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(Lennie Mahler | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Westminster women's basketball team finishes practice with a scrimmage in the old Payne Gymnasium on campus Friday, March 14, 2014. The team will enter the NAIA Tournament as a No. 1 seed next week.
Westminster basketball: Griffin women want it all in NAIA tourney
Women’s basketball » Veteran coaching staff, talented cast seeking national title.
First Published Mar 18 2014 02:11 pm • Last Updated Mar 18 2014 11:48 pm

The school colors are purple and gold instead of red and white and the mascot is named after a mythical creature, not a Native American tribe, but in many ways Westminster’s women’s basketball team could be thought of as another version of the University of Utah.

The Griffins, named for a fabricated creature that is a cross between an eagle and a lion, have quietly grown into one of NAIA’s best women’s basketball programs in the country.

At a glance

Griffins women season highlights

Ranked third in the NAIA

Went 16-0 in conference play and won the Frontier Tournament

Senior Alli Blake was named the Frontier Conference Player of the Year after averaging 15.2 points a game

Tia Pappas was named the Defensive Player of the Year

Amy Krommenhoek was named the Sixth-Player of the Year

Shelly Jarrard was the Frontier Coach of the Year for the third time.

NAIA tournaments

O Women

Westminster vs. William Woods, Thursday, 12:15 p.m. in Frankfort, KY

Men

Westminster vs. Benedictine, Wednesday, 6 p.m. in Kansas City, Mo.

Both games can be viewed at naia.org

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The Griffins (24-2) are one of the top seeds in the tournament which begins Thursday in Frankfort, Ky. Westminster faces off against William Woods, the eighth seed, at 12:15 p.m. MDT.

The men’s team is also in the NAIA and plays Wednesday against Benedictine at 6 p.m. in Kansas City, but it is the women who have positioned themselves for perhaps the best post-season run. A top seed in the tournament, the women went undefeated in the regular season and won the Frontier Conference Tournament.

The Griffins’ only losses were to top-ranked Vanguard in November and a double overtime loss to The Master’s of California in December.

That the program is enjoying such success shouldn’t surprise anyone who is familiar with women’s basketball in Utah.

The head coach is Shelley Jarrard, a former assistant at Utah for 11 years. Her assistant is none other than her former boss, Elaine Elliott, who coached the Utes for 27 years before she retired in 2010.

So how did the Griffins land such a powerful duo? It’s a pretty simple story, really. Jarrard said she was always attracted to coaching at a small school such as Westminster, which has only about 3,300 students.

She let school athletic director Shay Wyatt, who was Utah’s event coordinator from 1995-98, that she would be interested in the position if it ever opened.

When Griffins coach JD Gustin left in 2011 to become an assistant at — you guessed it, Utah — Wyatt dialed up Jarrard.


story continues below
story continues below

Jarrard in turn called Elliott to discuss the position. Elliott not only encouraged her to take the job, but to jump aboard herself as assistant coach under Jarrard in 2012, completing the Utah-Westminster-Utah flip-flop.

Both coaches say they were drawn to the NAIA team because of all the things that led to burnout at the Division I level. The recruiting, the pressure to win and all the other responsibilities that are involved in running a major program took some of the joy out of coaching.

The two have found that joy again at Westminster.

"I came from a private school so I was drawn to that," said Jarrard, who played at Vanderbilt and helped the Commodores reach the Final Four in 1993. "The girls here are hard working but they keep school first and don’t feel entitled. It was already a good program when I became the coach, I just wanted to keep it at that standard as much as possible."

For Elliott, she acknowledges there were times when she’d joke with her assistants at Utah that she wanted their jobs so she could focus on coaching. Turns out, she was only partially kidding.

"It sounds stupid, but winning isn’t always fun at the D-1 level," she said. "You’re supposed to win, so then you forget to celebrate and things get too serious. None of that happens here. I can honestly say I am just having fun coaching. It’s a different role for me. I just coach and scout and nothing else — and I celebrate more here than I ever have."

The Griffins have had a lot to celebrate lately, closing out their big run when Kelsi Wells made two free throws with 5.3 seconds left to give the Griffins a 59-58 win over Lewis-Clark State in the Frontier Conference Tournament title game.

What adds to the Griffins’ accomplishment is they’ve been so successful despite losing five players from the 2012-13 squad that helped them reach the NAIA quarterfinals.

"We didn’t know how we were going to mesh," Jarrard said. "But they came back and got back to work right away and the pieces fell into place for us as well as we could have hoped. I’ve gotten a lot of compliments about how unselfish the team is and how well they pass the ball and work together and that makes me the most proud."

Alli Blake, who was named the Frontier Conference Player of the Year after averaging 15.2 points a game, said the team is lucky to have the caliber of coaches the Griffins have in Jarrard and Elliott.

"There is no doubt in my mind we have some of the best coaches in the nation and that is an advantage for us," she said. "They teach us so much every day and the biggest thing is you see them in practice and they work so well together. A lot of times the head coaches do all the talking and explaining, but they do it together, there is a lot of mutual respect."

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