A man walking into the gym at Jefferson University early last month felt as if he was getting stampeded.
He knew Jefferson’s women had just played the University of Sciences women in the first game of the doubleheader. He didn’t expect most of the crowd to be there for the women, and to leave before the men’s game.
If you check out the NCAA Division II women’s basketball rankings, all questions are answered. Jefferson won that night. Sciences will host the rematch on Woodland Avenue on Tuesday, 5:30 tipoff, men to follow.
Other than that one game with each other, the two women’s programs have played 39 games against other competition, and won all 39.
So Tuesday, it will be 20-0 Jefferson, ranked second nationally in Division II in one poll, fourth in another, against 20-1 Sciences, ranked ninth nationally in both.
It’s not new to see Jefferson U. rolling. While men’s coach Herb Magee deserves all the attention he gets, with more than 1,000 career wins, women’s coach Tom Shirley basically has matched Magee during his years running the women’s program. Now in his 30th season on Henry Avenue, Shirley has won 620 games, up to 769 overall. Shirley and Magee are the winningest active pair of men’s/women’s coaches in NCAA hoops.
These days, the interesting part of the rivalry might be the school across town getting up to speed under Jackie Hartzell, in her sixth season. Last year, Sciences won three times against Jefferson, winning its first conference title since 2006, winning 30 overall, and its first NCAA Tournament game, and then another.
There’s a great chance the two schools will see each other in the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference tournament, and could easily face off for a fourth time in the NCAA Tournament.
Hartzell’s rise has been noted in her sport. She had coached five seasons at Archbishop Ryan High, and several sources said she was runner-up to get the La Salle University head job when that opened last year.
“I think we’ve been able to bring in players who are borderline Division I players who are really looking for a good academic fit, as well as a place where they are able to play right away, in a winning program,’’ Hartzell said.
“Then we’ve been able to surround those players with role players. You don’t just win with players who can score 20 points. It also helps that the last few years, we haven’t been based around one player. You can say the same about Jefferson. We both have a lot of weapons.”
Hartzell, who grew up in Mayfair and played at St. Hubert’s and Delaware Valley College, is a part-time coach, which is how she likes it. In fact, she wouldn’t have taken the job, she said, if it was full-time. She already has a full-time job, purchasing medical equipment as an acquisition specialist for an agency of the Department of Defense.
That sounds like a pretty good fit with her current place. Hartzell moved over from Ryan after a former Ryan player at Sciences had called her, asking her to apply. Gaining traction took some time. She points out that this year’s seniors were on the team as freshmen when Sciences won 11 games.
“After experiencing some success two years ago, they just wanted more,’’ Hartzell said. “It’s a group that just works hard, is unselfish — leave your egos at the door.”
She stops to credit her assistant Jim Ricci, with her for five seasons after he won three straight state titles at Archbishop Wood.
“We run his Princeton-style offense, which has allowed us to be successful,’’ said Hartzell, who had worked under Ricci as a Wood assistant before taking over at Ryan. They also take their scheduling philosophy from his Wood program. “If you’re going to be the best, you’ve got to play the best.”
Sciences rose in the national rankings after winning at Bentley (Mass.), then ranked second nationally. That pushed Sciences up in the rankings, until Jefferson knocked the Devils off.
It wasn’t overconfidence, Hartzell said, of what happened last month.
"I don’t worry about our girls being overconfident,” she said. “If anything, it’s convincing them they can beat teams. They’re just a very humble group.”
It was straight X’s and O’s that cost them the first time, she said.
“I think we have to play better at every aspect of the game,’’ Hartzell said. “They are so good offensively, we have to do a better job of defending. And we need to make shots. I didn’t think we shot the ball too well. Credit to their defense.”
That’s as specific as she wanted to get about Tuesday’s heavyweight matchup, Round 2.