Lafko helps Saint Vincent To 1st PAC women’s basketball title
Jenna Lafko always has been a winner.
When Jimmy Petruska recruited her to play point guard at Saint Vincent, Lafko’s talent and leadership were evident. And Petruska was impressed with Lafko’s decorated playing career at Hampton, where she helped the Talbots earn three section titles and two state playoff berths.
“She is the ultimate type of player I recruit and look for in my program,” Petruska said. “She represents what we stand for here at Saint Vincent and puts forth the effort and sacrifice day-in and day-out. When you think the kid can’t give any more, she gives double. We’re just fortunate that she’s in our program.”
Lafko, a 5-foot-2 sophomore guard, has helped sustain the mark of a winner at Saint Vincent. The Bearcats (23-4, 15-1) beat Washington & Jefferson, 70-48, on Feb. 23 to run away with their first Presidents’ Athletic Conference tournament championship.
The win sealed an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III Tournament, the team’s first since 2011.
“It was amazing” Lafko said of winning the PAC title. “The whole school came out. We had so much support from our guys team, the Latrobe community. It was just great to be embraced in that atmosphere. That was one thing that holds dear to all of us.”
The Bearcats have been successful under Petruska, but Lafko has helped push the Bearcats to another level. She is among the team leaders in assists and steals and was recently named honorable mention all-PAC.
“Coming in starting, I was nervous and hesitant at first,” she said. “But my coaches and teammates gave me such a confidence boost. … I think I just try to go out there and do what I needed to do for my team.”
Petruska said Lafko became the team’s best on-ball defender, and he praised her ability to create scoring opportunities for her teammates.
“My role changed from high school to college as a scorer to more of a facilitator,” Lafko said. “I took on a leadership role as a point guard to kind of orchestrate what goes on during the game and be that vocal leader.”
The team took advantage when perennial power Thomas More left the PAC. Thomas More was an annual thorn in the side of Saint Vincent, winning the PAC title every year beginning in 2007, including a national championship in ’16. Coincidentally, Saint Vincent drew No. 1 Thomas More in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament that ended too late for this edition.
“It was an eye-opener that we had a strong chance to win,” she said. “Not that we didn’t last year, but it was more within reach. I think that really motivated us to not only win a PAC championship but just play for each other, for the school, push each other every day.
“Academically and athletically, coming from Hampton, a winning and successful program, I knew I wanted to go to another successful program. It’s validation but not the finish. I think these upcoming years, we still have the pieces to win another PAC championship.”
“I’ve been coaching 17 years and a head coach for nine,” Petruska said. “I don’t think we’ve had a team anywhere I’ve been that works as hard as this team has day-in and day-out.”
Earning respect of her opponents, as well as the shared bond with her teammates, has been a major payoff.
“Now it’s like everyone wants to beat Saint Vincent. As a competitor, to have that respect, it’s a huge thing,” Lafko said. “I know it sounds like a corny saying, but at Saint Vincent, we do bleed green and gold. It’s a life. My family is my team, and everyone that goes into it gives me the opportunity to be successful.”