LORETTO -- No matter how bad things got at the end of her coaching career, Jenny Przekwas can always take pride knowing she's remembered around these parts as a great coach who laid the foundation for a dynasty at St. Francis.
Women's basketball had existed at the school for 23 years, but it was an afterthought with no winning seasons since 1976. Przekwas came on board in 1991 and quickly changed everything, leading the Lady Flash to four consecutive NCAA Tournaments starting in 1996.
Przekwas and her 1995-96 team were among the inductees Saturday into St. Francis' Athletics Hall of Fame. She gives credit for a lot of her early success to an increased commitment by the university -- she was the school's first full-time women's basketball coach -- but that's merely her being humble.
The undeniable truth is Jenny Przekwas put the St. Francis program on the map by bringing in recruits who emerged as elite players in the Northeast Conference.
"It's rewarding to see what we started clear back in the '90s continue through four coaches, several players of the year, several all-tournament team MVPs, newcomers of the year," Przekwas said. "Whatever it is, it's really nice to see that continuity."
The continuity came from winning and establishing a tradition, which was Przekwas' greatest contribution to St. Francis.
She came to Loretto after serving as an assistant at Wyoming, her alma mater, and went 11-17 her first season in 1991-92. Then Przekwas brought in a great recruiting class.
"The turning point was just recruiting and getting players in here," Portage product Stacy Alexander said. "Year after year they got those marquee players, and that was huge."
Alexander was one of the marquee players in Przekwas' first recruiting class, and the other was Colleen Joyce. Those two rank in the top five in career scoring at St. Francis.
A third member of the career top five in scoring joined the team in 1994. Mary Markey, who's third on the list with 1,709 points, also was inducted into the Hall of Fame on Saturday.
St. Francis lost in the championship game of the NEC Tournament at Mount St. Mary's in both 1994 and '95. In 1996, the three standouts helped the Flash finally get over the hump as they beat the Mount in the title game for their first NCAA Tournament berth.
"We'd lost that same exact game two years in a row, same team, same place," Przekwas said. "And to win that and to break over the hump, obviously that was key for the team."
The next key was landing Jess Zinobile in recruiting, and the Lock Haven product became a star at St. Francis. The school's career scoring leader (2,338) earned three NCAA berths with Przekwas, plus another with Myndi Hill in 2000.
Zinobile, another Hall of Fame inductee Saturday and the best player in NEC history, wanted to play alongside Markey and also liked what she saw in Przekwas.
"Just watching her coach, and then they won that championship game, I knew this was where I wanted to play, and I wanted to play for her," Zinobile said.
Having star players helped, but Przekwas also put together strong supporting casts.
"There were some teams that really developed strong team concepts," the coach said. "If you're going to have a player like Jess, you'd better have support around her to help her be as good as she can be. And I think we had that. We had a lot of good kids and solid people."
Przekwas left St. Francis for the Washington State head coaching job in 1999, and her tenure there was disastrous. She went 4-24 her first year, then 11-17 and was fired after going 2-27 with 24 consecutive losses to close the 2001-02 season.
There were allegations by Washington State players that Przekwas was a tyrant of a head coach. Player Kelley Berglund, who had transferred, told the Seattle Times that Przekwas "belittled" the girls on the team and that she was "scared" of the coach.
None of that was the case while Przekwas was at St. Francis.
"We all got along great with her," Zinobile said. "She was an intense coach, and when I heard all that happened [at Washington State], my feeling was they probably weren't dedicated players and they weren't as intense as she was, like we were."
Alexander added, "Jenny motivated us and pushed us to work hard. If it wasn't for Jenny, there's no way we would have won that championship [in 1996], and then she followed up with three more championships."
Przekwas got out of coaching following her dismissal at Washington State. She now lives in Colorado and owns a gardening business, which she says can be stressful at times but nowhere near as much as basketball.
It's a shame she couldn't find coaching success after leaving Loretto, and ironically, poor recruiting was a primary culprit at Washington State.
Przekwas' recruiting and coaching efforts made her the architect of one of the great small-school dynasties in Division I women's basketball, and for that, she will always be a vital member of the St. Francis athletic family.