Earned, not given: Georgetown women’s basketball in year one of the Butts-Haney era

May 8, 2024

Photo by Daniel Rankin

The writing was on the wall: it was time for a fresh start.

With four straight losing seasons in the rearview mirror, Georgetown turned to first-time head coach Tasha Butts, seeking a new coach who could rewrite the script for the struggling Hoyas. In her short time on the Hilltop, she exceeded all external expectations.

Butts brought in the sort of gritty, determined mentality characteristic of her own collegiate coach, the legendary Pat Summit. She pulled in two experienced transfers, a new freshman face, and—in what would turn out to be the most important decision of the offseason—an associate head coach in Darnell Haney, the former head coach at Jacksonville University.

As she built the foundations of this new-look program, she also battled breast cancer. And when she passed away in October of 2023, Haney stepped up to the plate in her stead. Charged with navigating a team through a devastating loss and a challenging slate of games, he—quite frankly—rose to the occasion perfectly.

The BIG EAST coaches’ poll picked this Hoyas squad to finish 10th in the BIG EAST out of 11 teams. This was a team facing skepticism; nobody had any idea what to predict. What would this team look like? How would they play? Could Haney step into this role with such  short notice and still succeed?

Then the team took the court, and all those questions were answered.

What would this team look like? A scrappy, vicious defensive juggernaut, with the sort of slow, methodical offense that grinds out possession with focus and fortitude. How would they play? With heart, and with the toughness Butts was known to teach. Could Haney step into this role with such a short turnaround and still succeed? Yes. He absolutely could.

The Hoyas rolled to a 9-1 start; their lone stumble came to Brown at the very start of the season. Conference play wasn’t quite as smooth, but it was still clear that this team clicked on a fundamental level. They visibly had a connection that paved the way for success.

They took down DePaul and Butler. They were also blown out by UConn (and let’s be honest – there’s no shame in that). Teams that were rough battles last year became assured victories, and teams that demolished the Hoyas last year were suddenly winnable games. 

Then came the BIG EAST Tournament. Georgetown entered as a six-seed, their highest ranking in several seasons. They throttled the Xavier Musketeers by 20 points in the first round before turning to their matchup against St. John’s, the three-seed team featuring former Hoya Jillian Archer as one of the cornerstones. 

Georgetown was the underdog, at least in terms of the rankings. They’d played the Red Storm twice before in the season, splitting the pair of games. In their third matchup, the Blue and Gray emerged victorious. With a 53-44 victory, the Hoyas marched on.

In the semifinals, Georgetown played Creighton, a team that bounced in and out of the national rankings over the course of the season. When they played during the regular season, it was a close loss for the Hoyas, one that kicked off a three-loss skid to end January.

But January is not March. In March, Georgetown took down the Bluejays, sending themselves to their first-ever BIG EAST Championship game. Their season did not end there, but this was undeniably the moment of this team’s campaign. This was the moment when the whole world realized what exactly this team was capable of, and what sort of future success they might have up their sleeve.

Success didn’t appear right away, of course, because their championship match up was the UConn buzzsaw. Georgetown lost handily, concluding their tournament run with a game that could only be described as ugly and painful for the Hoya faithful. Facing a future Final Four team, short-handed and just not as talented, Georgetown lost to the Huskies 78-42.

Fortunately, their season didn’t end there. Their magical conference tournament run, combined with their decent overall record was enough to earn the Hoyas a WBIT bid—not quite March Madness, but closer than Georgetown’s gotten in years. 

For the first round, they flew to Seattle and played the University of Washington. Without junior forward Brianna Scott, the Hoyas gutted out a 64-56 win against this other team of Huskies, turning the page on those from Connecticut. After that, Georgetown went on to Oklahoma, where they would lose to eventual WBIT runner-up Tulsa.

In the moment, the ending felt anticlimactic. When looking at the entire year, though, it’s clear that the WBIT loss wasn’t really an ending at all—but a beginning of something with potential to be great. 

Georgetown is losing a handful of really important players; Mya Bembry, Graceann Bennett, and Alex Cowan were all massive parts of this team pulling off what it did this year. Scott, who suffered a gruesome knee injury in the waning minutes of the Creighton win, is also an unknown quantity for next season.

Even without those four focal points, though, Haney has the tools he needs to build on this season. Standout guard Kelsey Ransom is returning for her graduate season. Ariel Jenkins and Victoria Rivera, two players who made remarkable strides this season, plan to come back as of the writing of this article.

On top of that, new faces offer promising potential. Haney’s pulled in a couple of rising freshmen—Khadee Hession was the Florida 7A-5A women’s basketball player of the year, and Jaeda Wilson is a 4-star recruit who was originally signed with Marquette before flipping to the Hilltop. 

To replace some of the experience the Hoyas are losing to graduation, Haney has also hit the portal, pulling in a pair of veteran hoopers. Chet Nweke, who is coming to Georgetown from Princeton, is a savvy post player who one reporter described as “a hellacious offensive rebounder.” The other new face is Siobhan Ryan, a 6’0 graduate guard transferring in from Richmond; she’ll help fill the space left behind by Cowan’s departure, and hopefully provide some needed three-point shooting to the roster.

When a season starts the way this one did, it would be understandable for a team to underperform. Georgetown decided to do the opposite. They put their heads down and got to work, laying the first layer of foundation for what could become a team to perennially watch out for. The Hoyas are arriving. They’re a team everyone has to respect—and they earned that respect, the way that Coach Tasha taught them to.

Jo Stephens
Jo is the Sports Editor and a senior in the College studying History and Journalism. Originally from Columbia, South Carolina, she has a particular love for women's basketball, but also enjoys watching football, softball, and volleyball.

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