The Herlihy name has become synonymous with success for Villanova women’s basketball over the last seven seasons, and 2021 has been no exception. The difference this year for Brianna Herlihy is that for the first time she is without her sister Bridget, either on the floor alongside her or as part of the Villanova coaching staff.
While Bridget has begun a new chapter, joining professional team AB Contern of Luxembourg after five years with Villanova, Brianna hasn’t skipped a beat despite her sister’s departure. The graduate student is averaging 10.8 points and 7.5 rebounds per game and remains thankful for the lessons she learned from her sister.
“It was definitely a different dynamic, having her almost act like a coach and telling me what to do,” Brianna said. “But it was so nice having her here whenever either of us were having troubles or got homesick.”
It was clear from an early age that the younger Herlihy was going to play at the next level. As a four-year letter-winner for Braintree (Mass.) High School, Herlihy scored more than 1,000 points, was a two-time ESPN Boston All-State selection, a McDonald’s All-American nominee, and won two state titles.
“I started playing basketball at a really young age — it was always something I loved doing,” Herlihy said. “Playing with my sister and all of our friends, and we had an amazing coach, it was just so much fun playing with them. And I think that’s what made us so good.”
With the 6-foot Herlihy’s high school resume, she had plenty of college interest. When an official offer came from Villanova, however, the opportunity to rejoin her sister was too good to pass up.
“Her committing there a year prior definitely played into it,” Herlihy said, “but I looked at different schools as well. I didn’t want to make a decision based on someone else’s decision.”
After redshirting her freshman year, Herlihy slowly found herself progressing through the program. In her redshirt freshman season, she played just over five minutes a night, averaging 1.1 points and 1.7 rebounds per game. She doubled those numbers the following season, averaging 2.8 points and 2.9 rebounds in 10.7 minutes per game.
But Herlihy seemed poised for a big leap forward as a junior, especially after she scored 12 points in Villanova’s season opener against George Washington. Unfortunately, she suffered a season-ending knee injury in the team’s second game, against James Madison, ending her 2019-20 campaign almost before it started.
“It was definitely a tough one, especially that year,” Herlihy said. “I got a chance to start, and I felt like I was really becoming a bigger part of the team. I was really excited about it.”
However, Herlihy was able to come back strong to begin 2020-21, posting a career-high 22 points against Temple in just her third game back, and topping it by scoring 24 points against La Salle two games later. The bright start proved a precursor for the season, as Herlihy had a breakout campaign, averaging 13.8 points and 7.1 rebounds. Both ranked second on the Wildcats to Maddy Siegrist as Villanova finished 17-7 and reached the third round of the Women’s NIT.
“I had the same mindset the entire time,” Herlihy said. “It was kind of a realization that at any point, this game could be taken away from you, literally in the blink of an eye. So the mindset of going out there and playing every game like it’s going to be your last, and the rest was just instincts.”
Now, early in her final season with the Wildcats, Herlihy is picking up right where she left off. Not only will her role as a scorer be key to Villanova’s success, but Herlihy is also the only player older than a junior on the team. When it comes to leading such a young team, Herlihy stressed keeping it simple, saying, “Don’t worry about mistakes, keep it simple and just play the game.”
Villanova has won two straight to improve to 2-2, and Herlihy has been a catalyst for the Wildcats on the offensive end, with her outside shooting being the biggest bonus. Entering the year as a 28% career three-point shooter, Herlihy is 6-for-12 from deep. With defenders now having to guard her from the perimeter, Herlihy’s inside game could lead her to a career year.
Herlihy’s time at Villanova may be nearing an end, but she hopes there will be one more exciting chapter to write. “Behind this coaching staff,” said Herlihy, “we all expect to play well because they really make us work hard day in and day out.”