A lot can happen in a decade. Ten years ago a “Lyft” was the action you did when you picked up an object and a “Tik Tok” was the sound that a clock made. Much like the world of pop culture and technology, the landscape of Northeast Conference women’s basketball drastically changed over the last 10 years too.
We saw new rules established in women’s college basketball that moved the three-point line back to 20 feet, nine inches, had instant replay review technology became available and implemented, saw a 10-second backcourt rule added, and had games changed from two halves to four quarters.
In the NEC specifically, we saw new career leaders crowned in both points and rebounds, a team set a league record with a 30-win season and a perfect 18-0 conference record to earn a #13 seed in the NCAA Tournament, a team go from 10th place one year to conference champ the next, and a team go on the road to win three straight tournament games to win the NEC title. Speaking about championships, five different schools claimed conference crowns in the 2010s, led by Robert Morris with four.
Perhaps the biggest story of the decade was the scoring spike. With the shooting percentages continuing to increase, and the three-point line as much of a factor in today’s game more than ever, the 2010s became the NEC’s highest scoring decade. Consider that entering 2010, only three student athletes had reached 2,000 career points in the then 23-year history of the league. In the last 10 years alone, we witnessed five new players reach the 2,000-point mark. Of the league’s top 10 career scorers from 1987-2009, only four of them will go into the next decade still in the top 10.
So, coming off the incredible momentum that NEC women’s basketball built over the past decade, a panel was assembled to select the 10 greatest NEC women’s basketball student-athletes of the past 10 years:
*Randy Brochu, Sacred Heart play-by-play announcer
*Craig D’Amico, NEC TV play-by-play announcer & NEC Overtime! Blog WBB contributor
*Paul Dottino, NEC TV play-by-play announcer
*Patrick Farabaugh, Saint Francis U radio announcer
*Adam Gusky, Robert Morris radio play-by-play announcer
*Tristan Hobbes, Bryant Assistant Athletic Director for Communications
*Jessica Mannetti, Sacred Heart head women’s basketball coach
*Susan Robinson Fruchtl, Saint Francis U Director of Athletics & former head women’s basketball coach
*Ralph Ventre, NEC Asst. Commissioner for Communications & Digital Media Strategy
*Ethan Woy, Robert Morris Assistant Media Relations Director
The panel was given a list of the 25 greatest players from the 2010s and was tasked with narrowing the field down to the 10-member #NECWBB All-Decade team. The final team consists of six former Players of the Year, a total of 25 first-team All-Conference selections, and eight combined championship rings.
Here is the 2010s #NECWBB All-Decade Team, highlighted first by the player who received the most votes in the balloting, and was selected with the honor of the NEC Player of the Decade!
NEC PLAYER OF THE DECADE
The catch phrase “you can’t stop her, you can only hope to contain her” wasn’t invented for Artemis Spanou, but it should have been. Spanou was virtually an automatic double-double each night. In fact, she finished her career with 85 of them, tied for fifth most in Division I history. At one point, Spanou racked-up 33 straight double-doubles, which is the second longest streak in the NCAA annals. The Rhodes, Greece native is the Robert Morris all-time leading scorer and rebounder, finishing her career as one of just seven in D1 history to reach 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, 300 assists, and 100 blocks. In 2013, Spanou’s individual effort was so dominant, she became recognized as the first (and only) player ever to be selected NEC Player of the Year without her team reaching the postseason. That year Spanou led all of Division I in rebounding, averaging 15.5 boards per game. For her senior season, Spanou went out as a champion, finally capturing that elusive championship ring. After becoming the third player to win consecutive Player of the Year honors, Artie took home NEC Tournament MVP following a 30-point, 20 rebound, six assist outing in the 2014 Championship Game against Saint Francis U. “Artemis Spanou came to our program with a great deal of talent, and a heart full of wanting to be great,” said Colonials coach Charlie Buscaglia. “We worked with her passionately to help her understand what it would take, and was willing to spend extra hours on the court and in the film room to earn everything she received. Her growth over 4 years brought great joy to our program that will never be forgotten.” While the numbers are certainly eye-popping, it was Spanou’s worth ethic, leadership, passion, and her setting the culture for the program for the years that followed, that made her the choice for the 2010s NEC Player of the Decade.
Hannah Kimmel, Sacred Heart (2011-17)
At the first glace of those years listed above next to her name, it’s no surprise Hannah Kimmel is on the All-Decade team, because she spent almost the entire decade in the NEC. While it’s true, no player spent a longer tenure on their team this decade than Kimmel did at Sacred Heart, you could also say that no player had to overcame more than her as well. Kimmel tore her ACL prior to her freshman year in 2011 and then suffered another torn ACL in the same leg prior to her sophomore campaign in 2012. Kimmel recovered and bounced back in a big way, nabbing three straight first team All-NEC honors in 2015, 2016, and 2017. It was her junior year that proved to be her breakout year, averaging 16.5 points and 7.6 rebounds to win the 2016 NEC Player of the Year award.
Jessica Kovatch, Saint Francis U (2015-19)
In a decade where scoring was the story, the 2010s All-Decade team wouldn’t be complete without the Saint Francis U sharpshooter who became the league’s all-time leading scorer with 2,874 career points. Midway through her career I started calling her the “one and only” on NEC TV broadcasts because nobody was putting up shots and scoring in ridiculous bunches quite like her. Her 472 career three-point field goals are good for second in the history of Division I women’s college hoops. Unfortunately, they don’t keep track of how many of those threes were from four or five feet beyond the three-point line and/or fading away with a defender’s long reach in her face, but you could bet the answer would probably be many. Three times, Kovatch led the league in scoring, highlighted by a league-record 831 points as a junior in 2018, finishing second in the nation at 24.4 points per game. Kovatch became the fourth player to win consecutive NEC Player of the Year awards in 2018 and 2019. Following her team’s victory in the 2018 NEC Championship Game, Kovatch was selected as the Tournament MVP after setting a new tournament record with 103 points. “(I want to be remembered) as a great teammate and great scorer,” said Kovatch. “I think the threes have changed the game of basketball. Coach Joe took full advantage of that, and it’s hard to stop. He had the perfect player and I was in the perfect system to show how powerful the three-pointer can be.”
