Sports Women's Sports

Can’t Shake Jacques: Emily Jacques excels for Pride after adjustment to collegiate level

Vin Gallo
Managing Features Editor

Springfield College women’s basketball alumna, Lexi Windwer enjoyed a moment mixed of pride and nostalgia following her former team’s Jan. 12, 58-57 home win over MIT.

She was chatting with a couple of Pride freshmen, who, up to that point in the year, were proving themselves as a five-women, first-year core who had assisted Springfield to a perfect 6-0 NEWMAC record by contributing off the bench.

Conversation shifted to what is key to success for each new player going through the process of finding their niche on a collegiate team. The value, but also the occasional growing pains that come with one factor.

Knowing the plays. On both sides of the ball.

Windwer couldn’t help but reminisce when the freshmen brought up one of the upperclassmen who has been sure to remind them whenever needed.

Junior guard, Emily Jacques.

“Once Emily gets on the court, she’s very serious, she’s ready to play,” Windwer said. “It’s funny looking back from my standpoint, where I was the one telling her, she’s got to know the plays. It makes me know just how much she’s matured and how much she understands how important those things are.”

Jacques is grateful for Windwer’s guidance.

“She was there for me, like, every day,” said Jacques. “She’d go, ‘we’re sticking this out, you got this.’ She’d notice when I just wasn’t feeling it and would pick me up. Which was super impactful because if I didn’t have that, I feel like I would have ended up not being where I am today.”

It’s been a journey of reinvention for Jacques. At 6-foot-1, she played under bright lights in Auburn, Maine, as Edward Little High School’s star. There was a time when there was discussion of her playing as a Division II guard. But when recruitment with Southern Connecticut State University fell through, it was Springfield that became her pick to continue her career.

It was clear, very quickly to Jacques, that playing as a starter, which she had played since beginning her basketball career, was not going to be a role she’d see in her first year with the Pride. As a freshman, she averaged nine minutes over a span of 16 games, with her season high in points topping out at eight.

It was a significant drop-off compared to the minutes Jacques had played at Edward Little and the minutes she puts in for the Pride this season.

But Jacques’s first year, while acting as a wake-up call, also strengthened her — helping her fuel a junior campaign where she’s contributed averages of 11.2 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 1.2 blocks in 31 minutes per game.

“In high school, I would do whatever I wanted to do. Coming into college it was more of a strict play routine. That was hard freshman year, Coach (Naomi Graves) was really hard on me, because she knew I had really good potential,” said Jacques. “Since she was hard on me, that showed sophomore year, that I came out stronger and was a much better player just because how hard she was on me (as a) freshman. That’s just been building, from sophomore year through junior year, (up to) now.”
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Jacques has a tattoo on her left arm — Roman numerals commemorating her grandmother’s birthday in 1927. Theresa Bryant, 91, who is from northern Maine, still shovels her own driveway and rakes her own leaves. It’s a work ethic and love for life that Jacques admires and respects.

“She’s still going strong, she lives by herself,” said Jacques. “She’s always been a huge part of my heart. I love her to death.”

It was the sort of toughness and resilience Jacques made sure to emulate when working for a spot on the Pride’s roster. From a scoring standpoint, Windwer thought Jacques brought quickly a good understanding of offensive fundamentals.

“It was definitely more of a smooth transition that I’ve seen from other people,” Windwer recalled. “For the most part, she was pretty good at being able to attack the basket, shoot her shot and be able to figure out ‘was that a good opportunity?’”

Yet still, collegiate basketball was not what Jacques had been used to in high school. There were offensive and defensive schemes she had never before been asked to perfect. Minutes were scarce, and there was no more dominating like she had with Edward Little.

“We could freelance more in high school … it was more up and down (the court), quick shots,” Jacques explained. “When I came in (to Springfield) freshman year, Coach was like, no quick shots … We had this strict defense we had to buy into and that just wasn’t for me, because that was totally different – you have to be here on defense, you have to do this in the offense … very specific things and I just wasn’t used to that.”

With Jacques’ 6-foot-1 frame, Springfield head coach, Naomi Graves knew that Jacques could develop into an all-around presence on the court. There would need to be just as much discipline and poise from her on the defensive end as on the offensive end.

