Joial Griffith cut her teeth as an assistant for 10 years before recently being named Whitworth’s head women’s basketball coach.
But before the 33-year-old Californian’s stops at NCAA Division III Williams College and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, Griffith was given a crash course in Spokane’s hoops-crazed culture.
A former guard at Concordia University of Irvine, Griffith and her then-NAIA squad were tasked with facing Gonzaga at the raucous McCarthey Center in 2005, the Bulldogs’ season opener.
She left the Lilac City with a 63-point loss and a new respect for the area’s robust women’s basketball following.
On Tuesday night at the historic home of Whitworth alum Frank Knott – the large, renovated structure is a 112-year-old former electric powerhouse on the bluff above Liberty Park – Griffith was formally introduced as the Pirates’ new head coach.
Dozens of Whitworth graduates and staff members attended the introduction, where Griffith gave a short speech before mingling with the supporters. Spokane Mayor David Condon was also in attendance and presented Griffith with a limited-edition Hoopfest game ball.
“This introduction was little more friendlier than (the blowout at Gonzaga),” joked Griffith, who moved to Spokane earlier this month. “There’s a lot of support here and I am excited to get things going.”
Griffith replaces Helen Higgs, the school’s all-time winningest coach, who led Whitworth for 24 seasons before stepping down this year.
In Grifftih’s two seasons at Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, the Athenas made back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances, finishing 20-9 in 2017 and 23-6 in 2016.
With the return of three starters and 11 players, Griffith will be working to get the Pirates to the top of the Northwest Conference after a 10-15 mark last season.
“I’m ecstatic to be here. I’ve been a fan of the Northwest Conference for some time,” she said. “And being from the West Coast, I am comfortable on this coast. This opportunity was too great. I haven’t applied for a lot of head coaching jobs, but this felt like the right fit.”
Whitworth Athletic Director Tim Demant said he was impressed with Griffith during an online video interview.
“When you get a resume, a lot of the candidates look the same,” Demant said. “But when we spoke to her and she articulated the vision of developing the student, so that was impressive along with her history of success with her playing career and the coaching roles she had with respected programs.”
He’s also looking forward to his new hire’s speedy brand of basketball.
“I want to be up-tempo and bring a lot of pressure defensively,” Griffith said. “I want our defense to dictate our offense. Right now, we have a lot of kids that can shoot the 3, so I want to play to their strengths. I want to play fast, but also in control.”
Griffith said she believes she’s in a talent goldmine in the Pacific Northwest and plans to hit the local recruiting trail hard.
“There’s just such a great basketball history in Spokane and nearby in Coeur d’Alene,” she said. “I’m very hopeful to build those relationships and keep those kids home so their families can see them play.”
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