Erika Livermore, FDU (2011-16)
Three times Erika Livermore placed in the top five of the NEC in both scoring and rebounding, earning first-team All-Conference honors in all three of those seasons. Livermore was already a force in the paint after her first two years, driving to the basket and collecting rebounds at a high level. But it was her knee injury that cost her the 2014 season that led to Livermore, upon her return, driving a bit less and adding the mid-range jumper to her game, making her even more dangerous. Livermore was honored as the 2015 NEC Defensive Player of the Year and finished as FDU’s third leading scorer and second leading rebounder in program history.
Jasmine Nwajei, Wagner (2013-16)
Nwajei was the first player in the 2010s to epitomize ‘explosive scorer’ when she burst onto the scene in 2013-14, averaging 21.9 points per game. After finishing as the nation’s runner up in scoring average in 2015, Nawajei led the nation with 28.7 points per game in 2016. Her junior year was highlighted by a league single-game record 53-point performance against Sacred Heart. Nawajei was on pace to be the first to break Jess Zinobile’s then-league scoring record, before transferring to Syracuse prior to her senior season. In her three years playing in Staten Island, Nwajei tallied a Wagner program record 2,039 points, sixth most in NEC history.
Ashley Palmer, LIU (2010-12)
As former LIU coach Gail Striegler once said about Palmer, “Anybody in the conference would want a player like Ashley. She can score inside, she can score outside, and she’s one of the best finishers in the conference.” The Sharks all-time leading scorer with 2,044 career points, played three of her four seasons in the 2010’s, winning first team All-Conference honors all three of those years. Palmer won the league’s scoring title as a senior in 2012 with 19.2 points per game and stands as one of just four players in league history with over 2,000 career points and 1,000 career rebounds.
Breanna Rucker, Bryant (2012-16)
Limitations due to a high school knee injury affected the Breanna Rucker we saw on the court during her first two seasons in a Bryant Bulldog uniform. As a junior, Rucker finally came into her own and it resulted in a Player of the Year season. In 2015, Rucker led the Bulldogs to a NEC regular season title and a Division I best, 22-win season, by averaging 16.3 points and 11.3 rebounds. Her rebounding totals were good enough to pace the league in both 2015 and 2016. The Cincinnati, Ohio native was a forward with guard skills, tremendously athletic, fearless on the court, and as scrappy and as tough as they come.
Anna Niki Stamolamprou, Robert Morris (2013-17)
The legend goes that when he went overseas to Greece to recruit Anna Niki, Robert Morris coach Charlie Buscaglia lost his 2008 NEC Championship ring in a hotel restroom. It was then that Anna Niki famously promised Coach B that she would win him another ring, and the former Colonial guard made good on that promise three times over. Stamolamprou was a player who did whatever the team needed her to do to win. If they needed points, she could score. If they needed a defensive stop, she could get a steal or take a charge. If they needed someone to handle the point, she could seamlessly take over the point and run the offense. It was that kind of leadership and selflessness that led her to an incredible run in Moon Township and a place on the All-Decade Team. Stamolamprou was a two-time first team All-Conference selection, the 2017 NEC Player of the Year, a two-time NEC Tournament MVP, and one of just 34 players all-time to win three or more NEC championships.
Callan Taylor, Sacred Heart (2010-12)
Callan Taylor finished the previous decade as a key player on Sacred Heart’s 2009 championship team as a freshman, starting 28 games and being named to the league’s All-Rookie squad. Taylor averaged a double-double in the 2009 NEC Tournament, was named to the NEC All-Tournament team, and then went on to score 24 points against Ohio State in the NCAA’s. Taylor then carried that momentum into the new decade, leading the league in rebounds in 2010, placing on the All-Conference first team in 2011 and 2012, and capping off her career with the 2012 Player of the Year award and a second tournament title. The Pioneers all-time leading rebounder, and second all-time leading scorer, finished 2012 averaging 16.3 points, and 9.6 rebounds. Former Pioneer head coach Ed Swanson once said in the middle of Taylor’s senior season that she would finish as one of the most decorated players in Pioneer history, and indeed she did.
Alli Williams, Saint Francis U (2010-14)
Alli Williams was a contributor, mainly off the bench, as a freshman for the Red Flash’s 2011 NEC Championship team. As a sophomore, the Altoona, PA native doubled her scoring average to earn a place on the All-Conference second team. Then, in new coach Joe Haigh’s offense, Alli Williams’ offensive numbers skyrocketed in 2013 and 2014. As a senior in 2014, Williams demonstrated her versatility on both ends of the floor, leading the league in scoring at 25.3 points per game, while also landing on the NEC’s All-Defensive team. During the Red Flash’s 132-124 3OT win against Sacred Heart in the 2014 NEC Tournament quarter-final, Williams tied a NEC Tournament record, putting up 47 points. Lost in history was that remarkably it was her second consecutive 47-point game, as she also reached that mark in the regular season finale against Wagner. Williams currently stands third on the league’s all-time scoring and rebounding lists and was the 11th in NCAA history to record 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, and 300 steals in their career.