“She’s matured,” Graves said. “And it’s exciting, because not every student athlete stays with it long enough to go there. Athletes in the college ranks nowadays sometime get so frustrated and lose confidence that they stop wanting to be that complete player. And Emily stayed with it.”

Graves knows players will make mistakes during the beginning of their college careers. But to succeed in an environment where basketball skill is enhanced and leveled out, they must adjust to college play while still believing in their skill.

“Players will think, ‘oh my God, I was so good in high school and now I’m not,’” Graves explained. “That’s not true. It’s just that everyone else is as good as you are.”

“What happens with a lot of high school kids is they think when they step into a college program, they’re going to be the same athlete. But then they realize the competition is different and the talent’s different.”
***
Jacques’s father, Roland, played ice hockey in high school. Her mother, Heidi didn’t indulge in athletics too much. But the two have always showed enthusiasm in their daughter, their only child’s hoops career.

“They’ve always loved following my basketball ‘cause it was new (to them) when I started,” said Emily.

Roland has always seen basketball come naturally to his daughter. On top of some natural athleticism, she has usually always towered over her opponents.

“Emily grew tall fast,” Roland said. “She was probably a foot taller than the kids in her class, so she drew a lot of interest from rec coaches and the Catholic schools. She could just stand under the basket with her big long arms and grab every rebound.”

Jacques began playing basketball at a Catholic elementary school before switching to public school for middle school and joining a rec league. She felt her passion for the sport take off when she met a bunch of friends from the town.

“It mostly all started through my friends, because I never had siblings who played or anything like that,” said Jacques.

That sort of spark never died out. Jacques experienced the same kind of closeness with her throughout her childhood career.

“Growing up in Maine, we don’t have a lot of AAU teams,” Jacques said. “So I was on an AAU team called the Maine Maniacs and we were together since sixth grade, same girls, all the way through high school which was really awesome.”

During the summer, Jacques plays in a league with the Bowdoin women’s basketball team against St. Joseph’s, and occasionally former Division I athletes, or women who have played overseas.

Jacques’ capabilities of competing against highly-ranked athletes can come as no surprise. The Maniacs had taken note of her game, while she was still at Catholic school, impressed with her immediately showing a unique combination of speed and height. By the time Jacques got to her senior year at Edward Little, there was mutual interest between her and Southern Connecticut State University. However, a change in the position of the Owls’ head coach compromised the recruitment and that door quickly closed.

“It was difficult because during that process, schools had already (moved on) once Emily committed to go (to Southern),” said Roland. “There were about a dozen other school who had had interested in her, (but) they decided to go down a different path.”

That’s when Graves reached out to the Auburn star and extended an offer for Jacques to play for Springfield.

“Coach Graves has had a great impact, Emily’s had male coaches all through middle school, high school, elementary school, AAU,” Roland said. “To have a strong, successful woman to coach her is pretty awesome.”

Jacques’ sees the camaraderie in the Pride that she enjoyed when she hooped in Maine. It’s helped her find her way through the tough days when she was trying to find comfort on the collegiate stage.

“Just having the girls, they always have your back, we’re like family,” Jacques said. “We’re sisters so that’s always been good, because we’ll always pick each other up to do the best we can, because each and every one of us has so much potential.”
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Like Graves, Windwer sees a complete player in Jacques.

“(She has) presence on the floor, (she has) height, she’s aggressive, (and) she can anticipate things,” Windwer said. “She’s a guard over six feet, which is pretty unique in itself. She’s versatile … you shut down one (part of her game), she can do something else.”

With Jacques acting as the third guard on the floor alongside Alex Goslin and Chelsea McAllister, the Pride have been helped with Jacques’ ability to play the role of a Swiss army knife. She’s a shooter who can expand her floater in the paint into a reliable shot from beyond the arc. But what Graves has enjoyed most is watching Jacques evolve on the defensive end — into an active rebounder, who can aggressively play the passing lanes for steals.

“Now people are saying, ‘hey, we’ve got to stop her,’” Graves said. “And that’s how it should be.”

Photo courtesy Jack Margaros

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