be doing investment research for an asset management firm in San Francisco. She says the team’s success this year was partly due to the chemistry it developed during the tough times.
“When we were going through that 3-20 season, I sometimes didn’t even realize that we were losing so many games because there were so many positive moments,” Hirsh says. “We just kept chugging no matter what and let our love for each other and the game really fuel us. So it wasn’t as hard for us as I think it would have been for other teams to climb out of that.”
Indeed, they started producing wins through court awareness, play-making, energy, and team chemistry — things that don’t necessarily show up on stat sheets. Hence the team motto, “Find a Way.”
“We had talked so much about being process-oriented, not worrying too much with the product or specific goals,” Hirsh says. “After my third year when we were around .500, we could feel ourselves getting over the hump — and we were like, process isn’t enough. We need to start turning in product, getting wins. Every game we need to find a way to do that, no excuses. I think that got us through a lot of close games this season.”
For Hirsh, starting a new career in an international city doesn’t completely take the sting out of hanging up her uniform in Darby Gymnasium for the last time.
“It’s definitely a loss in the sense that it was a source of so many positive and emotional and intense things for four years,” Hirsh says. “I am sad about this part of it being over because it was so special, but I think I’m still going to grab a ball after work and go to the park. I’m going to try to find adult leagues. I’m going to teach my kids the game. I think this is just the start of a new relationship with basketball.”