On Monday night in Walsh Gymnasium, the Seton Hall women’s basketball team won a game that’s very special to the state of New Jersey in front of a sold-out crowd and national television audience. The Pirates hosted in-state rival Rutgers in what meant so much more than just their second game of the season.
The Pirates’ 77-49 victory over the Scarlet Knights was the first game in a two-year deal in which both schools have agreed to play annually. This year the Hall hosted, and next season’s game will be at Rutgers.
The contest came about with the help of former New Jersey State Governor and current New Jersey State Senator Richard Codey.
Last season, Codey sent a letter to the athletic directors of both schools upon hearing the news that they would meet in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, urging them to make it an annual rivalry. He also suggested that a doubleheader should be played the same day the men’s teams play, who compete once a season in the Garden State Classic.
“I think he sort of spearheaded it by saying ‘You know what, we need to make this happen,’” Seton Hall Athletic Director Pat Lyons said of Codey. “And he did everything he could to push support and let both institutions know how important it was.”
Lyons also credited head coach Tony Bozzella for making this game come about.
“The game came about when Tony came on board,” Lyons said. “He’s all about playing the tough- est teams and testing his own team. He’s also all about giving our fans and alumni a great game and atmosphere. And what better a game than an in-state rivalry game against Rutgers?”
Agreeing to this two-year deal has Bozzella eager.
“The men do it, we need to do it,” the coach said. “It’s exciting, people are watching the game and they care. This is great.”
Seton Hall and Rutgers have squared off in postseason tournaments for the past two years, with Rutgers knocking out Seton Hall both times. In 2014 it was the third round of the WNIT, while last season it was the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
For Bozzella, Monday night’s game did not mean revenge for the past two times the teams have met.
“One of the things we told them that I got from our priest, Father John, was he said ‘don’t make it a revenge game, make it a game you want to win,’” Bozzella said. “It wasn’t about revenge to us, it’s a different team and a different year. We knew if we could beat a really good team, it’s going to help us at the end of the year.”
Rutgers women’s basketball has been headed by C. Vivian Stringer for the past 21 seasons. She has taken her team to the NCAA tournament 15 times, including two trips to the Final Four, as well as a WNIT championship in 2014.
Lyons praised what Stringer has done for her team.
“You have to give Rutgers a tremendous amount of credit for their women’s program and what C. Viv has done. Monday night was a great win, but coach B even said it in his press conference, we’re not where they are.”
Bozzella also commended Stringer’s performance as a coach. “They have a great program and our goal is to amplify what they were—NCAA tournament contenders every year. They went to a Final Four. Our goal is to get better, and we’re nowhere near what they’ve accomplished. This is only going to help us.”
The praise between coaches did not end there, as Stringer admired what Bozzella has done for the Pirates and Seton Hall as a whole.
“He’s done a great job here at Seton Hall. I think that with his style and with the way he gets things done, people here at Seton Hall must be extremely proud. We’re hoping that one of us can represent the state.”
Olivia Mulvihill can be reached at Olivia.firstname.lastname@example.org. edu or on twitter @OliviaMulvihill.