July 7, 2024 

Atlantic 10 notebook: Contract extensions, foreign tours

There are plenty of reasons to celebrate in the conference

There are still a few months left until Atlantic 10 teams return to the court against NCAA opponents, but there is still plenty of news. From contract extensions to foreign tours, this summer is full of reasons to celebrate across the conference.

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George Mason extends Vanessa Blair-Lewis through 2029 

On June 26, George Mason assistant vice president and director of athletics Marvin Lewis announced that head coach Vanessa Blair-Lewis signed a one-year contract extension, through the 2028-29 season. This extension comes just one year after Blair-Lewis was extended through the 2027-28 season after leading the Patriots to their first winning season (16-15 during 2022-23) since 2017-18. 

“It’s really exciting. It just means a lot of support. A lot of confidence that the university has in my staff and I, what we’ve accomplished in such a short period of time, a belief in where we believe the program is and will continue to grow,” Blair-Lewis told The Next. 

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“We are excited to recognize the outstanding job Vanessa has done in elevating our women’s basketball program with this extension,” Lewis said in a team-issued press release. “She has positioned our program into being recognized as one of the top teams in the A-10, while taking the steps to lead the team to its first postseason appearance in six years. Her focus on providing a holistic student-athlete experience and her commitment to building a strong culture has been invaluable to our women’s basketball program. Off the court, she is a tremendous ambassador and representative of the university and Northern Virginia community. We are proud to have Vanessa continue to lead our program.”

In 2021, Blair-Lewis took over a Mason team that had recorded just three wins, including zero in the A-10, during the 2020-21 season. The team’s win total has improved in every season, with the Patriots recording 10 in the 2021-22 season and 16 in 2022-23. Last season Blair-Lewis led the team to a 23-8 record (14-4, A-10) including its first 20-win season since 2017-18 and its most regular-season wins and most A-10 wins in program history

When Blair-Lewis came to Mason, she wanted to bring a sustainably built winning tradition. “I think that we’ve been able to add all the right ingredients to continue to make that possible,” she said. “A successful and bright president who supports us, an amazing hire as an athletic director in Marvin Lewis, a very supportive supporting cast in all areas of athletics. Players that we said we wanted to attract from the DMV [Washington, D.C.; Maryland; and Virginia], that would bring not only DMV type of style of play, but also would fill up the seats, because DMV parents and families are right here in our backyard. And a Fairfax community that has supported us and has changed and grown our attendance. … That part is so exciting that this — not only the university believes in what we’re doing, the community does, because that’s who’s been coming out to our games.”

Richmond head coach Aaron Roussell shrugs while facing the court
Richmond head coach Aaron Roussell shrugs during a game against George Mason at EagleBank Arena in Fairfax, Virginia, on Jan. 19, 2022. (Photo credit: Domenic Allegra | The Next)

Richmond extends Aaron Roussell

On June 20, Richmond vice president and director of athletics John Hardt announced that head coach Aaron Roussell signed a contract extension. Roussell is entering his sixth season at the helm and led the team to its first A-10 regular-season and tournament championship last season. 

“Aaron has taken our women’s basketball program to new heights and I’m excited to have him leading the Spiders,” said Hardt in a team-issued press release. “Under Aaron’s leadership, our team has won more games, drawn more fans, made more of an impact on the University and the surrounding community, and progressed towards our goal of establishing Richmond as one of the best women’s basketball programs in the Atlantic 10.”

Heading into this season, Roussell and his team have high expectations. He said that they’re hungry and eager to replicate the championship and tournament experience they got last year. “I think that’s the expectation this year. That’s the hope this year. And that wouldn’t change every year,” he told The Next. “I think that’s something at each of the three schools I’ve been at, that’s something that when you win the first one, it’s not a flash in the pan. It’s a — this is the hope, this is the goal every single year. And I think we’ve put ourselves in [a] position to at least have a chance to win the championship every year, to be in that tier that has a chance.

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Roussell led the 2023-24 Spiders to a program-record 29-6 finish on his way to earning A-10 Coach of the Year honors. He has also recorded a winning season in each of the last four years

“The A-10, obviously, is a basketball conference, but the University of Richmond, it doesn’t hold back any punches. And they say that basketball is vitally important to the athletic department, but also to the entire school,” Roussell said. “I think the success that [head] coach [Chris] Mooney has had and what men’s basketball has meant to this university. But then I think you look at the crowds, you look at the A-10 tournament, the amount of red that was in the stands, I think this is a big deal. Women’s basketball is a big deal [in] this community. And I think the university recognized that and [I’m] just very grateful for the extension, but also extremely grateful with the amount of resources and level of resources that they continue to put into our program.”

Roussell noted that he wouldn’t be able to do his job as a head coach without great players and staff. “This is a place that I insisted on telling people that I want to be for a very, very long time,” he said. “And to be able to have that opportunity is special for me and my family.”

Three A-10 teams are set to take foreign tours this summer 

Fordham, Saint Joseph’s and Richmond are scheduled to travel to a total of four countries in Europe on their foreign tours in August.

FordhamGreeceAug. 10-18
Saint Joseph’sCroatia and ItalyAug. 3-11
RichmondSpainAug. 4-13
Where and when Fordham, Saint Joseph’s and Richmond are traveling this summer.

The trio of programs approach their foreign tours from different positions. Fordham is entering the second year of the Bridgette Mitchell era and is looking to build on its 10th-place finish last year after being picked to finish 13th in the A-10’s preseason poll. It’s the team’s first trip abroad since 2017, when it traveled to Italy and Spain. The Rams will play Thessaloniki Select on Aug. 13 and Athens Select on Aug. 16. 

“I am so excited to take this year’s team to Greece!” said Mitchell in a team-issued press release. “I am thankful to all of the supporters that we have at Fordham who afforded us this opportunity to offer an unforgettable experience to these young women! We are going to compete, explore and really get to know each other better. I am pumped!”

Saint Joseph’s is heading to Italy and Croatia to start Cindy Griffin’s 24th season as head coach. The team is coming off a run to the WBIT quarterfinals and a program-best 28 wins last season.   

The Hawks will play two games and enjoy activities like a glass-blowing demonstration and zip-lining.  

Richmond looks to build on its NCAA Tournament trip last season in Spain to kick off Roussell’s sixth season. He believes that going abroad can be a potentially life-changing experience. “I think sometimes when you’re in college athletics, especially basketball, those opportunities shrink and [are] just hard to come by,” he said. “And that’s been something, every place I’ve been, it’s been a priority for me to get our student-athletes to get an abroad experience. … I think this will be a great bonding experience to propel us, hopefully on the court and with our relationships when we get back as well.”

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Roussell believes that the team’s trip to Spain will be both a cultural and learning experience for the team and he has stressed “learning and lifelong experiences” this summer, including getting passports for those who haven’t been abroad before. 

In addition to spending time with his family and team, Roussell is excited about the food and the opportunity to learn about a new culture. “Every place I’ve ever been, I can just think back to meals and the culture. … Sitting around for a meal, I think has always been really cool. But just seeing how different areas of the country or different areas of the world operate … I think sometimes when you’re here in the States, your world gets shrunk very, very easily. Just being able to see how people a world away go about their business, I think is very, very life-altering for our kids.”

Written by Natalie Heavren

Natalie Heavren has been a contributor to The Next since February 2019 and currently writes about the Atlantic 10 conference, the WNBA and the WBL.

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